Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Politely Worded Guide to Gem Shows

Hello Polite Readers!

It's gem show season here in Tucson Arizona. Our city is full of tents, the hotels are overflowing with vendors and shoppers, there's interesting people from all over the world displaying all manner of gems, beads, fossils and more. It's a very exciting time, but it can also be very stressful. A little polite behavior can go a long way towards making everything go much more smoothly. Here's a few of my best tips:

1. Excuse me, please, and thank you go a long way. Whether you're dealing with a fellow shopper who's blocking your view of something you'd like to buy, or a vendor who needs to tell you how much that amethyst geode is, a smile and a kind word is always appropriate.

2. Take it easy on the booth-help. I've been working at the gem show for 14 years. Because I live in Tucson, about half a dozen different vendors over the years have hired me to help out at their booths. It's a great job and I love it, but sometimes customers can be surprisingly rude. A couple of things to keep in mind: many gem show employees are temporary helpers like me. We might work a few trade shows a year or only this one. We probably don't have the stock memorized (especially on the first day of the show!), so we might have to track down our boss to get an answer to your question. And because we're just temporary employees, we really don't have the power to give you a special discount, so don't get huffy when we say that it's price as marked.

3. Do your homework ahead of time. Get your hands on the show guide or look up the shows on-line. It will help you get an idea of where to find your favorite vendors, where to shop for specific sorts of things (some shows specialize in high-end jewelry, some in rough stone for cutting, some in fossils, some in beads, etc etc), and which shows are wholesale-only.

4. Be mindful of where you set your stuff. Be careful that you don't put a heavy bag of books on top of a display of delicate beads, or leave your rolling bag in the middle of the aisle. Also, keep track of your drinks! We find an awful lot of half-empty water bottles in our booth.

5. When you start to feel antsy, take a little break. It's easy to get overwhelmed, especially in a crowded show. Find a spot to sit down, maybe go outside for some fresh air. Have a snack or drink. Look through your purchases so far.Just a couple of minutes can be enough to melt that stress away.

6. Compliment other shoppers on their incredible taste! It will probably make them smile and you might even make a new friend.

7. Remember that old adage "If you can't say anything nice..." If you don't like a vendor's wares or you think they're overpriced or you saw nicer ones at the last show, don't say so while still standing at their booth.

8. Keep your eye out for chances to do small acts of kindness. Hold the door open for the person behind you, pick up something that someone dropped, chase down the shopper who absent-mindedly left half of their purchase at the booth. It will make you both feel better.

Do you have a situation that you're struggling to handle politely? Drop me a line at and I'll answer your questions on this blog!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Politely Worded Guide to Vaguebooking

Hello Polite Readers!

This week I'd like to talk to you about Vaguebooking. For those who aren't familiar with the term, it refers to posting a purposefully oblique status on a social network, such as "I'm so annoyed right now!" or "I have a secret!" Now, some people are strongly against the idea of Vaguebooking, but I think it's one of those things that most of us have engaged in at some point, and in the right circumstances, it's OK to do. Let's look at some of the reasons why you might indulge in Vaguebooking, and the most polite ways to approach them.

1. You have some good news to share and you can't announce it quite yet, but you want to watch your friends have a guessing game about it.

This is a pretty benign form of Vaguebooking, it can be fun for everyone involved as your friends come up with crazier and crazier things that might be making you happy. Of course, if you're a woman you'll have to put up with the inevitable assumption that you're pregnant. If you are going to do this, don't make people wait too long to find out what you're talking about!

2. You're really annoyed about something someone did and you want everyone to know that you're annoyed, but you don't specifically want to explain the situation.

I consider this one of the most annoying forms of Vaguebooking. It is generally not polite to be passive aggressive. It's better to take your problem directly to the person who caused it and find a way to work it out, rather than making a snarky Facebook post.

3. You've just received some bad news that you're not at liberty to share, and you're really upset about it.

Maybe you just found out that a loved one has a serious illness but doesn't want to announce it publicly, or that your company is closing at the end of the month and you'll be out a job, but you're not supposed to know it yet. In cases like this I think it's usually best to talk about it with a trusted friend, but sometimes you might need to Vaguebook to give everyone an idea of why you're no longer posting jokes and playing Farmville.

