Sunday, December 30, 2012

I need your letters!

Hello Polite Readers!

I don't mean to complain, but my in-box has been sadly quiet lately. I need your letters and column ideas to keep this blog alive! If you have an idea, please send it to me at If you think that your friends would enjoy my writing and have some letters to send it, please share the link on Facebook, Twitter, your own blog, wherever you feel comfortable promoting me.

I would love to continue my 2x a week update schedule, but right now I am coming up with topics on my own without any letters to answer, and I am running a little short of inspiration. I may have to cut back to once a week or less if things don't pick up.

That said, I have really enjoyed these past few months of writing Politely Worded! It's been so much fun reading your letters, responding to you, and chatting in the comment section. I've received great feedback over on Facebook, too. I'm happy that so many people enjoy the way I communicate, and that there's an interest in maintaining civility in the face of rudeness or just plain weird behavior. I will keep it going for as long as I can!

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to hearing from more of you in the New Year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Please Respect My Diet

Hello Polite Readers!

I just love discussing sticky topics here. Today I'd like to talk about dietary choices, and respecting them. Whether you're on a diet for weight loss, religious/moral reasons (ie, keeping kosher or being vegan), or because of allergies and food sensitivities, you're probably going to run across people who just don't understand and refuse to be supportive.

You see it a lot this time of year. People will say "Oh, one little cookie won't hurt!" not realizing that maybe it will hurt (if it sets you off on a binge), or that the problem is that at every single party you go to, someone wants you to have "just a little..." something or other, and soon enough you've gained five pounds. Or, as was covered in a previous PW column, they'll expect you to give up your dietary choices to try the sacred family recipe that everyone must indulge in or face RUINING CHRISTMAS FOREVER!

And now, of course, we're coming into New Years Resolution territory. Many of you will probably resolve to lose weight, or get in better shape, or eat healthier, and that will often require a diet. People who are not used to you dieting or who just do not support your goals will continue to expect you to go to the all-you-can-eat pizza buffet for lunch and try to sabotage you when you refuse.

Anyway, let's look at a few common diet-related situations and how to handle them in your best Politely Worded fashion:

Situation: "One little cookie won't hurt!" said while offering you a tempting plate of holiday treats.

Answer: "I really have to pick my battles and I'm saving my indulgence for Mom's homemade pumpkin pie at Christmas dinner. I'm sure you understand!"

Situation: "Oh, but you're so skinny! You can probably eat whatever you want" from the person who doesn't realize that you're so skinny because you dance 12 hours a week and maintain a balanced diet.

Answer: "I've got to work hard to maintain this! Thank you but I've got to pass on those cookies."

Situation: "You don't eat enough to support a bird! Have a second helping!" I can't tell you how many times I got as a teenager.

Answer: "Actually, I'm stuffed right now! Maybe later."

Situation: "Should you really be eating that?" said to the overweight person by the judgemental busy-body.

Answer: "That's between me and my dietician/doctor/trainer/conscience." -or- "I've been good all week so I could indulge at this party, if you must know. Please trust me to make my own diet decisions."

Situation: You receive a huge plate/box/basket of treats that are not on your diet.

Answer: Say "Thank you." If allowed on your diet, sample a small amount in front of the gift-giver. In private, feel free to give them to others, freeze them for later entertaining, or even throw them out if you simply have too much and can't keep it in the house without giving in.

Situation: Any snide comment about how much, or what you are eating.

Answer: Ignore, ignore, ignore! If you are asked a direct question that you can't ignore, say something vague and change the subject. Do not allow yourself to be bullied!

Best of luck with your diets and fitness plans, dear readers! If you're making New Years Resolutions, I wish you all of the success in the world. And if someone says something rude to you that I didn't cover, please send it to me at and I'll help you come up with the best answer.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gift Disappointment

Hello Polite Readers!

Well, it's Christmas Eve Eve, so depending on which holiday you celebrate, you have either already exchanged gifts, will soon, or are so sick about hearing about other peoples' gift exchanging holidays that you will skip this entire post and hope that I write about something non-holiday-related on Wednesday. Today's post is about dealing with gift disappointment, from both the giver and receiver's part, which of course can also apply to birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day, and all those other occasions where etiquette says gifts should be given.

Most of us have dealt with gift failure before, probably from both ends. Let's talk about when you give a dud gift first.

Oftentimes, it's not your fault when a gift that you give goes over poorly. You may have misjudged the recipient's taste, you might have accidentally bought them something they already have, or they might just be impossible to please (at least on your budget). We'll discuss later how they should best express their disappointment (or not), but for now let's assume that they don't have the good taste to read my blog and they respond rudely. How do you deal with that?

Resist the urge to snark at them, even though they probably deserve it for being rude. Especially if you're at some sort of group holiday gathering or birthday party, you want them to be the one who looks bad whereas you look cool, albeit possibly a bit embarrassed. Smile awkwardly and say "I'm sorry, I thought you would love it." If you have a gift receipt, offer it to them, but otherwise, don't fall over yourself trying to offer to make it right if the gift can't be exchanged or returned.

If you have a person in your life who is always difficult about gifts, my honest recommendation is not to make the effort anymore. If they're going to snark no matter what you give them, just give them a gift card to some store that they can probably find something they like at. Stop stressing about picking or making the perfect gift for that curmudgeon and focus your attention on the people who actually appreciate the thought and effort that you put into them.

So what do you do if you get a gift that you don't like? Simple. You say "Thank you!" If you're feeling really generous and you know that the person actually thought that they picked out something good, you should maybe try to find something to praise about the item (although the problem with this is that they may then take that as encouragement to buy similarly bad gifts in the future).

I know that it's hard to deal with getting a spectacularly bad gift, especially when you've put a lot of thought into what you gave them in return, but it's wrong to treat gifts like a tit-for-tat exchange and unfortunately part of being an adult is having to put up with disappointment, instead of throwing a tantrum (although even as a kid, I didn't throw a tantrum on the year that my cousins all got awesome Legos and my brother and I got CLOTHES. Clothes! How were we supposed to play with those?). Here are some other tips for dealing with gift disappointment.

