Tips for Shy People at Burning Man

Questions, answers, tips & tricks for newbies and veterans alike

Tips for Shy People at Burning Man

Postby brody » Fri Aug 12, 2011 12:50 pm

Hi. Are you shy? Do you have a hard time walking into a camp full of complete strangers and striking up a conversation? Does the idea of walking out of your tent in a crazy outfit strike terror into your heart? Fabulous! My people! Read on.

The dumbest mistake I made my virgin year was expecting the playa to entertain me. Waiting for other people to reach out to me and draw me in, figuring all I’d need to do was show up and I’d somehow be assimilated into the vibe. I was intensely shy, and didn’t have much experience figuring out how to insert myself into an unfamiliar culture. I had all the stuff I needed to survive, except social skills.

Burning Man is full of 50,000 people who are more-likely-than-in-normal-life to want to talk to you due to our participatory culture, but they’re still just people doing their own thing. If you are desperately shy and walking around hoping someone will talk to you- it might happen, it might not. But if you make an effort to talk to other people, the results will likely be good. If you don’t make an effort, you might be disappointed. And lonely. And nobody wants that.

Here are some suggestions that have worked well for me, perhaps some might work for you too. I’ve managed over seven years at Burning Man to transform myself from a desperately shy person into someone who is less-shy and can easily talk to others. Most of the time. I still have my moments of wide-eyed terror and wishing I had a book to hide behind.

Smile. Seriously. Shy people are sometimes seen as angry, aloof, haughty, unfriendly, you name it. Pretend you’re outgoing. Yeah, it’s terrifying. Do it anyway. Burning Man is a good place to practice looking friendly. Smile at everyone until your face hurts. Then take some ibuprofen and smile some more.

Have some conversational starters. Not “lines”, per se, but there’s a few things I’ve found that most everyone wants to talk about. I have great success with sidling up to strangers and asking “what’s the coolest thing you’ve seen today?” or “what’s the best piece of art that you’ve run across?” or the like. Everyone has wildly different experiences! Explore them.

Wear It Anyway! If you bring costumes to Burning Man but then feel uncomfortable going out in them, wear them anyway. You might feel terrifyingly like the center of attention when you step out of your tent in something that pushes your comfort zone, but you look pretty normal to everyone else. Nothing is normal in Black Rock City, so the weird becomes the norm. People enjoy complimenting each other on costumes (if they notice you at all). It’s a good conversation starter, too. Ask that person wearing the fabulous costume if they created it themselves.

Float More, Steer Less. Try an experiment where you let the whims of others dictate your day. Walk up to strangers and ask them for a destination suggestion or an activity. When they say something like “go climb the Man base and check it out” or “go visit XYZ camp and do (activity)”, do it. Once you’ve accomplished that task, ask someone else. Repeat. Have adventures. Or get distracted on the way. Whatever.

Go to an activity you find in the What Where When guide. You’ll meet people there because you’ll all be doing the same thing. It provides context, and context is a great way to meet people.

Meet your neighbors in the next camp over. Bring a snack or a drink or just a smile. Ask where they’re from, how their journey to Burning Man went. Let them know that you’re there to help if they need anything. They will usually offer their help too, and often a seat in their shade and a beer and an invite to sit a spell and chat.

Go to the Volunteer table near Playa Info in Center Camp, and ask if they need volunteers anywhere. Many projects and departments need volunteers. Having a Job makes it easy not to be shy.

The Nuclear Option. If all else fails and you feel desperate yet brave, make a sign (hand-held or on a t-shirt) that says “I Am Shy” and go hang out somewhere. People will come talk to you because, well, shit, we’re all shy sometimes.

HUGS!

[edited title & slight content change to match blog post]
Last edited by brody on Mon Aug 15, 2011 6:09 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby Packoderm » Fri Aug 12, 2011 12:55 pm

There is a fine line between reduced inhibitions and a perpetual hangover.

Oh, sorry about yet another one-liner. I couldn't resist.
Last edited by Packoderm on Fri Aug 12, 2011 12:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby illy dilly » Fri Aug 12, 2011 12:56 pm

Great Post Brody!
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby jkisha » Fri Aug 12, 2011 1:01 pm

What illy dilly said.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby brody » Fri Aug 12, 2011 1:01 pm

Packoderm wrote:There is a fine line between reduced inhibitions and a perpetual hangover.

Oh, sorry about yet another one-liner. I couldn't resist.