4. You're upset about something, anything, and you want everyone to know it and to pay lots of attention to you.

Vaguebooking generally draws more attention than just posting what you're upset about. For instance, if you post "Some jerk keyed my car while I was at the bank!" you'll get a lot of sympathy about how much people suck. But if you post "Grrrr!" then you'll get a whole lot of "What's wrong? Is everything OK? Do you need something?" and then when you finally tell them about the keying, you'll get that sympathy. It can be easy to get addicted to the attention you get from these tactics, but if you over-do it, your friends will start to get frustrated with the way you post about every little annoyance as if it was a personal slight from the universe and they'll ignore you. Generally save this one for when you're really upset, you need to blow off a little steam, but you're not going to be able to explain yourself until later.

One more thing... I really, strongly suggest NOT Vaguebooking negatively about anyone who's going to read it. If you're having an argument with your mom about politics and you go post "Ugh, I can't believe how dense people are!" you're just going to make things worse. Again, if you need to blow off steam about something like that, do so privately to a friend who isn't going to share with anyone else.

If you have a situation you'd like help with, just drop a line to and your letter could be featured here!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

When a service provider doesn't provide

Hello Polite Readers!

This week's column was inspired by a friend's question about what to do when you're paying someone for a service and they're just not doing what you've asked them to do, and in fact are doing a bad job. There's a few situations where this could happen:

-You're getting a pedicure and the stylist shaves off your dance callouses even though you told her not to.
-You're getting a massage and the therapist is literally rubbing you the wrong way.
-You ask for a little off the top and end up with a mullet.
-You hire someone to clean your house and they didn't mop the floor.

So I'm not a big fan of the old adage "The customer is always right" because sometimes the customer is wrong, insane, or keeps changing their mind. But chances are you are probably right if you feel like you asked for one thing and were given another. It's important to remember that this person is not doing you a favor, you are paying them to do a job and they should do the job you paid them for. But it's also important to remember that being polite will usually get you further than yelling.

If you catch the person before the damage is done, stop them and politely remind them of what you already agreed to. When you see the nail tech reaching for that callous remover, pull your foot back and say "Oh, I'm a dancer, I need to keep my callouses, thank you!"

In the case of the massage, communicate clearly why what the therapist is doing wrong is uncomfortable to you. If they continue to do things wrong, ask them to stop and either ask for a refund, or if it's one of those places with multiple employees, see if someone else can take over. Say something like "I'm sorry, your technique is making me uncomfortable."

When you get a bad haircut, you should talk to the salon manager and ask for another stylist to fix it. This is a case where I'd have a hard time not getting angry -- my hair is seriously important to me and a bad haircut can be had to repair. Make sure to stress how upset you are without raising your voice. If you're a dancer or model, this is a good time to mention how important your image is to your career and how this might cost you work.

When you've hired someone to do a job like cleaning your house or yard or painting your fence or building your new website and they've left part of it undone, remind them of the parameters of your original agreement. Depending on the situation, you can ask them to stay and finish it, to return the next day, to get it done by a certain deadline, to give you a partial refund for the work left undone, or for a credit towards your next service. Again, be polite and stick to the facts. "In our original contract we agreed I would pay you $100 for you to do X, Y and Z but you only completed X and Y. I need you to have Z done by Friday or I will have to request a partial refund." Depending on the nature of the work and your relationship with the person, you may also want to leave them some room for negotiation, ie, "I paid you for X, Y and Z but you did not provide Z. I was curious if there was a reason why Z was absent, and if so, can we replace it with something else?"

It's a common belief that being polite means that you have to let people walk all over you, but it's not true. You can be polite while still standing up for your rights as a customer. The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but you can squeak without yelling.

Do you have an awkward social situation you need help with? Write to me at and your question could be featured on this blog!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ways to be more polite in 2014

Hello Polite Readers!

Happy New Year and welcome to 2014! I am pretty excited for this year and I am looking forward to answering your letters (here's a not-so-subtle hint that you should write to me at I'd like to start this year with some ideas on how to be more polite in general in the New Year. Whether or not you're big on resolutions (I'm not), the start of the year is as good a time as any to make some positive changes in your life and how you interact with those around you.