-If possible, try to find a way to actually make the gift likeable. Can it be modified somehow to be more attractive or useful?

-If it's nice but just not your style, can you regift it in such a way that the original giver will never find out? I'm not a huge fan of regifting, but sometimes it's appropriate, if you know the new receiver will actually like it.

-If it's unbelievably horrible, well, congratulations! You've got something for the next White Elephant exchange you participate in.

-Can you possibly sell it on eBay or Craig's List or through some other venue, without the giver catching on?

-Is it small enough that you can keep it around and then bring it out whenever they come over? I only recommend this tactic for gifts from grandparents who would be crushed if you didn't display the precious knick-knack that they picked out based on the idea that you are still into the same things you liked at eight years old.

-Can you trade it for something else? When I was a teenager, someone gave me a Wal-Mart gift card. There was nothing I wanted at Wal-Mart, but my parents always shopped there so they bought it off of me for cash value, allowing me to spend the money wherever I wanted on whatever I wanted (probably comic books).

-Another pro-tip for gift cards. Use them for stuff you NEED and suddenly the money that you would have spent on that is available for fun! I love getting Trader Joe's gift cards because I can buy my usual groceries (maybe with a couple extra treats) and then suddenly my weekly grocery money is available to spend on a nice dinner out instead.

-In all of these cases, remember that a gift is yours to do whatever you want with after you receive it. While you certainly shouldn't use a handmade quilt as a drop cloth when you paint your house, you also shouldn't feel guilty if you take that tacky snow globe to Goodwill.

Tired of all these holiday-themed posts? Then send me a letter about a different topic! Email me at

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chill Out About Christmas

Hello Polite Readers!

I have a confession to make -- I don't celebrate Christmas. For me it's just a quiet day at home with my husband. Maybe we'll go out for Chinese food. And we'll respond to every "Merry Christmas" with a smile and a "you too". Do you know why? Because it's silly to get offended over someone else's well-wishes.

There are a lot of reasons to not celebrate Christmas. You might belong to a religion that celebrates a different holiday, or no holidays, or you might be living a strictly secular life (though I do know secular people who choose to observe the non-religious trappings of Christmas because they enjoy them). Those are all cool, valid reasons and you should feel free to discuss them with your friends and family if you want, but you don't really need to tell the cashier at the bookstore that you actually celebrate Channukah, and it's actually already over.

Similarly, if you do celebrate Christmas, it's silly to get offended when someone wishes you a generic "happy holidays." Accept it. After all, even if you don't celebrate Channukah or Kwanzaa or the Solstice or Festivus, you still want to be happy on those days, don't you? And on New Years Eve and New Years Day and Boxing Day and whatever else falls in December and January, right?

Remember that whenever you get offended that someone gave you the "wrong" holiday greeting, you're serving as a bad ambassador for your faith or lack thereof. Do you really want to be remembered as the mean old lady who snapped "MERRY CHRISTMAS" to a poor stressed-out postal clerk? Or would you rather keep the social engine well-lubricated by smiling and saying "Thank you, you too."

There's a time and a place for your opinions. If you are annoyed that everyone assumes you celebrate Christmas, complain about it on Facebook. Write a blog post. But don't take it out on the already stressed-out service employees who are probably just saying what their manager told them to say. This late in the season, they're probably not even thinking about it anymore, they're just counting down the days until the holiday rush is over and things get back to normal.

And so, my dear readers, I wish you a happy whatever it is that you choose to celebrate, and a great new year. I will still be writing columns on Sun and Weds even over the holidays, so if you have a question you'd like me to address, please send it to

Sunday, December 16, 2012

No baby here!

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's column is one half advice, one half ranting. You see, as you may have noticed, I am a woman. And for some reason, when you are a woman, people tend to jump to the conclusion that you might be pregnant, no matter your relationship status or stated reproduction choices. Examples of situations where people immediately assume you have a "little bundle of joy" on the way.

-You Vaguebook with something like "I have a surprise!" or "OMG, good news but I can't tell you yet!"

-As a bellydancer, someone captures a picture of you at the bottom of an undulation down. Even the flattest belly suddenly looks like it has a "baby bump" (goodness, I hate that term) and your midriff-baring costume makes it all that much more obvious.

-You turn down drinks at a party.

-You mention that you've been sick to your stomach lately.

Men don't have to worry about this. While the first one MAY illicit some comments about impending fatherhood, it's more likely that your friends will assume that it's good news about your job or some such (although I've also noticed that my male friends Vaguebook less than my female friends, but that may also have more to do with the male/female ratio of my friends list).

I think it's the last one that annoys me the most. If a guy posts that he just threw up, his friends are either going to tease him about drinking too much, ask what he ate for dinner last night, or mention the stomach bug that is going around town. But as soon as a woman barfs, the assumption is that there's a bun in the oven! And as soon as you say "Nope, I'm not pregnant" there's the smug "Are you SURE?" response.

This is so insulting. I feel like most adult woman are pretty aware of whether or not they've recently engaged in the sort of behavior that would result in pregnancy. Sure, there's the occasional surprise birth control failure, but in general, we have a good idea of whether or not there's a chance we've conceived.

It can also be painful. It either serves as a reminder that no, actually, there's no chance that there's a baby because you've been single for so long, or even worse, no, there's no chance of having a baby because you can't conceive. Why would you want to do that to your friends and family, jokesters? It's not funny, it's insulting, it hurts. Stop it.

 There's also the possibility that the lady in question is pregnant but isn't making an announcement yet because it's a high-risk pregnancy. Even in a "normal" pregnancy the couple might wait until the end of the third trimester to announce, just in case. Don't put them in the awkward position of lying and then having to come out later!

So ladies, what do you do when these oh-so-hilarious comments are directed at you? Honestly, if they're on Facebook or some sort of other social media, I'd completely ignore them. Respond to the appropriate comments while leaving the stupid ones unaddressed. In person, say something like "Of course not!" with a slightly surprised look on your face, as if you can't believe they're prying into your reproductive matters.

