This month I had the good fortune to attend a friends 50th birthday celebration. It involved people flying in from various parts of the world for a three day camping event. We were camping in a very remote and very beautiful part of Australia in a place called Arnhem Land. This area is culturally and spiritually a very special place and is also one of the last true wildernesses in the world - a place where you can still experience an authentic natural environment.
We were a large party that was represented by many different cultures and languages and for the most part were individuals who had not met before. For three days we lived in a very remote part of Australia where the only way out was a three-hour drive to the nearest town.
By throwing together and isolating a group of people from so many different cultures and backgrounds and forcing them to co-exist for three days, my friend who hosted the party had inadvertently created a cultural laboratory! Being keenly tuned to group dynamics and cultural awareness, this camping trip provided me endless opportunities to observe the mechanics of human interaction and the impact and effect that culture had on these interactions.
One interaction worthy of reporting here related to an unintended culture clash between different attitudes to cold beer...
One group of campers were headed out on a fishing trip and decided that it would be a good idea to take some cold beers with them. They went to the fridge (yes - this was luxury camping - we had a fridge!) and removed all the cold beer. No-one in this group thought to restock the fridge. Soon after the fishing group departed another group arrived back at camp, tired and dusty from a grueling four-wheel drive expedition. The four-wheel drivers headed to the fridge in anticipation of sitting down to a relaxing, icy-cold
beer. Of course the fridge was bare, all of the beers had been taken, and all that was on offer was unrefrigerated, tepid beer. The driving group was disappointed and frustrated that they had no cold beer and that no-one had thought to replenish the fridge.
I should point out that the fishing group were not Australians. I knew that they had no idea of the 'unspoken rule' of camping in Australia - and that is if you take cold beer from a fridge you replace it, so that there is cold beer for the next person.
After watching the reaction of people realising there was no cold beer, I was concerned that they may have concluded the fishing group to be selfish and thoughtless of their fellow campers. I considered the negative impact that these thoughts could have on the weekend.
I decided to speak up. When the fishing group returned I quietly explained the 'unspoken beer rules' in Australia, so that they would have this awareness for the future, and would have an opportunity to redress the situation.
The outcome was a group of people who were completely unaware of the impact that their behaviours had and were keen to use the situation as an opportunity to explain their ignorance surrounding the cultural code of beer to their fellow campers.
A few things stood out for me:
- ALWAYS replace the beer you take out of the fridge!
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