Yes, you'll notice that "drink until you're no longer shy" is NOT on my list...... ha. It's not an actual solution to being shy, it's just a band-aid. A band-aid with a shitty headache the next morning.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby Packoderm » Fri Aug 12, 2011 1:11 pm

brody wrote:
Packoderm wrote:There is a fine line between reduced inhibitions and a perpetual hangover.

Oh, sorry about yet another one-liner. I couldn't resist.


Yes, you'll notice that "drink until you're no longer shy" is NOT on my list...... ha. It's not an actual solution to being shy, it's just a band-aid. A band-aid with a shitty headache the next morning.


Yes, but it's a chance I'm willing to take.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby HandJamMasterC » Fri Aug 12, 2011 1:13 pm

I agree, great post Brody!!

I'll add this - don't be intimidated to go into theme camps / bars because you don't have anything to gift them in return. The beauty of Burning Man is the offering of unconditional gifts and unconditional love for our fellow humans. Think of it as Christmas morning when you were 5 years old !! :D A thank you, a smile and a hug are the best gifts in return anyway !!
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby ConnieH » Fri Aug 12, 2011 2:12 pm

EXCELLENT post!! I can be horribly shy at times, which is why I like to bartend - serving people brings me out of my shell because I have to talk to them and we immediately have something in common (the drink being poured), much like volunteering. I love your conversation starter suggestions, I'm going to use them :) Paying someone a heartfelt compliment on their costume or creativity will generally start a conversation, too.

I went to my first burn expecting everyone in our theme camp to welcome me and want to get to know me (I only knew a handful going in). Nope, didn't happen. I found it was just like home where I'm easily forgetable after a first introduction, and face it, there are so many distractions at BM it's easy to forget one of a hundred faces you may meet over the week. I try not to take it personal or let it hinder any further interactions. A lot of those people are now my close friends, sometimes it just takes time and a little effort on my part.

My partner was a great example at my second burn - he will go into a bar and sit down and ask the bartender how he's doing, where he's from, compliment him on the decor, and not ask for a drink. He'll chat for 10 minutes or more before even mentioning it. Hours and several drinks later, we have new friends :)
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby swampdog » Fri Aug 12, 2011 2:31 pm

great post, Brody, thanks.

My name is Swampdog and I'm shy. (hi Swampdog)

Burning Man is my great laboratory of how to get over being shy. Last year I was pretty outrageous in a couple of ways and it worked for me. I look forward to being OUT THERE this year.

Some ideas. Try playing a role. This is hard to describe without sounding silly, but it works. Some volunteer opportunities could help with that. Be a disgruntled postal worker, or a happy greeter. Be Captain Fabulous and strut your stuff around the cafe.

Compliment people. Be specific (ie, "Wow, I really like that hat!" instead of "looking good there!"

Try not to be afraid to be who you are. You don't need to figure out who society wants you to pretend to be. Not at Burning Man.

Ask for things. Ask for directions, or suggestions. Ask for a drink of water. You know how good you feel when you give something away? If you let people give you things, you get to make them feel good.

Show your appreciation for a gift.

Look for opportunities to give things. It doesn't have to be a Gift, some piece of unique art that you made especially for that person. It can be - a helping hand, a moment of appreciation, a moment of listening and support.

A friend of mine said she learned at burning man that it's usually ok to walk up to someone or some group and say, "Hey, what are you freaks doing?"

Let yourself be alone when you need to be alone. Meditate at the temple (all those people go away when you shut your eyes) or out in deep playa.

Expect a little loneliness. It gets better. Cry when you have to.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby trilobyte » Fri Aug 12, 2011 2:36 pm

Excellent post, thank you Brody!
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby trilobyte » Fri Aug 12, 2011 2:38 pm

And thanks for the additional nuggets of awesome, swampdog.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby Sic Pup » Fri Aug 12, 2011 2:41 pm

Excellent post, Brody.

It's funny I can force myself to do some pretty remarkable things in a business setting or when I feel I absolutely have to but if left to my own devices and in strictly a social situation..........

My Achilles heel, I'm going to print that out and use it when needed.


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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby Turnip » Fri Aug 12, 2011 2:44 pm

I was afraid to walk around in my pastease, but within 2 blocks of my camp I heard on the megaphone
"ANY LADIES WEARING PASTEASE COME GET HOT DOGS AND SNOW CONES"


Well, HELL YEAH. I believe this speaks to the spirit of this thread.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby ConnieH » Fri Aug 12, 2011 2:56 pm

swampdog wrote:Ask for things. Ask for directions, or suggestions. Ask for a drink of water. You know how good you feel when you give something away? If you let people give you things, you get to make them feel good.