In the case of your parents who are desperate for grandbabies, you may need to be a little gentler. Assuming that you are, someday, planning on having children, in this case you smile and say, "Oh Mom, you know if that was the case we would have told you already. Not yet, but when it happens you'll be the first to know." Of course if you're not planning on having children and your parents know this but are in denial, you can be a little firmer. "No, we still haven't changed our mind. But look at the latest pic of your grandpuppy!"

Whatever you do, don't make the "Ha ha, only if it's an immaculate conception" joke because WOW is that one over-played. Besides, if you joke, they'll think it's OK to continue to assume that ladies must be pregnant, because that's what we do. We make babies.

Do you have your own frustrating situation that you need to rise above, looking cool and collected? Write to me at and I will try to help you find the perfect words to say.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My customer, my friend

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's post is inspired by a conversation with some fellow small business owners, and it turns out this is a situation many of us have been in... Every now and then you get a great repeat customer who is wonderful, but also thinks that you are their new best friend and sends you long, rambling e-mails all about their life.

Sometimes this is awesome and you find that you have a lot in common with your customer and they actually do become your new best friend! It's great when business leads to amazing new friendships with someone who you never would have met if they hadn't wandered into your store (real or virtual).

But then there are the people who are perfectly nice, but you just don't have anything in common with them. Often times, the customers who latch onto you have a good reason for it. Either your work speaks to them on some deep level that makes them feel an instant connection, or they're leading a really isolated life and are reaching out for any sort of human interaction. As such, it feels horrible to not engage with them, to not give them that connection that they want or need.

However, when you're a business owner, time is often at a premium. Can you really set aside the time to respond to three-page-long e-mails detailing everything that has happened in your customer's week, complete with an outpouring of the emotions they felt? If it's an occasional message it's not that bad, but when it turns to weekly or even daily messages, and then they find your IM screen name or friend you on Facebook and send you constant messages while you're trying to list things on Etsy, well, it gets overwhelming.

I think the best option is to remain engaged, but a bit removed. Skim the e-mails they send you, and respond with something short but heartfelt that applies to the situation. Maybe include the occasional helpful website or inspirational quote. When time allows, send a longer e-mail from time to time. Be sure to make the occasional mention of how busy you are with your shop, so they will hopefully catch on that your e-mails are shorter than theirs because you are so busy creating the art they love, or stocking the supplies they use.

And what about the IM or Facebook convos? This is a firm but polite situation. Maybe chat occasionally, but in general say something like: "Oh, Jill! It's so nice to hear from you but I'm really busy editing photos, I don't really have time to chat right now. I'll e-mail you tonight once I have all these new items up. Take care!" It's friendly, it's sweet, it lets her know when she'll hear from you so she doesn't feel blown off, but it also sets some boundaries.

Too often, when you run your own business working from home, people think that since you are home all day, and perhaps at the computer all day, that you have all the time in the world to chat with them. You may find that you occasionally need to disabuse them of this notion, otherwise you will find your productivity plummeting as your day is suddenly filled with casual chats and e-mails. It's OK to tell people that you're working and you can't chat until your lunch break, or the end of your work day. Just because you're not in  an office doesn't mean you don't keep business hours.

Do you have your own business troubles that you need a polite way to handle? Or do you have some stressful holiday encounters coming up? E-mail your problems to and I'll help!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Day Off

Hello Polite Readers!

I hope you'll forgive me for taking today off. December is shaping up to be quite busy for me in terms of both dancing and my jewelry business, not to mention the usual holiday preparations. I had quite the busy Saturday, as did my husband, so this Sunday is set aside for us to relax.

Past this, however, I would love to keep up my Wednesday and Sunday update schedule throughout the holidays, so if you have any topics you'd like me to cover, please send them to Thank you!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stupid Man Texts

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's topic comes courtesy of my friend Martha. I'm using the same title as she used on her e-mail, because it amuses me. Here's her letter:

Hey AJ,

So I have this guy I met on the plane back from home - he seemed really nice when we sat and chatted for the three hours of the flight so I gave him my number to contact me to maybe meet up for dinner.

Well, I got one text from him Tuesday that was nice "hey, hope you're having a great day - take care!"  I was busy at work so I mentally noted to respond later.  Later that evening I responded "hey it was nice, thanks - hope you had a good one too."  Nothing major.  The next text I get - same night - "Woo hoo!! - its Full Moon Baby, come meet up with me and lets go have a drink!"  

I won't repeat the expletives I said at having given this sudden idiot my number.  I did not respond at all.  

Two days later I get a text saying "Hey I was just thinking about seeing those gorgeous eyes of yours again - come out and have a drink with me!"  It was Friday - I don't "do" last minute dates w men who have what I consider questionable judgement with a woman he just met.  Again I just chose not to respond and will likely block him going forward.  I have no attraction to him whatsoever and, even if I had initially, it would be gone due to these texts.  Maybe I'm old fashioned but this to me was both unacceptable and creepy.  Is there a better way to handle this situation than just ignoring them and blocking them altogether?  Granted I was dumb to give out my real number... but he really seemed nice on the plane.  Note its very unusual for me to give out my number to ANYONE - esp someone I just met.

I am thinking it will become even more rare now. lol

Anyway, your thoughts are appreciated. I wanted to respond but couldn't think of any response that I felt put a positive light on me.  I would have been a jerk  had I responded... hence my ignoring it altogether.   Yet I wanted to tell him (a) how dare you speak to me like that - I do not know you and you clearly do not know or respect me and (b) I do not date or associate with men who speak to me like that - period.   

Thanks in advance!