Let's start with the easiest one... Please, thank you and you're welcome said with sincerity. It's such a simple thing to do but it really makes people feel respected. When I work retail, I'm always much happier to help the customers who use these words as opposed to those who order me around. And while we're on the subject, I often find that when a cashier or other employee says to me "Hi, How are you?" and I respond in kind, they're strangely surprised and pleased by this small display of manners. So take a moment to acknowledge the people who help you.

Next, take steps to appear more polite in your on-line correspondence. Often we come across as rude or angry when we're firing off a quick response. Taking the time to think about your response and phrasing it politely can work wonders. For instance, respond to a text that says "How about dinner at 6pm?" with "Fine." comes across as angry even if you don't mean it that way, but "Cool" or "Sounds great!" come across as more positive.

Look for instances in your life to be a little more polite to people, whether it's holding the door open for someone behind you, or offering to help someone struggling to reach the high shelf in the store, or letting someone else grab the primo parking spot.

Now for the biggie... one by one, work on your "triggers" for rude behavior. I think a lot of us have things that make us see red and forget our manners. Now, I am not ever going to suggest that you should lie down and take an insult, or not react when someone does something wrong. I'm instead going to suggest that you look for good ways to channel your annoyance into a reasonable response. Take some time to come up with some good stock responses to a situation. Maybe even practice them with a friend as a roleplaying scenario. Depending on what makes you angry, you may need to spend some time researching it (ie, if you get angry about seeing dogs left out in bad weather, research who you can report it to, stats that you can use to convince people not to do it, groups in your area that volunteer with abandoned dogs, etc etc). I promise you'll feel pretty awesome about yourself when a nasty situation springs up in real life and you handle it with a cool head and put the offender in their place.

Oh, and one more thing, don't forget to be polite to yourself! Don't beat yourself up over your mistakes or flaws. Nobody's perfect and we're all a work in progress. Forgive yourself and just try to do better in the future.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tips for a Polite Christmas and Beyond

Hello Polite Readers!

Well, when I decided to restart this blog I didn't think about the fact that my columns would fall on two holidays in a row. For today and New Years Day I'll have a couple of themed columns and then it's back to answering your letters!

Before we get started, a little note to my fellow non-Christmas-celebrating readers: Hello. I know, I know. Christmas. Ugh. What are you gonna do? I've been counting down the days until I wouldn't have to hear "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" or "Santa Baby" again, and here I am contributing to the problem. But I think we can all agree that the dreaded C-Day brings out some bad behavior in people, so let's politely help them behave.

Here's a few tips to stay cool and polite this Christmas, inspired by past columns and real-life experience.

1. Be thankful for any gifts you receive, no matter how tacky or otherwise inappropriate they might be. You can dispose of them later, but in front of the gift-giver, be the very image of gratitude.

2. Be prepared to dodge awkward conversations. If you know ahead of time that you're going to have to deal with people whose religious or political beliefs are opposite yours, or who think they have the right to comment negatively on your relationships, reproductive choices, or physical appearance, pre-plan some firm but polite responses, and good ways to change the subject to more neutral ground.

3. Be ready to compromise. We don't usually get to do exactly what we want for the holidays. You may need to be gracious about accommodating extra guests, eating less than fabulous food, or watching sports or schmaltzy Christmas movies that you don't particularly like.

4. Be firm but polite about your boundaries. You do not need to let your creepy uncle hug you, you do not have to eat the food you're allergic to, you do not have to get drawn into a conversation about how the guy you voted for in the last election is an idiot.

5. Be generous however you can. Give thoughtful gifts. Bring something delicious to the potluck. Bring a hostess gift. Donate to charity. Be free with the compliments. Help with clean-up.

6. And remember, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, whatever you say, the thought behind it should be the same "I hope you have a good day whatever you celebrate."

See you in 2014! In the meantime, you can always drop me a line at with your questions about civil discourse.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Complimenting, Condoning, Critiquing, Criticizing and other words that start with C.

Hello Polite Readers!

