When does a gift become an obligation?

Share your views on the policies, philosophies, and spirit of Burning Man.
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samdu
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When does a gift become an obligation?

Post by samdu » Thu Apr 21, 2005 6:17 pm

Last year was my 1st year on the playa, and it was amazing. I made a lot of new friends, saw some amazing new sights, and thought about amazing new things. Since I'm not an artist, and don't paint, draw, sculpt, etc, i didn't really have a tangible "gift" to give to people. But i love to cook, so i decided that my gift would be homemade hot soup every night to anyone who looked like they needed it.

i did all the prep work at home, made all the bases and broths and froze them in plastic coffee cans. made cooking every night a lot easier, to just have to throw everything into the big stock pot, heat it up, and look for people to hand soup to. for the most part, it went really well! people seemed to love the hot soup, and many showed up for a bowl on more than one night. it was a wonderful feeling to look around and see 5 or 10 new friends all sitting under our shade structure, eating, talking, laughing.

so, here's where it gets a little ugly. i had several people who seemed to think that i was obligated to feed them every night. i made a huge stock pot of soup every night, and served until it was gone. no matter if you came back for seconds, as long as there was soup left, it got handed out. i had one woman show up 2 hours after the last bowl was gone one night, and berate me for not "saving" her some. she told me that she hadn't bothered to eat all day, because she knew she could come by my camp and get soup, and since she was here, i HAD to feed her! i tried to be very nice, and explain that the soup had run out 2 hours ago, and that she was welcome to come back tomorrow night, but she actually started going through my pantry! i finally sent her off with a can of chef-boy-ardi.

i had another young lady who would show up, ask for two bowls, then come back with a friend and ask for 4 more. when i ran out, she became very ugly, and made a snarky comment about "what good is this place?" this happened 3 times, and each time i was at a loss.

please understand, i don't begrudge anyone a bowl of soup. if i didn't want to give it away, i wouldn't have made it in the first place, and i plan on doing it again this year. but, i thought of it as a gift, and somewhere along the line, it became a "right" to some people. since this was my first burn, i didn't really know what to say to these people. but, they definitely had a negative impact on my burn.

so tell me, is it ok to walk up to a complete stranger and say "i saw you give that guy a bracelet, and i want one, too"? and if the stranger says "i'm sorry, that was the last one", is it acceptable to say "well, i want one, so if you don't have any more, you have to give me something else"? if not, what do you say to the person who is demanding a gift? i'm obviously coming at this from the viewpoint that this is NOT proper playa etiquette, but i still don't know what to say to someone who does this. i don't want to be rude, so is there a nice, non-confrontational way to say "this is a gift, not an obligation"?

any advice would be greatly appreciated.


sam

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sputnik
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Post by sputnik » Thu Apr 21, 2005 7:11 pm

Samdu, I think it's pretty clear that these folks were takers. Let's look at an example. In 03 the roaster coaster had a line a mile long. Some people who were at the back of the line never got a chance to ride. In 04 we instituted a 'no-line' policy. However, this meant that in order to get a ride you either had to entertain the crowd by dancing in the go-go cages, or you had to match up with what our big wheel of chance said. For example, when the wheel was spun it might land on "Best Genital Piercing". In this case the person who showed us the best piercing got to go on the ride.

Now, I'm not saying that you should make people strip for soup, but maybe you can encourage them to contribute in some way when they come back for that second bowl.

Whatever you do, don't feel bad about not being able to provide for everyone (and some more than others). You're doing a great thing, and it's even better that you enjoy doing it. Remind folks of the theme of radical self-reliance.