So at first I didn't really see what the big deal was. When you said he was sending you inappropriate texts, I thought you meant really inappopriate, like X-Rated stuff. This seemed pretty mild in comparison. But when I looked over it again, I saw the problems. You're definitely not close enough for him to call you "baby" (personally, I don't like that pet name at all, but some people do), and mentioning your eyes after one 3 hour long plane ride together? That's coming on way too strong. Hint to guys: It's creepy to mention a woman's body parts early in a relationship, even if it's a non-sexual body part. Plus there's the fact that you said "Hey, let's do dinner sometime" and each time he invited you out, it was for drinks.

Now, part of this is a conflict of old fashioned vs. current mode. Yes, there are people who think it is OK to initiate a date via text (I find it too casual, but I've been out of the dating pool for a decade and a half. Texts weren't even a thing back then). Also, it's pretty common now for a first date to be coffee or drinks, which does make sense in its way -- it's more casual, and it's easy to cut it short if it goes poorly, or segue it into something else (dinner, movie, shopping, strolling in the park) if you're having a great time.

Note that at no point did I say that it's OK to call a woman that you barely know "baby." Ick. I mean, maybe it was a figure of speech. Maybe he posted the same thing on Facebook. "It's the full moon baby! Looking forward to a drink after work!" But I don't think so.

So obviously this guy is not for you, and at this point it's been long enough that it would be weird if you said anything more to him (unless he hasn't taken the hint and is still inviting you out for drinks without any response). So airplane guy can be ignored for now. But what if you or a fellow reader has this sort of experience in the future? Here's how I would have handled this.

You were already right on with your response to his first text. He could have used that to continue a perfectly normal conversation. If I were him, I would have said "Hey, I had a great day. Can I call you?" Which allows you to either say "Sure" or "No" or "I'm eating dinner, let me call you when I'm done." Then when he has you on the phone, he can invite you out for a drink or coffee or whatever, and you can either accept, or if you are in to the idea but not right away, say "Oh, tonight isn't good for me, how about Friday?"

But that's not what happened. He said  "Woo hoo!! - its Full Moon Baby, come meet up with me and lets go have a drink!" At this point, you had two options -- give him a chance, or boot him to the curb. If you wanted to give him a chance but start gently showing him how you expect to be treated, you could say something like "Oh, that's way too short a notice. How about Thursday Friday instead? I'd love to talk some more." If you wanted to give him the boot, a simple "Actually, it was nice meeting you but I don't think this is going to work out." Then disengage. Block if necessary.

He should have taken the hint after you didn't respond to his full moon message, but nope, he came back again. "Hey I was just thinking about seeing those gorgeous eyes of yours again - come out and have a drink with me!" At this point, unless you're someone who likes near-strangers thinking about your eyes, you could say yes. But you're not, and he's creepy, so you say, "You know, you're coming on a bit strong. I think we're expecting different things from this, and I'm not interested anymore. Please don't contact me again." Then block as needed.

Unfortunately, sometimes people who seem perfectly nice and normal in person turn weird with the veil of technology to shield them. Or people seem awesome on-line and turn out to be awful in person. I'd say in the future, if you meet someone on the plane who seems interesting, give them your e-mail instead. It's a lot easier to manage -- you don't have to worry about them calling you at 3am looking for a drunk booty call.

This concludes Dating Week on Politely Worded! Unless, of course, someone wants to send another dating question to to give me something to write about on Sunday.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Letting them down gently

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's topic comes courtesy of my friend Nancy, who does beautiful beadwork and also sells tutorials if you'd like to bead something of your own. Here's her letter:

Hey AJ,  I had a thought... it doesn't apply to old married me, but I thought that maybe some of your single readers might be interested in what you'd have to say about turning down requests for dates.  I had a horrid time trying to say no nicely when I was younger and dating, especially when it was a friend who all of a sudden wanted a date.  I didn't know exactly how to respond and was really upset that I ended up losing a friend out of it several times, as no matter how sweet I was, it seemed that a "no, I'd really like to continue being friends with you rather than dating" was still hurtful enough as a rejection.

First, a disclaimer. I married young, to the first guy I ever dated. Statistically, a poor move, but hey, when you find the right guy right away, you marry him and save yourself from the insanity that is the dating world. But I'm always amused when people come to me for dating advice -- the assumption is that because I've been happily married for so long, I must know everything about relationships, when really I've just been muddling my way through all along.

However, I feel like this is a topic I can address, because being polite is being polite, no matter what the situation is. And I have had to turn some guys down, but it's remarkably easy when the answer is "Thanks, but I'm married." For those of you who aren't hitched, here's three common scenarios and good ways to handle them.

First, Nancy's scenario of the friend who wants to be something more. This is difficult, but if you're not feeling it, you're not feeling it. Smile a little sadly and say "I'm sorry, you're wonderful, but I just don't see us like that." Sadly, no matter how polite you are, you may lose your friend anyway. This is not your fault. There are some people who see opposite-sex friendships (or same sex, if that's their orientation) as a path towards romance, and once they find out that's not in the cards, they drop you. Other times, they just can't handle the heartbreak of realizing that you don't feel the same way, and they decide to back off for a bit and then it becomes permanent. After some time has gone by, you might want to reach out to them to see if you can save the friendship, but don't be surprised if you can't.

Second, the person who seems perfectly nice but you just don't want to date. Maybe you're not on the market, maybe they're not your type, maybe you're just not in the mood to deal with being chatted up, but there's nothing offensive. They ask politely. You respond politely in turn. "Thank you, but I'm not interested." Don't offer excuses, because as I've said before, excuses can be countered and then you have to offer new ones.

Third, the creep. The person who uses some skeevy pick-up line, or who used to date your best friend and treated her like crap, or who just interrupted your conversation to ask for your number. You should still be polite (always!), but make it the iciest politeness possible. With a blank face, say coolly "I'm not interested." Just keep in mind that if they're a creep, they may hurl insults at you for daring to turn them down. This is also not your fault. Keep your cool, and if necessary, call in some reinforcements (your friends, the bouncer, whoever) to help you tell the creep to back off.