Along those lines - accept things offered to you! I had a tendency to shyly say no when randomly offered a gift or help with something I'm doing. I still decline occasionally out of habit, but now if someone offers me a foot bath, hell yeah, I'll take it!
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby Ugly Dougly » Fri Aug 12, 2011 3:04 pm

Spend a little time researching theme camps that have a genuinely interactive experience, such as the scavanger hunt. It may help you connect with fellow burners.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby brody » Fri Aug 12, 2011 3:13 pm

ConnieH wrote:Along those lines - accept things offered to you! I had a tendency to shyly say no when randomly offered a gift or help with something I'm doing. I still decline occasionally out of habit, but now if someone offers me a foot bath, hell yeah, I'll take it!


Yes, accept THINGS! And experiences, as long as they don't make you morally uncomfortable. And if they start out OK but end up making you uncomfortable, please state your boundaries clearly and feel free to change your mind or say NO/STOP. (For example, the foot rub that might drift too far north all the sudden, etc)

I can't, however, recommend accepting food or drink from strangers, unless it's from a registered theme camp. 99% of the time it will be ok, I'd imagine, but there are people out there who dose others without their consent. It happens every year. If you are going to accept food or drink from strangers, ask if there are drugs in them. And still realize you're taking a risk in potentially getting dosed, even if they say no.

I'm not saying live in fear and don't trust your neighbor... I'm just saying know your own risk tolerance level and make decisions based upon that. It's ok to say no thank you, give them a hug instead, whatever.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby jella » Fri Aug 12, 2011 3:18 pm

So very well put Brody, thank you.
Shy has never been my thing but getting outside ones comfort zones is a challange we all face, stay safe but burning man is an excellent place reach out and try on new personas hehe
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby some seeing eye » Fri Aug 12, 2011 3:27 pm

As a formerly shy and on occasion still shy, these are all great suggestions! Thanks. Maybe it should be a sticky?

BM is a temporary community of mostly strangers and is designed for people to meet and make connections. That's the point. I can certainly say that the experience broke down many of my barriers, though not in one year, and with a lot of connecting off playa in the local community. I think my discovery was to learn how to be aware of other peoples reactions while not panicking.

More suggestions

Let the Black Rock Boutique and other on playa costumers dress you, I know hard, just see if you can go with it. They are used to shy people and don't judge. They might even contribute a persona to you.

Some volunteer jobs have free time to meet your covolunteers and have deeper conversations in a place that isn't loud. Some jobs are continual customer service. Choose accordingly or mix them up.

Some on playa camps, like the HeeBeeGeeBee Healers have long waits with a chill crowd who are a pleasure to talk with.

Interactions on bike are very rare compared to walking.

Some events fall into interactions or lack thereof like those at their off playa counterparts. So at the dance camps, people act like they are at a dance event in the outer world. May not be the best place for interaction if you are uncomfortable at those events in the outside world.
Last edited by some seeing eye on Fri Aug 12, 2011 3:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby trilobyte » Fri Aug 12, 2011 3:32 pm

And don't feel intimidated because this is your first time going to Burning Man. Guess what, nobody's 'from around here' - we were all new at least once! :D
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby The CO » Fri Aug 12, 2011 3:42 pm

Find a buddy that isn't shy. Partner up, and go out and have them introduce you to people.

Make a sign or shirt that says "I'm shy, please introduce yourself to me." Seriously.

Ask anyone that is working hard if they would like help. Focus on the helping, and you might sudenly realize you've made new friends.

Get stopped by a M*A*S*H/Terminal city road block. We'll cure your shyness.


Great post Brody, and worthy of its sticky status.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby Eric » Fri Aug 12, 2011 4:01 pm

I love your post Brody- I've given some of those same tips to birgins I've camped with. I only have one variation:

brody wrote: * if you bring costumes to burning Man but then feel weird going out in them because you think people might look at you funny or judge you, tough shit, wear them anyway.


If you're not comfortable in a costume (or outfit), don't wear it. Sometimes pushing yourself to be social is hard enough, pushing yourself to be social while feeling uncomfortable or awkward about what you're wearing can be a game-killer. Start slow, maybe by midweek you'll be ready to play dress up. Maybe you don't see a need to at all & won't. There is no shame in wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby jella » Fri Aug 12, 2011 4:10 pm

Eric wrote:I love your post Brody- I've given some of those same tips to birgins I've camped with. I only have one variation:

brody wrote: * if you bring costumes to burning Man but then feel weird going out in them because you think people might look at you funny or judge you, tough shit, wear them anyway.