This week's question comes from one of my dancing friends and has to do with politely correcting someone's dance, although you can apply these tips to other art forms and knowledge as well:

Hey there! I'm not sure if you've addressed this or not but I thought it would be the perfect thing to ask you about for your blog.

I love belly dancing. I love all forms of it; it makes me happy like you would not believe. However I cannot stand when a person says "Oh the style I'm doing is ATS" when it is clearly cabaret or "I'm doing fusion" when it is, in essence, interpretive/modern dance. It drives me batty. I'd rather a person say "I'm doing cabaret and adding a bit of my own style into it" as opposed to saying something else. 

That being said, how do you provide feedback or constructive criticism to someone when they ask for it? You can't rightly say "your dancing was NOT type A" as that would be incredibly inappropriate. 


I'm glad you asked! This is a really important question because while oftentimes I'd tell you to just politely refuse to critique them by saying "I don't think I'm really qualified to critique you" or something along those lines, there's currently a great trend in the dance community of hosting salons where dancers bring their new works to be critiqued by each other, so you're going to be expected to politely express your opinion.

First and foremost, I always recommend using the "Criticism Sandwich" that I've discussed before on this blog. Make sure your complaints or questions about their stylistic choices are firmly sandwiched between two compliments about their technique, stage presence or musicality (try not to make one of the compliments be about their costume, as some dancers immediately take this to mean that their dance sucked and you can't think of one nice thing to say about it. The exception to this would be if you know they made the costume, you should compliment their hard work on that at some point).

Next, you have to decide how serious their infringement was and how qualified you are to address it. For instance, as a student of tribal fusion who is also enthusiastic about all bellydance styles, I enjoy watching Egyptian-style belly dance but I don't know enough about it to really explain what exactly makes something Egyptian and to call someone on it for not being very, well, Egyptian. I could have a deep gut feeling that what I just watched wasn't very authentic, but I wouldn't be able to back up my argument with facts. I'd just have to hope that someone with a strong background in that style would question the dancer's choice.

But if you are, for instance, an experienced ATS dancer and you see someone dancing something that doesn't include a single FCBD-approved move (or has just a couple moves sprinkled into an otherwise cabaret-inspired piece which looks suspiciously choreographed), you're in a good position to ask the dancer why she chose to call her dance ATS. Here's an imaginary conversation:

Her: Hey, what did you think of my dance?

You: It was nice! I was really impressed by how crisp your turns are. But I am a little confused as to why you called it an ATS performance? It didn't look like the ATS I'm used to.
(Note that at this point you've given her an open-faced criticism sandwich as you have to pause to let her answer your question)

Her: Oh well, I'm an American and I was dancing to a song that sounds really tribal and I felt like wearing a big skirt and drawing Berber tattoos on my face, so I felt like that made it American Tribal Style.

You: I see why you would think that, but actually ATS refers to a specific style <insert proper description here, phrased gently>.

Her: Thank you, I didn't know that!

You: No problem! And by the way, great shimmies. I look forward to seeing more from you in the future! (Now you've put that second slice of yummy bread on top of the meaty criticism)

As for the constant drift of fusion... That's a tricky one because everyone seems to have their own idea of how much bellydance there has to be in a dance for it to be still considered "tribal fusion", and everyone has their own opinion of which moves count as bellydance and which moves are shared by enough different styles of dance that they don't truly count unless you're using them with nothing but other bellydance. *sigh* It is true that sometimes in the pursuit of more artistic expression or excitement over a new technique she finally mastered in jazz class, a dancer might start to offer material that has little to no bellydance technique in it without consciously meaning to drift so far. They might think that what they're presenting is bellydance, because they still consider themselves a bellydancer and they still practice their bellydance technique, they just sort of forgot to put any of it in this particular choreography. Ooops.

The question is whether or not to address it? If you do, you run the risk of sounding like the Bellydance Police. My knee-jerk reaction to hearing "That's not bellydance!" is to say "Sure it is, it's just not what you're used to!" even if afterwards, when watching a video or replaying it in my mind later I realize that yeah, actually, that was 100% lyrical jazz without any bellydance in it.