No matter situation, remember that it is ALWAYS not only okay, but appropriate to say no to an unwanted date or request for your phone number or whatever. Too often we (especially women!) are told that we should give everyone a chance, or even worse, we should take what we can get. Well, forget that. You shouldn't have to suffer through a date just because someone asks you. You just need to be nice about it, because it IS hard for some people to summon up the courage to ask someone they like out. Letting them down gently softens the blow, so hopefully they won't get too discouraged and they can keep asking until they find the right person for them.
Do you have an awkward situation that you need help responding to? Send it to and I will do my best to help!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Olfactory Assault

Hello Polite Readers!

Guess what? I have apparently found the most sensitive of topics, and that topic is... body odor! I've had numerous people tell me that you can't tell someone that they have BO. Why not? Apparently it's too embarrassing.

I just don't understand this. If I was smelling things up, I would want one of my friends to discreetly let me know, instead of having everyone talk about it behind my back. I see it as being the same as having spinach in your teeth or your skirt tucked into your panty hose. Other people disagree, because BO is often a chronic problem, rather than a quick one-time fix. But I still think it's appropriate to bring it up.

I've heard a few arguments against bringing it up, like:

"But it's so embarrassing!"
You know what's embarrassing? When you finally find out that for weeks/months/years people have been talking about your odor behind your back because no one was brave enough or nice enough to tell you.

"They probably already know."
 Actually, people become desensitized to smells. It's why cat owners don't realize their house smells like litter box, women think they need more perfume than they do, and evil smokers don't believe me when I say I have to wash my hair three times to get their stink out of my hair. Plus some people just don't have a good sense of smell.

"Maybe it's a medical problem."
Maybe it is. Maybe they can't do anything about it. But if you go to them, they can say "Oh man, I'm so sorry, I have this condition. I didn't realize it was so bad." Then you can quietly spread the word to the rest of the group that you spoke to the olfactory offender and they are doing the best they can.

Look. No one is going to die of embarrassment if two people have a talk about how one of them smells bad. Yes, it will be awkward. Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, I am actually going to advise that you do it over phone or e-mail rather than in a public place (if you two can meet in a private place like your home, then you can do it face to face if you're brave enough), so neither of you has to squirm in front of strangers. And here's what I'd say:

Hey, I hate to be the one to bring this up, and there's no non-awkward way to say it, but I've noticed that you have a bit of an odor problem. Maybe you're already aware of it and you're doing everything you can, in which case I apologize for bringing it up. But if this is news to you, maybe it's just time to try a new deodorant. I use <X Brand> and it's pretty good. Just don't buy Axe, that stuff is worse than BO. I also know some good body washes and colognes, if you're interested.

Hopefully that will work. Or you may find that your friend is one of those people who doesn't use deodorant because they think it causes cancer, in which case maybe you can convince them to wear air fresheners under their arms or something. Note: don't actually try that, it isn't polite. Other things to not do:

Say "No, I don't want to sit next to you, you smell bad!" How horrible rude and blunt.

Chase them around with Febreeze.

Bring up the subject if you're not the sort of close acquaintance who can do so from a place of genuine concern for your friend's social well-being. Having bad body odor can be detrimental to one's career, love life, and friendships.

Do you have an even more sensitive topic for me to cover? E-mail it to and I'll give it my best answer!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Maybe Customer

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's letter comes courtesy of my little brother, the man behind Zolgar's Forge. He's experiencing one of the many annoyances of selling on-line. Read on:

Hi AJ!

You know me. I can usually fence with words better than most.. but recently, a situation has arisen that even if I may not really need the Politely Worded response to, it would still be very useful for me to get your take on it, and I think it is something that every artist has to deal with at one point or another..

On November first, I received a message on Etsy regarding one of my items (the highest priced one, no less), asking after potential modifications to it. After a brief discussion with the individual, it was decided that the best course of action would be to actually create him an entirely custom piece. We discussed options and a price range (due to my work, it's hard to give an exact price before creating the item), and he agreed to put down 50% of the top end of the price range as a deposit.
- I took the time to briefly look in to the individual as he had no feedback on Etsy, and I am always leery of scams. Everything checked out, so I set up the listing for the deposit. This was on November 4th, and he said "I will pay when I get in to the office in the morning."
Monday morning rolls around, no payment. It's cool, things come up and I'm patient. A week passes and no payment, so I drop him a quick message asking if something came up. It was election week, after all. He responds "I'm sorry, I need to get you my [wrist] measurements. I'll do that today." This was on the 13th. On the 17th (still no payment), I sent him a message offering advice on an easy way to measure for a bracer, as well as giving him the option to just make it highly adjustable if taking his arm measurements was going to be too much of an issue.
As of the 20th, I have still received no response nor payment.

So, I have to wonder now, if he never intended to buy the item and just enjoys wasting people time and getting artist's hopes up, or if he changed his mind, or if he's just more scatterbrained than I am.
Obviously, I don't want to come off accusing him of wasting my time. At the same time though, I really don't want to come off desperate for the money (.. I kind of am, but that's beside the point), but I don't want to just sit here and twiddle my thumbs waiting on him, either.

Short of lighting him on fire, what are your thoughts on this matter?


I've been there before! When I was younger, dumber, and more trusting, I even made the mistake of doing custom work without a deposit, trusting that since someone was my friend, they'd actually pay me when it was done. Worse, I once sent off a piece as part of a trade and never got my half of the agreement in return. You were smart to not start any work until you'd received payment.

So now, here you are, waiting for the money. I hate to tell you this, but you'll probably never see it. So often people start out excited about the idea of custom work (It's just what I wanted for my costume! And he'll make it to fit!), but the initial joy wears off and they talk themselves out of it (I need to measure my ARM? That's so much work! And I have to pay him MONEY before he even starts it? Ugh). Your maybe-customer has probably decided that he'd rather blow his money on some cheap crap from China (oh whoops, this is supposed to be Politely Worded, not Bitterly Jaded).

But I'd recommend you give it one last chance. Send him a message something like this:

Hey! Have you had a chance to get your arm measurement yet? I'd like to get this piece started before the holidays. After that I'm going to be swamped making stock for Wild Wild West Con and may not have time to take on custom work. Here's a link to the listing for the down payment, just put your measurement in the comments section and I'll get started on your bracer as soon as I know what size to make it.

