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How Not to Act at Burning Man

burning man

If the heat and crowds get to you, take some time for yourself.  Photo by Jon Collier/Flickr

For the past few years, my veteran Burning Man camp has played host to several virgin Burners, who usually suffer a few breakdowns here and there before heading out. Their issues are not the heat, the dust or even the nudity: They are thoroughly concerned that they don't know how to act. They are justified in their concerns. How do you act in the raucous desert celebration where you are expected to comply with the Ten Principles?

Just act like yourself. Other Burners will love you for it. However, there are a few things we've noticed over the years that newbies tend to do while caught up in the excitement of their first year at Burning Man. Here are the top eight in no particular order:

1. Don't wear regular clothes
It's okay to hang around your camp in your comfy shorts and tank tops, or better yet, your silk pajamas and bunny slippers, but don't go out at night or into the city wearing everyday clothes. I once saw two guys at Center Camp wearing jeans, tennis shoes, logo shirts and trucker hats. They were holding cans of Budweiser and staring at girl's naked breasts. They were dust-free and screamed newbie.

2. Don't freak out
You will see some crazy stuff out there. I won't go into details, but just don't freak out or carry on. Burning Man in a large part is all about finding another side of yourself and that could include being introduced to the other side of 68,000 other people.

3. Don't be a dark wad
This bit of advice is listed every year in the Burning Man Survival Guide, but it is one of our pet peeves. While on our bikes we've nearly run over people at night who refuse to light up both themselves and their bodies. Get some EL wire and light up.

4. Don't barter
Contrary to popular belief, Burning Man is a gifting community – not a bartering community. The idea is just to give freely to others with no expectation of reciprocation. This is a hard concept for virgins to accept, but once you get used to it, it's one of the best things about the event.

5. Don't show disdain
A few years ago, a sweet Black Rock City neighbor dressed up in the cutest sundress, cowboy hat and cowboy boots. He looked great. However, there were some other Burner men around who gave him smack about it. Don't show disdain toward the bearded 50-year-old man wearing a wedding dress or the hippie woman who decides to shirtcock with the men. We are all wonderful.

6. Ask first
Ask the pretty, naked girl with the feather headdress before you take her picture. Ask the metal artist if it's okay to climb on his artwork, ask your neighborhood bartender if they need anything for the bar before downing their camp's drinks, and ask the guy lying on his back in the dust if he needs water or sunscreen.

7. Don't get frustrated
The heat, cold, dust, crowds, noise, and sun can really get to you out there. Don't get frustrated while trying to set up camp when someone forgot the extra rebar stakes, don't get frustrated when standing in a line of 50 people for fresh, hot waffles, and don't get frustrated when people don't sit down right away during the Burn. Relax and take a deep dusty breath.

8. Don't take a bike that's not yours
Believe me, I've been tempted. One year after leaving a rave, I searched a sea of bikes and mutant vehicles for mine. I could have sworn I left it next to a giant, glowing scorpion, but that scorpion had wandered off. Wait, there's another bike that's not locked up. No one would miss it, would they? As I began to wheel out my new bike, my dusty, green bike winked at me from the corner of the rave. I put my new bike back where I found it.