If you're not comfortable in a costume (or outfit), don't wear it. Sometimes pushing yourself to be social is hard enough, pushing yourself to be social while feeling uncomfortable or awkward about what you're wearing can be a game-killer. Start slow, maybe by midweek you'll be ready to play dress up. Maybe you don't see a need to at all & won't. There is no shame in wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby brody » Fri Aug 12, 2011 4:13 pm

Eric wrote:If you're not comfortable in a costume (or outfit), don't wear it. Sometimes pushing yourself to be social is hard enough, pushing yourself to be social while feeling uncomfortable or awkward about what you're wearing can be a game-killer. Start slow, maybe by midweek you'll be ready to play dress up. Maybe you don't see a need to at all & won't. There is no shame in wearing jeans and a t-shirt.


Yeah, to each her own about this one. Sometimes when wearing a costume it's easier to pretend to be outgoing. Sometimes it ends up crippling you further. Totally depends on the person-- but to not TRY pushing through it, I think, is kind of a bummer. You can always head right back to your tent and change clothes.

And I totally agree that costumes are not necessary. I'm sitting at home right now, procrastipacking, and deciding to not take about 90% of the costumes I have. I'm sort of over it after 7 years, and wear a sort of 'burning man uniform' of tank tops & booty shorts & tall black boots. Ha. But for some people, costumes can be really fun/freeing/part of the way they participate in the City.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby peacefulhuman » Fri Aug 12, 2011 4:15 pm

Wow, this is my favorite ePlaya post of the week -- thanks Brody! Excellent stuff here!
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby Mojori » Fri Aug 12, 2011 4:16 pm

brody wrote:Hi. Are you shy? Do you have a hard time walking into a roomful of complete strangers and striking up a conversation? Does the idea of walking out of your tent in a crazy outfit strike terror into your heart? Cool, ok, you can work with that.

. . .

HUGS!



Hey Brody, this is one of the BEST things I've ever seen on ePlaya. It is practical, compassionate, brave, thoughtful and very helpful. You ROCK!!!
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby Bexx » Fri Aug 12, 2011 4:21 pm

Great post Brody!

such good info in this!! Don't be afraid.. just go out and be!
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby Elorrum » Fri Aug 12, 2011 4:24 pm

I really relax as the week goes on. I usually arrive tense form the preparation, the drive, and just my regular default state. To jump into a tutu, for me, just takes a few days... or years... we'll have to see about that. I love the thread, and there are some very good pointers and ideas. It's about fun, comfort, pushing ccomfort zones too, but having fun doing it.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby RedHeaven » Fri Aug 12, 2011 4:25 pm

Excellent post!

I want to second the Smile....Try to smile, keep chin up...it attracts people. I am not very shy but I do love shy men, something about em....Usually I strike a conversation up with shy guys standing in the back by themselves if they are putting out a good energy by smiling or not looking angry. 8)

My first year I was a little shy and got kind of depressed mid week about my better dressed girlfriends getting more attention than I was....but also I realiZed that the people I was attracting were my types anyway, the ones that were bombarding my girlfriends were not so much. Sometimes we are just meant to meet. Its not the quantity of people noticing me, its quality.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby Leo » Fri Aug 12, 2011 7:51 pm

Participate in the Black Rock City world naked bike ride and pub crawl. After that experience you won't feel self-conscious wearing a costume.
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Re: Burning Man Tips for Shy People

Postby Foxfur » Fri Aug 12, 2011 10:08 pm

I am very shy. I often have to make a huge effort to get out of my shell. Coming here has helped tremendously. At Compression I was shy guy for the morning hours but as I met more people I became less shy. I began to really come out when I started putting on bits of clothing from my outfits. As the day went on I made myself go up to people and offer small but sincere compliments, not just small talk. People are not as unapproachable as you may think. Once I was in full barbarian drag I felt wonderful. I still didn't initiate as many conversations as I would liked to have but I did start a few. People love to talk. People love people. Find someone shy, someone who is standing off to the side, go up and tell them you don't know anybody and are shy and is it alright if you talk for a bit. This has worked well for me in the past. Kindred spirits and such. 1 + 1 = 2!
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