The albatross a simulation exercise

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2 dishes or bowls for hand washing (paper bowls with water)

2 liquid to drink (use bottled water for ease)

2 food to eat (something easy)

2 chairs

Choose 2 girls and 2 boys to participate in this simulation exercise. Explain their role in this exercise but do not explain any of the historical content behind the true Albatrossian culture until after the discussion has ensued.
A male and female Albatrossian sit in their places with the male on the chair and the female kneeling beside him. Females with shoes off and males with shoes on.
All communication attempts during the exercise are done by a clicking sound or by touch only – no speaking is allowed. The Albatrossians always maintain unsmiling (but serene, and pleasant) expressions, and do not register in facial reactions their various feelings or responses to what may go on around them.
The Albatrossian females simultaneously retrieve a bowl of water and bring it back to the male and assume their kneeling positions. Each male in dips the fingers of his right hand into the bowl and lifts or waves the hand about gracefully to dry. The women’s hands are not washed. The females return the bowl of water to the table and then returns to her place for a minute before beginning the next activity. When they return, the males lower the heads of the women so that they are looking toward the ground.
She then — upon a clicking cue from the man — rises to retrieve food and offers the food to each male in turn first before offering the food to the other female. She sticks her hands into the food and stuffs a little into the mouths of each male. Upon being fed the Albatrossian man indicates his appreciation by a rubbing of the stomach. Afterwards, she then offers the food to the other female. She returns the food to the table and then she returns to her kneeling position next to the Albatrossian man. During these pauses, which should be prolonged for effect, the Albatrossian man gently pushes the woman’s head from time to time downward as she kneels.
Next follows the serving of drink. In the same manner, the Albatrossian woman gives the cup to the Albatrossian man to drink from first then he rubs his belly in satisfaction before the drink is offered to the females. The females then take the drinks back and return to their place and resume their kneeling posture.
After another pause, the two Albatrossian males indicate to the kneeling females to follow them, and the four people leave the area, concluding the first part of the exercise.

As elaborated later, part of the point of the Albatross exercise is to provide an opportunity for people to learn by observation, to infer meaning from the totality of what happened. Since this “cultural observation” aspect is important, it is best to conduct the exercise with as much consistency as possible, within some frame of reference agreed on by all Albatrossian performers. Following are some of the “standard” cultural assumptions, which usually are in play, and which the participants have the problem of figuring out as the exercise goes on.

Though the exercise is deliberately set up to indicate otherwise to an American audience, in fact the Albatrossian society values women above men. The Earth is sacred; all fruitfulness is blessed; those (thus women) who bring life into being are one with the Earth, and only they are able (by virtue of their inherent qualities) to walk directly upon the ground. Thus, men must wear shoes, and thus their greeting does not deal with the Earth, where that of women emphasizes the ground and feet. Only women are able to prepare and offer the fruits of the Earth. The roles of men and women in the society reflect this relationship to Earth, though to the new observer it may appear as if other meanings are present. For example, the fact that the Albatrossian man pushes down the head of the kneeling Albatrossian woman is a pursuit of his obligations in the society; it is his duty to remind her of sacredness, to approach it through her, to protect her from forgetfulness. He drinks and eats first and walks ahead to protect her (and all that she represents) from harm or defilement.
Albatrossians have a language, though only some part of it is required or used in the greeting ceremony (the clicks, hums, hisses). It may be useful to approach the language question on another assumption: that Albatrossians communicate via mental telepathy, and that the few sounds they use are mainly means of getting a person’s attention. The society values calm, serenity, stateliness. The Albatrossians are peaceful, welcoming of strangers, generous, loving and tolerant. They eat and drink things which they like (though they may not agree with the taste of foreign visitors). Their patterns of life and their ceremonies (such as the greeting ceremony) are time-honored and are considered to be self-evidently correct and adequate.
This last is important. It is important for the Albatrossians to bear in mind (and for participants to realize later in discussion) that what is, is – and that Albatrossians are no different from any other people in the world making the unconscious assumption that they are “normal.” Thus, they assume that any visitors to their village want to be greeted in the same manner, that the visitor knows as well as they what is correct (though they are tolerant and gently correcting of lapses); for example: that the woman with the largest feet among visitors is completely in accord with the necessity of her selection, etc.

1. What Happened? (Early exploration – no confirmation or denial)

2. Objective Observations (Tell participants to screen out own feelings and reactions, and tell

only what they observed. This can be written on newsprint)

a. What did you see happen?

b. What did the Albatrossian man do? What did the woman do?

c. Describe the Albatrossian language.

3. Personal Feelings and Reactions

a. What did you feel as you participated in this exercise?

b. What, in your opinion, is the role of the Albatrossian woman in the society…The Albatrossian male? Why?

c. What are some similarities between your culture and the Albatrossian culture? Some differences?

At this point, you can explain the underlying values of the Albatrossian culture.

4. How participants use their own cultural biases to analyze what is happening

a. How do your preconceptions or current perspective affect our cultural perceptions?

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