I lied, I'd make them strip for soup when they come back for seconds

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samdu
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Post by samdu » Thu Apr 21, 2005 7:31 pm

i loved the roaster coaster! never went on it, but i stood and stared at it for about an hour one day, looked like everybody was having the best time ever!!!

and i like the "strip for seconds" idea. to be fair, i had very few bad experiences, most of them were positive beyond my wildest dreams! i got hugs, and backrubs, and brownies, and wine, and olive oil, and people would just come over to introduce themselves and say hi, and chat and hug me. it made me feel really good to be making so many new friends, because i'm actually pretty shy, so this was a way that i could meet people and give a gift. and it worked, i met so many wonderful people! it was overall a very positive experience, and i'm definitely doing it again this year, with a bigger stove and bigger stock pot. it was just those few doody-heads that made me feel bad about what i thought was a really great idea.

anyway, i think i'll definitely institute the "strip for seconds" rule. i'll even have some music for them to dance to on-hand!


sam

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sputnik
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Post by sputnik » Thu Apr 21, 2005 7:44 pm

Sorry to hear you didn't get a ride, but you had fun anyway, and that counts for something. The coaster will not be back (maybe ever), so you may have missed your chance. To be honest, I only ever rode it in Detroit and never got a chance to ride on playa, so I'm a bit bummed. It spins much better after it gets a good coating of playa dust.

Strip, sing, dance, knit a scarf. Really anything to give back for what they got. If there are a lot of people then it will probably get everyone to join in.

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Post by LeChatNoir » Thu Apr 21, 2005 8:30 pm

Don’t let it get you down, samdu. Sounds like the good people far outweighed that “snarky” ones. I am a very giving sort of person. I would give you the shirt off my back if I thought you needed it. But if you expected me to give it to you, as if I owed you... then I’d eat it first. I’m just a hard head that way. I, personally would give anybody a bowl of soup. No questions asked. But if they want seconds, or seem to be taking you for granted, I like the idea of stripping/singing/telling a story/whatever for the second bowl. And if they get all snide, just be like the soup nazi... “No soup for you!!! Next!”

You know, sputnik... I just stood there one night and laughed over and over at those two big chickens dancing in the gogo cages over the roaster coaster. I wasn’t brave enough to attempt a ride, myself... but I got a lot of joy out of watching.
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Post by Janka » Fri Apr 22, 2005 2:07 am

so tell me, is it ok to walk up to a complete stranger and say "i saw you give that guy a bracelet, and i want one, too"? and if the stranger says "i'm sorry, that was the last one", is it acceptable to say "well, i want one, so if you don't have any more, you have to give me something else"? if not, what do you say to the person who is demanding a gift?
No, it is not ok, of course. The whole idea of a gift is that it is voluntarily given and that there's no obligation whatsoever to either accept it or to deal it out to everyone "fairly".

I am not sure if you can say anything specific, but you could try and explain how they are supposed to be self-reliant on the playa, and your soup is a gift, not a service. And, frankly, I don't think you should be too nice about it - you don't have to apologice for anything in such a situation, though of course you probably have and can show sympathy for those who loved your soup so much they got upset when they missed it. ;) Probably most will hate you for it, but maybe someone gets the clue.

I don't too much like these "you have to contribute to get my contribution" schemes, they sound too much like bartering to me. On the other hand, I feel quite uncomfortable getting a drink in a bar if I don't donate something. It's complicated...:)

I loved the roller coster wheel of fortune, it was a fun solution, and fun also for those who did not want to ride or did not get to.

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sputnik
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Post by sputnik » Fri Apr 22, 2005 5:13 am

LeChatNoir wrote:You know, sputnik... I just stood there one night and laughed over and over at those two big chickens dancing in the gogo cages over the roaster coaster. I wasn’t brave enough to attempt a ride, myself... but I got a lot of joy out of watching.
The chickens were a high point, I think. You can see naked women and men dancing in go-go cages anywhere (well, anywhere there are go-go cages), but I swear you will only find chickens in go-go cages at burning man.

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Post by robotland » Fri Apr 22, 2005 5:34 am

This little thread illustrates a lot of what makes Burning Man for me. Thanks, guys. Hope to see you out there, and I hope I have a gift for each of you when I do.
Howdy From Kalamazoo

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Post by Mister Jellyfish Mister » Fri Apr 22, 2005 8:07 am

I love it! I was going to say "fuck off" to those takers but "no soup for you!" works even better. I'm the same way, it's easy to let the negative experiences cloud your memory of a good time, so decide in advance what you will replace those bad memories with when they come up. It's your psyche, after all.
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theCryptofishist
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Post by theCryptofishist » Fri Apr 22, 2005 8:39 am

I've never actually seen the "Soup Nazi" episode of "Seinfeld" but maybe you could tape it and get some pointers.