After that, let it go. Leave the custom listing up in case he finally gets around to it, but don't relist it when it expires. Unfortunately you can't force someone to follow through on a custom order. You'll probably have this happen a lot. It's annoying. Especially when they've agreed to buy it -- it's not so frustrating when someone says "How much for a custom thing?" and you say "$50" and they say "Oh, I can't afford that, thanks." Then you're not counting on the income. You don't feel like you've been bait-and-switched.

Good luck. I hope your customer is just busy and comes through in the end.

Have your own annoying customer that you need help dealing with? Send an e-mail to and I might post it on this blog!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Dinner Quick Tips!

Hello Polite Readers!

Since Thanksgiving is tomorrow (for those of us in the USA), I thought I would help you prepare for tomorrow with a couple of quick holiday dinner questions from my friends. First:

Dealing with politics at the dinner table over family-driven holidays

Don't you hate this? You know that certain members of your family (maybe all of them, maybe just the entire older generation, or maybe just your one uncle) feel differently than you do, but you love them, so you don't bring it up. You discuss politely neutral things. You let them know how your work or school is doing, share a funny story about what your cat did the other day, and laugh at their corny jokes. Everything is going fine when suddenly, someone brings up the election! Oh no! There goes everything!

Here is my method for dealing with any and all unwelcome conversation topics (whether they be controversial or stomach turning). Smile sweetly, say "I don't really think that's appropriate for the dinner table. Oh, did you hear that there's a new baby anteater at the zoo?" It's important to throw in that subject change, so they don't have time to argue the appropriateness. You do not want to talk about the electoral college, you want to talk about baby anteaters.

Avoiding foods that are "family recipes" that you just have to try even though it is something you dislike, or have tried before and don't want a repeat experience.

Being an adult is awesome. Oh sure, you have to go to work, and pay the bills, and you probably don't get to watch a lot of Saturday morning cartoons, and the junk food you used to like tastes disgusting to you now, but there are definite perks. For instance, no one can make you eat anything! No one can say that you can't have pie unless you try the casserole made of canned soup and dehydrated onions.

Of course, people will still try, so when someone is trying to force you to eat cold borscht, smile and say "No thank you." If they keep pressing, then say "Oh, I'm afraid borscht doesn't agree with me." They don't need to know that it disagrees with your taste buds and not your stomach. If they seem too upset, soften the blow with a little "But it looks lovely/smells nice/has rave reviews from uncle Dmitri so I'm sure it's great." 

I hope that helps, and that everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving. Don't forget to write to me at if you have a topic you'd like to see me address.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Feed your guests!

Hello Polite Readers!

Ok, I try not to play favorites around here, but today's column is the funniest request I've ever gotten. Please enjoy my friend Carapace's tale of Halloween Party Woe:

Y'all, the friend throwing it? He had no food for it. NONE. Not even sodas. One tiny eggtray of 12 mini-cupcakes. That was IT. When we and the other people attending called to ask if we should bring anything, he said "Bring whatever you want!" which, you know, normal humans hear as "Bring anything you'd especially like, maybe some soda or chips or something".
His whole food plan was to cook up some bacon later in the night and share it out. Oh, and that package of cupcakes. *headdesk*

And did I mention this party was running from 6 pm or so until midnight? Yyyyep. This guy, I swear, I ever meet the parents who raised him I'm gonna shake 'em til their teeth rattle.

But! Because of this, I and the other two women at the party wound up going to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant, and they had a whole zombie dinner theme going! Like three different specials written up all Hammer-movie style (I had the Crawling Horror Basil Shrimp, with Witch's Brew Soup (something like a thick, sesame-heavy sweet and sour) and Shredded Heads Salad (cabbage salad, with some sort of sweet read sauce). It was fantastic! And when we got back the guys had eaten the bacon and cupcakes and were satisfied with that. *eyeroll*

But, AJ, I think I need a Politely Worded Letter explaining to my friend that throwing a party with NO provisions is Not Okay.:P

I feel okay about laughing at this, because Cara and her gal pals were not only saved from starvation, but they had possibly the Most Awesome Dinner Ever! Zombie-themed Vietnamese food? I know what I want for lunch.

Now don't get me wrong. Bacon and cupcakes are two things that I do love, but not really together, and they're certainly not enough for a 6 hour party which happens to start during prime dinner time. Also, no drinks? Bacon is salty, you need something to wash it down with! Your friend clearly has no idea how to throw a party, and I'm not sure why he would even want to host one. Does he have a new home and he wanted to show off? Is his place centrally located? Does he have the largest place? Did he have an awesome theme for a Halloween party but forgot that people like to eat?

I also get that it's expensive to throw a party. That's why it's OK to have a potluck, or why you either throw your party in the middle of the afternoon (after lunch, before dinner), or late at night (well after dinner) so that there's no expectation of a meal.

So how can you explain to your friend that he should have fed you? You can't just say "Dude, seriously, order a pizza next time!" but you can approach him in a friendly, slightly teasing, helpful manner. Write something like this:

Hey friend, we had a great time at your party on Halloween! <insert something you especially enjoyed> The only problem was that since the party started at 6, we didn't have time to eat dinner before we came and we were expecting to be able to munch on snacks. That's why a few of us had to leave in the middle, we were starving. You know, next time you can totally make it a potluck and I'm sure we'd all be happy to bring something. I could have whipped up some meringues! Don't feel bad asking people to contribute, we all know how it goes. Anyway, thanks again for hosting, loved your costume!

Keep it casual. Minimize the complaint about NO FOOD (which is seriously horrible, I would have started eating guests. Hungry AJ makes irrational decisions) and focus on the fact that next time his friends could bring LOTS OF FOOD. I also suggested mentioning a good thing or two, because that way he doesn't feel like he's horrible at hosting parties and a lousy friend. Although if you can't think of anything good to say, it's probably a good sign that you should decline his next invitation.