Honestly, I think the occasional non-bellydance in an otherwise bellydance show is a little breath of fresh air and can provoke conversation, so if someone does it once and asks for your opinion, I'd let it slide and leave it up to the event promoter to address if they feel it wasn't bellydance enough for their event. But if it seems to be a trend with this particular performer, or with a large part of your community, bring it up casually. "I really liked your performance tonight but lately I've noticed that your work seems really heavily influenced by jazz/ballet/hiphop/clogging and I'm not seeing as much traditional bellydance. Are you changing your focus?" Don't make it seem like a bad thing, even if you don't like it. You may find that they were feeling a little burned out or constrained by bellydance, started exploring other directions, went a little astray and needed a friendly question to remind them to move back towards their roots.

The important thing is to have a gentle touch. Don't say "Your dance was NOT..." but make it more about opinions instead of facts. Try to avoid appearing to be a know-it-all or the style police, make the focus about making sure "the general public" doesn't get confused (when in doubt, always blame the poor, confused general public, they just don't understand that there are different styles of bellydance so we have to make everything really clear for them!).

I hope this helps!

If you have your own sticky situation, write me at and you could be featured soon!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dealing with "Toppers"

Hello Polite Readers!

Politely Worded is back! I had a very busy Autumn and sort of let it fall by the wayside, but I've really missed this blog so I hope you'll help me revive it by sending your letters to I'll be resuming my regular every-Wednesday update schedule.

I'd like to kick things off by discussing a problem that I've been witnessing on Facebook and other social media a lot lately, which is "topper" behavior. You know the sort, whatever happens to you, they have a story of something better, worse or more crazy that happened to them. I'm not referring to sharing similar stories in a spirit of camaraderie, but of saying "Oh, that's nothing, the other day I..."

You'll see it a lot this time of year in regards to weather. Large chunks of the US just got hit with a nasty cold storm, which means that quite a few of us were colder than we expected to be before the Solstice hit. This means that quite a few of us in traditionally warm areas were complaining about the sudden cold, having to cover our plants, trying to find a good coat, and getting the furnace or fireplace up and running. Almost every single AZ person ended up with a response from someone farther north or east telling us to suck it up, because it was 18F or whatever where they were.

You'll also see it with health issues. If you have a cold or sprained your wrist, you get told not to complain, because someone else has a chronic illness.

But here's the thing: knowing someone else has it worse than you doesn't automatically make your own discomfort going away. Objectively, I know 18F is much colder than 50F, but that does nothing to stop me from being chilled because I'm adapted to a warm climate. Objectively, a cold isn't that big of a deal but it is annoying when you get one two days before a major dance performance when you should be practicing. Unhappiness is not a contest where only the winners (losers?) get sympathy.

Similarly, you may see this attitude in regards to causes. If you're involved in the "body love" movement, you'll see people saying that because people who are overweight face more stigma than people who are thin, we should ignore the problem of skinny shaming. But knowing that some other group gets bullied more than you do doesn't make it hurt less when someone says something mean. Likewise, if we all gave all of our money to curing cancer, for instance, it wouldn't do anything to help people living in poverty, or rescue abused pets or preserve a local historic building.

So what do you do when faced with this sort of attitude? It depends on the situation. If someone is just spouting off a stupid opinion in their own status update, you should probably not engage. If they respond to your own update with a "suck it up" sort of attitude, I recommend killing them with kindness. "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that it's so cold where you are. I could never live there, I like my warm winters too much." Or pointedly ignore them. Respond to the people who add to the conversation and ignore the people who just want to draw attention to themselves or be negative.

Sometimes, you can use it as a teaching moment. When dealing with social issues and "X is worse than Y" opinions, engage them in a thoughtful conversation. Ask them why they feel that way, explain why you disagree (or why you agree, but you find that you're able to combat both X and Y). With luck you'll be able to have an intelligent conversation and you'll both come out of it feeling better-educated and more empathic to those who feel differently.

If you find that someone is a constant negative influence in your on-line life and you don't need to communicate with them, you should really just unfriend them or otherwise remove them from your network. If they do need to be a part of your life, it may be time to send them a private message and ask why they have been making such pointed comments on your posts, and is something bothering them?

Next week we'll have a question of dance etiquette, my favorite!