Or you can always say "No it's your turn to feed me." I would have suggested that MissIhaven'teatenallday go to the med tent because she's obviously not taking care of herself and getting light headed and delusional. I can see myself doing something that stupid, but I can't see blaming someone else--I would have been "Oh, i"m an idiot, I haven't eaten all day and I didnt' make it here in time."

I think those people were awful. I'm glad you had a good time dispite them.

(And if it had been me, at least you would have got one of the glass aligators. Or more than one. Plus an attempt to be friendly. I'm a guasche creature, but I have some sence of shame.)

edited to make can into can't
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Post by HughMungus » Fri Apr 22, 2005 8:47 am

It sounds like there are now some nitwits go to burning man thinking that it's a bunch of people gifting and that if you run out that you're not doing what you're supposed to do.

My advice: fuck them. If they get pissy, tell them you're sorry they didn't get the pony they were promised as a child but you are not their mommy. Fucking dopes.
It's what you make it.

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Post by Martiansky » Fri Apr 22, 2005 10:11 am

I think they owe you an apology! They were in the wrong!

I have been trying to think of things I can do for people (gift wise) when I'm out there since this will be my first time going.
Things I have come up with so far are....
Help people put up their shelters.
Help fix peoples bikes. (I'm bringing my own tools & stand)
Make coffee and if you bring a cup I'll pour you some.

But since it will be my first time going I do want to spend time exploring and such. I wouldn't expect people to stay in the "shop/kitchen" all the time and not go out and have fun, like some of those people expected you to do.

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Post by robotland » Fri Apr 22, 2005 10:17 am

Paradoxically, when The Spirit Moves You you may find it hard to put down your "gift work" and go play....I spent A LITTLE too much time in the Snowman last year making things....
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Post by the_iconoclast » Fri Apr 22, 2005 10:43 am

Let me see...

gift=obligation... no...

obligation=gift... damn.. doesn't work either...

Simple calculation... does not compute.

They were wrong.. and rude.. and stupid..

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Lassen Forge
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Post by Lassen Forge » Fri Apr 22, 2005 11:03 am

The people who were using your gifting missed the most important thing of BRC - self reliance. When someone takes a gift and then thinks, because of your kind and generous nature, you owe them something, that's just flat wrong. Esp. the woman who did not take care of her own needs and berated you for not taking care of them by "saving her some"...

One of the things I'm doing this year is setting up an old sewing machine so people who have a shade structure or tent blowout can (hopefully) put it back together. My rules are simple - I will show them how to run the machine (a treadle Singer), be there to give advice, reset bobbins etc., maybe even supply thread and needles... BUT... I won't do their sewing, I won't allow someone to monopolize the thing (or beat it up), and I get to lock it down when I choose (prolly when I'm not in camp, or am tired of hearing the thing clatter!).

Why the rules? It's my gift. Not an obligation. Gifts aren't about obligation or demands - it's about sharing and love, something given freely to someone else, with no conditions and no strings. (Maybe thread, tho! >>grins<< ) If you gift, and someone else gifts you back, it's still a gift, not barter, IF it's done with the "given freely" thought in mind. But the bottom line is, it's your GIFT to someone. A lot of people just don't get it, sadly, (thanks to the default world), mistaking "gift" for "gimmee".

It's like if I brought brownies, gave them to my friends and neighbors and my buds at the Bar, and all of the sudden *everyone* has to grab a handfull of my brownies. And feel it's their "right" to have them. Even if they told me "fuck you" and knifed my tent. (WHich would prolly *not* get them a brownie, BTW!)

Of course... it'd be cool if they "got" it and made soup next year!!!

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Post by HughMungus » Fri Apr 22, 2005 11:19 am

Yeah, I'm having to to think about the doing-things-camp/going-out-exploring balance, too. I guess we'll have to have a "Gone Fishin'" sign.