Do you have a party horror story to tell, and a related question to ask? Please send it to so we can all share in your misery and figure out how to make it better next time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Please let me grieve

Hello Polite Readers!

I hate to be a downer, but today's topic is serious and sad. It's about how people deal with the fact that you're in mourning, and the platitudes they give you. You know the ones:

"He's in a better place now."
"Granny is with Grandpa now and they're both smiling at you from heaven."
"She's with God now."
"Fluffy will be waiting for you at the rainbow bridge!"

I have to admit, when I hear or read this sort of thing, it makes me want to say things that are not exactly polite. While this sort of sentiment may be welcome to the religious, and give them solace while they grieve, it can also be somewhat condescending, especially to the non-religious.

Let's face it... for the most part, when we grieve, we are not sad for the deceased. We either believe that they are in a better place and not sad, or that they are completely gone and incapable of sadness (I guess you may be sad for the deceased if you believe in reincarnation and suspect that their life choices will result in being bumped down to a less-savory life on their next turn of the wheel, but I'm not familiar enough with those belief systems to really say. Would someone like to chime in?). Regardless of what you believe, you're sad for yourself, because the person you love is gone. You're sad for the spouse, children, parents, siblings and friends they left behind. You're sad because you can't explain to your one dog where your other dog has gone. You are sad because you already bought the perfect Christmas present and now you'll never give it to them. You're mourning that hole in your life, and all the lost possibilities it represents.

Those who are on the outside, who know you but not the deceased, are often at a loss on how to react (especially for those of us who are a little younger and haven't had as much experience with grief), and that's when stupid things get said. This is not to excuse their stupidity, only to explain it. When faced with grief, there is really only one appropriate response:

"I am so sorry for your loss. Is there anything I can do?"

If you knew the deceased, you can put something nice about them in the middle of that statement. "He was such a good man" or "She was a great dog, I loved taking her for walks with you." But that's really all you need to say. Don't add any of the above religious sentiments unless you genuinely believe it AND you know that the mourner feels the same way. This is not an either/or situation, both conditions must be met. Do not express false sentiments, and do not insult the mourner by applying your morality to them. Oh, and it should go without saying that don't you dare ever, ever say that the deceased is going to hell because of their bad life. If you do that, I will give you the most Politely Worded tearing down that has ever been given.

Oh, but what if you are the mourner on the receiving end of this empty sentiment? Well, for one thing, you're in mourning. You may say pretty much whatever you want, though do your best not to say anything that you might regret once you are on the road back to happiness. Don't suggest that someone do something anatomically impossible, no matter how tempting it may be. Sometimes the best response is a cool, icy look while saying nothing (or on FB, acknowledging all of the heartfelt wishes and ignoring the stupid ones).

I hope that none of you need this advice any time soon. I hope that you suffer no painful losses, and if you do, that those around you treat you with love and respect during your grief.

Do you have your own sticky situation that needs a Politely Worded response? Email me at and I may answer it on this blog!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

No photos, please!

Hello Polite Readers!

Well, we're back to talking about business, and today's topic is quite timely for me because I'm writing this before taking off for my biggest vending event of the year! One of my FAETeam mates asked me what to do when someone comes to your booth and starts photographing your work.

This is a pretty big problem in highly competitve, cut-throat arts and crafts. I've seen numerous booths at art festivals and Renaissance Faires with signs requesting no photographs. After all, it's bad enough when someone is closely examining your work to try to figure out how you do it, but even worse when they're taking pictures so they can study it at home and copy it.

You can definitely put up signs, but many people just don't seem to read signs -- or they pretend they didn't see them! So you may sometimes have to stop people. In addition to the copy-cats, if you create wearable art you may have people trying things on and taking photos of themselves in it for a lark, and you'll have to decide if you're OK with that.

If someone is taking photos, all you need to do is smile and say in your best firm-but-polite voice (my favorite kind of voice!), "Please don't photograph my work!" You don't have to offer a reason why, just ask them not to do it. Offering a reason lets them offer up excuses about how they just wanted to show their FB friends, or they're photographing it so they can remember which ones they wanted to buy, etc etc.

Of course, there are times when you'll want to relax your no-photography rules. If someone wants to photograph your booth as a whole for their blog, that's generally OK. Of course if the event promoter loves your work or your display and wants to use it in promotional materials for future events, you should allow that photograph.

Do you have your own sticky customer situation that is making you dread holiday craft shows? Send it to me at and I'll help!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Polite Politics

Hello Polite Readers!

I pre-schedule these posts, so I'm actually sitting here writing this on Election Day. I've already done my civic duty and voted -- I hope you did, too (unless I have any international readers, in which case, I hope you had a lovely Tuesday). I am happy to have been able to vote, and I am happy that soon all the tacky signs will be torn down, and I will stop having to sort through so much political mail.

However, I am under no illusions about my Facebook feed. I've already seen a few friends express how happy they are at the idea of no longer seeing so many political posts, but those friends are deluding themselves. The election is not the end. As soon as the results come in, our Facebook and Twitter feeds will be awash with victorious gloating and depressed moaning. Those whose candidate lost may well threaten to move to another country, or declare this as a sign of the end of the world.

Don't be those people.

Whoever wins tonight's election, I hope that you will be polite in expressing your opinion. Do not rub your candidates victory in the face of your friends who voted differently. If your candidate loses, do not make witty posts about how long it is until the next election. Be graceful in victory or in defeat.

If your friends are making rude posts, it's best to just ignore them rather than engaging (I have to admit, I have hidden some friends during this campaign season, because it was so hard to resist getting into fights).

Keep in mind that whatever the results of the election, on both a national and local level, we all still have to live together. Threats to move to a more politically hospitable climate aside, you are probably still going to be close to people who have political views opposite to your own, whether they're your family, friends, or co-workers. Whether we have the same president or a new one in 2013, you will still have the same parents, neighbors, and troupemates. Be kind to each other.

