My life on Mars: 1. coffee and traditions

My first cultural encounter, years ago prepared me in an unexpected way about how to be more

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In 2010, I participated in my first Mars simulation at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. The experience changed my life in very many ways, including becoming very aware of traditions and sometimes questioning why doing things that are traditional just because they were done in a certain way for many thousands of years. And I’ve asked myself since, in the context of Mars (and space exploration), where do you draw the cultural line?

Back in 2010, I heard I that I was going to Utah to participate in a Mars simulation.

After I recovered from the shock of overjoy, my first thought was “this can’t be real” and my second thought was, “if this is real, I really hope they give us coffee”.

MDRS (2)
The author at the Mars Desert Research Station MDRS, Utah, 2011

I love coffee because each sip makes me feel present, it is my Eckhart Tolle‘s Power of Now. To my despair, I could not stand the smell of it while I was pregnant with my daughter, but I made myself drink it again about two years later. Taste was eww, but I missed how it always brought me back into ‘the moment’. With the exception of the US filtered coffee – nothing personal, but doesn’t matter how much of that I drink, nothing happens.

white ceramic mug filled with brown liquid on heart shaped coffee beans
Photo by Jessica Lynn Lewis on Pexels.com

What is culture?

It’s a cultural thing, coffee – I always thought. But what is culture? In Romanian, cult is something you do repeatedly and in plain sight. As opposite to occult which is also something you do repeatedly but you’re also hiding when you do it. It is fair to say that I grew up with a culture of coffee.

I don’t drink tea. Growing up in Romania, we only drank herbal tea when we were sick. There was some plant for each sickness so tea for me is like a medicine.

At my first visit in England, when I was 22, I replied “no thanks I’m not sick” to the question “would you like some tea?” But wait, it got worse, the next question was “oh would you like some coffee then?” “I thought, yeah finally” but it was followed by “do you take milk?” This time I only thought to myself, “oh what is going on, I’m not a 6 year old.” and said politely “no thanks”. That is, growing up in a communist-border-closed-controlling country, we did not have cocoa like everyone else (yes I know sounds silly, right?) so the greatest treat when your were a kid was a little bit of coffee in your milk. Of course adults NEVER had milk in their coffee, it was a thing for children.

That conversation in Britain was my first cultural shock – in hindsight it was a very mild shock, as worse things could have happened instead of someone offering me tea, but I felt awkward for years trying to figure out what on Earth did I say wrong. It took many more years to fully get it. The irony is, England switched to drinking tea after a fungi, the coffee blight, destroyed coffee plantations that were a major supply to England at the time. Yet probably very few people remember this or know about it. And of course, English people more than any other cultures who drink tea (except perhaps the Japanese) are most famous for drinking tea. Even though England is now famous for drinking tea, they didn’t always, and maybe it is about ‘the moment’ after all and not so much about the liquid… And maybe this can be extrapolated to many other things in our lives.

This first cultural encounter helped me later, when I learned how to behave in a multicultural society, where people from all over the world have very different perspectives on most things they do. It is our differences that make us more interesting to each other, and with these differences come different ways to solve the same problems. Our different perspectives on the same thing is one of our best strengths.