Regarding what you end-up doing, you might consider finding people here or out there who are doing similar things and maybe you could volunteer. Also, don't forget that you can always volunteer with the BORG (greeter shifts are a great, easy way to participate -- just don't get run over, haha).
Martiansky wrote:I think they owe you an apology! They were in the wrong!

I have been trying to think of things I can do for people (gift wise) when I'm out there since this will be my first time going.
Things I have come up with so far are....
Help people put up their shelters.
Help fix peoples bikes. (I'm bringing my own tools & stand)
Make coffee and if you bring a cup I'll pour you some.

But since it will be my first time going I do want to spend time exploring and such. I wouldn't expect people to stay in the "shop/kitchen" all the time and not go out and have fun, like some of those people expected you to do.
It's what you make it.

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Badger
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Post by Badger » Fri Apr 22, 2005 12:02 pm

any advice would be greatly appreciated.
You might have asked the woman to place a 'gift' of a kiss on your ass.
Desert dogs drink deep.

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Post by the_iconoclast » Fri Apr 22, 2005 12:06 pm

Badger wrote:
any advice would be greatly appreciated.
You might have asked the woman to place a 'gift' of a kiss on your ass.
X-Men references aside, are you sure Wolverine isn't more appropriate? lol.. Only animal I know that a Badger would bow to in surliness.

Going to keep on laughing now...

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Post by robotland » Fri Apr 22, 2005 12:14 pm

But Wolverine lacks the boating skills displayed by Badger from "Wind in The Willows".
Heck, we're the "Wolverine State", and the only one I've ever seen was stuffed, in a museum in Ann Arbor....
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theCryptofishist
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Post by theCryptofishist » Fri Apr 22, 2005 1:33 pm

robotland--do you shiver everytime you get too close to the Wisconsin border?
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Post by Dork » Fri Apr 22, 2005 2:52 pm

It sounds like there are now some nitwits go to burning man thinking that it's a bunch of people gifting and that if you run out that you're not doing what you're supposed to do.
It's been happening since at least 2000. I did some shifts at the door of the Cube Club, keeping too many people from going in at once so the place wouldn't collapse. Most people had no problem with waiting for someone else to leave before going in, but those few turkeys really made it tough. One wanted me to kick everyone out so all the people on his art car could have a turn watching the show. One wanted a turn at the piano so I told him no problem, we'll go ask the guy currently at the piano (who had spent buttloads of time and money building the place) when he takes a break. The guy got all indignant and started ranting about how he plays piano every day on the playa and he's never had anyone challenge his playing abilities before. Huh? I just said chill out and wait until the guy finishes his set. Lots more were pissed off about not being able to get in and get drunk immediately, certain BMORG personalities forced their way to the front of the line and took a dozen friends in with them, etc.

I got a little flack last year in my mutant vehicle for not picking up 18 people at once or telling people I was going to finish dropping off my current passengers before taking the new ones to their destination, but at least I could just say "sorry" and drive off. It's harder when you're just standing somewhere and the turkeys can keep whining. It also seems to help if you stay firm. If you consistently say "no, all out, nothing left, can't help you" they tend to give up. If you start apologizing and try to compromise they treat it as an opening to keep throwing requests.

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Post by robotland » Mon Apr 25, 2005 10:49 am

theCryptofishist wrote:robotland--do you shiver everytime you get too close to the Wisconsin border?
No- But I get headaches when Dr. Evermore switches that damned Forevertron on!
Howdy From Kalamazoo

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Post by Chai Guy » Wed Apr 27, 2005 12:03 pm

This phenomenon isn't limited to the playa by any stretch of the imagination. I think there are just a certain percentage of people with entitlement complexes which become much more apparent in a gift economy.

for example:


While making chai at a desert party I had several people put their hands into the large pot of chai with their hands and cups while my back was turned for a second (this after I just served about 100 cups of chai with a ladle). I asked them why they decided to contaminate my gift by putting their hands into it when I was standing two feet away with a ladle, their response was "But you're giving it out for free right?"

Another time when I was making Pita sandwiches at a party a girl walks up and asks if she can have one. I say "sure, but I've got 3 people ahead of you, so when I finish making these, I'll make one for you", I continue making the sandwhiches and talking with a friend. She interrupts me 3 times to ask when I'm going to make her sandwhich, 3 times I tell her that I'll make her's when I'm done making these other one's. Finally she interrupts for a 4th time and so I tell her to just go away.

Whatever, people can be rude, but I have to say that 99% of the people I encounter are wonderful and amazing. Like the woman who,after drinking some chai, handed me her topaz necklace and told me the story of how she came to have it and how it coincided with a huge change in her life and how she wanted me to have it. Or the Japanese kids who were so in love with my chai that they ran to me everytime they saw me like I was the frigin' ice cream man, and then invited me to their camp where they had a real live honest to god sushi chef flown in from Japan. Or Brooke and Tim the couple that group hug me everytime they say me and yell "CHAI-CHAI-CHAI" (god, I hope I don't ever run into them at the grocery store, hahaha!).

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Post by ThePikey » Wed Apr 27, 2005 12:14 pm

I don't consider giving someone a gift to be an obligation on my part. Sure, that's some of what BM is about, but not all. I do not owe you or anyone else a piece of swag. However, if some random person out there decides to give *me* a gift for whatever reason, I'll probably want to be able to reciprocate because hey, I'm like that y'know?

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Post by blyslv » Wed Apr 27, 2005 2:18 pm

Forget about giving away the Chef-Boy-R-Dee, save the good stuff for yourself. The next time it happens open up a can of whoopass and tell them about the barter economy.
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Post by theCryptofishist » Wed Apr 27, 2005 2:43 pm

Stare deep into her eyes and say: I like you so much I'd like to give you the gift that keeps on giving. . . Herpes.
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Apollonaris Zeus
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Post by Apollonaris Zeus » Thu Apr 28, 2005 10:57 am

When does a gift become an obligation"

When they start pulling guns on you!


Heheheehehehee!

A II Z

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Post by MissNev » Thu Apr 28, 2005 12:15 pm

We have a bar out there, and these stories are all to common. I've become pretty hard nosed with assholes, and it's not limited to Burning Man. I simply have little tolerance for intolerance! Some of my favorite gems: We decided last year that we would not open the bar for public until Thursday (we usually open on Mon. or Tues.) However, we did have several private in camp parties. When people came up to bar (in an enclosed structure) and the door was zipped shut, the people who were in the know would just come to the back door. More than once, we had people try to open the front because they wanted a drink. When we would tell them that the bar wasn't open, we were met with many different reactions; some pretty bad. Too F-in bad. We are going to do it again this year.

Every year we get some dumb ass who is less than thrilled with our selection at the bar. From the first year, when someone asks, "Don't you have any (insert brand name of alcohol) instead? Says I: "No, we have the free kind." When asked, perhaps, about kinds of beer..we would say "we have x, x, x and x". What, no _______? I saw a guy with one.
"No, we only have the kind that we are giving away graciously."

It happens, but fortunately it is the exception and not the rule. I can't imagine not running the bar, and a couple of assholes are not going to ruin it for me.

I love your soup idea, and I'm thinking I'm going to do that this year.

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Post by theCryptofishist » Thu Apr 28, 2005 1:06 pm

If these people want service, can't they go to club med?
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Gifts freely given, taken with entitlement.

Post by XS » Fri Apr 29, 2005 3:23 pm

That's a great story, but so fucked up.

Soup is such a thoughtful and nourishing gift. Clearly your generosity is not limited, but occasionally the material gift given can be. Gifts are freely given between people, in the moment. If the moment passes, and the gifts are gone, then that's an unfortunate missed opportunity that should never be leveraged back upon you because someone witnessed your gifting and had to have some or else.

I abhor the sense of entitlement some people maintain, especially in light of the self-reliance required on the playa. And for people to ask for a gift is absurd.

Soup as a gift is a wonderful idea, but as the old adage says "Feed the strays and you'll never get rid of 'em." Bless you, baby. Don't give up giving even though many are so eager to take.

"Let there be Kharmic sand in her chowder forevermore!"
Too much is never enough.

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