(This post is inspired by some of the more level-headed posts I've seen coming into this election season, especially one by my friend Fonda)

I need your letters! If you have a question, or just an idea for a column, please send it to me at and I may publish it here.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Those Awkward Questions

Hello Polite Readers!

Well, Thanksgiving is less than 3 weeks away, and Christmas (or your Winter holiday of choice) about a month after that. This means parties and family gatherings, and that means dodging those awkward, nosy questions that people love to ask. You know the ones:

"When are you two finally going to get married?"

"Are you planning on having kids any time soon?"

"Why haven't you gone back to school?"

"Isn't it about time you gave up on your dreams and settled down with a boring desk job like I have?"

These questions are most often asked by the people who have the least right to know the answers -- seriously, I was once grilled about my reproductive choices by my husband's best friend's mother, who I had never met before and haven't seen since. She had no investment in whether or not my husband and I were planning to have children. It's not like she'd ever meet them. And yet she felt she had to know, and had to give her opinion about our choices and our reasons.

And that's the real problem. The people who ask these questions are rarely content with your answer, and they want to tell you why. If you say "We're waiting a few more years to pay off our student loans because we don't want to start our marriage in debt" they will counter by telling you that love is more important than money. In their minds, there is only one right answer to the question they've asked you, and even if you proceed to give them the answer they want ("Actually, we're trying for a baby and hope to have good news soon!") they will proceed to give you their opinion on how you should do it ("Make sure you start looking at pre-schools now! It's never too early to start thinking about your not-yet-conceived child's education!"). There is no escape.

So as the holidays approach, you need to come up with a defense plan. Think about the awkward questions you know you're going to have to face. Come up with a stock answer that deflects the question without providing too much information and without being rude. Using the four examples above, you might say:

"We'll be sure to send out announcements if we pick a date."

"That's really just between the two of us, don't you think?"

"I don't think it's the best place for me right now."

"Things haven't reached that point yet."

Then change the subject! If you have to, walk away. You can easily pretend that you need to go say hello to the family matriarch, or that you need more hot cider, or if you're worried about them following you, escape to the bathroom. Disaster averted.

It's important to plan ahead, because otherwise you get caught unaware and you end up stammering your way through various excuses, which the nosy person counters and tears apart, trying to make you feel like you're a failure for not choosing the life path they've laid out for you (even though they haven't seen you for five years).

Sometimes you will see advice on-line that gives you some really flip, icy, or rude responses to these questions. Unless the person asking has a history of badgering you every single time they see you about something, I don't see the point in being rude to them. It just makes the rest of the gathering awkward, especially if things escalate. Give them the polite brush-off. In most cases, you can easily give an answer like I suggested above, and then change the subject to something you know they'd rather talk about (their own kids, the cruise they took last month, the football game on the tv, what sort of pie they're going to choose for dessert) without them realizing until later that you totally dodged the subject.

Speaking of the holidays, I will be taking a little vacation for Thanksgiving, and I would like to pre-schedule posts for that week. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, please send it to so I can build up a nice backlog to get us through this busy season. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Hello Polite Readers!

No letters today, sadly! I just wanted to wish you all a Happy Halloween.

Trick-or-Treaters, remember to say "Thank you" for your candy tonight!

Candy-givers, remember to be polite when denying treats to those who are out of costume or trying to double-dip.

Enjoy the mostly-full moon which should make for some well-lit evening revelries, and come back on Sunday for a new column.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Please spill all your trade secrets!

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's question comes courtesy of the lovely and talented Andrea of Beadmask. She writes:

Hey AJ,

I have a PW topic suggestion/request for you:

Random strangers who write (typically rudely) to ask for detailed patterns, instructions and/or sources for materials. They're often demanding, and I've never once had any of these people acknowledge that my time, talent or resources have value by offering to trade or exchange anything. Friends are different, but it strikes me as rude for someone I've never met to expect so much without so much as a "please" or "thank you".


I'm so happy that you wrote this letter, Andrea, because this is something that I really wanted to address on this blog! I think almost every artist has been in your shoes. The world is full of people who want a shortcut to creativity -- hence the two posts I've already written about copycats.

When someone sends you a rude request for patterns, say simply "I'm sorry, I don't currently have any tutorials or patterns for my work. If I ever decide to make them available, they will be for sale in my Etsy shop." Rude requests for material sources can be responded to with a little "If you Google for <insert leather term here, I seriously have no idea what you use because leatherwork mystifies me> you should find numerous sources for mask leather."

Wow. That was easy! But what about those occasional polite requests? Sometimes you'll get a gushing request for information on your technique and your suppliers. How do you respond to that? You need to balance their good manners against the fact that you have worked hard to develop your designs and/or find the perfect source for materials.

Decide what you're willing to share. I will not give someone detailed instructions on how I did something, but I will recommend great books on similar beadwork. I will not tell someone specifically which vendor I go to for awesome vintage keys, but I will happily provide recommendations on the best prices for seed beads and crystals.

If you get a lot of requests, you might want to write up a little form letter that lists your favorite books, websites, and suppliers that will help a newbie to your craft. It pays to be nice to people who are asking politely, because if they try their hand and find out they just can't do it themselves, they'll probably remember how sweet you are and buy from you.

I am especially willing to help people look for supplies when they work in a totally non-competing medium. My brother, for instance, works at a company that makes fire toys and in the past I've tried to help him find a good source for split rings for their products. I've happily given my fellow belly dancers advice on where to buy crystal sequins (actually, I usually spend late January and early February answering a lot of "Which gem show should I go to for this?" questions). This is another situation where a few minutes of your time will foster a lot of goodwill with a fellow artist and possibly lead you to some interesting new sites as you try to find what they're looking for.

Have your own rude Etsy convo that needs a Politely Worded response? Email me at and you may be featured in a future column!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What if I don't want to party every day?

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's topic comes courtesy of a friend, who writes:

Hi AJ,

I'm looking for a polite way to relay to a few friends that I'm not
into the idea of doing something EVERY night. I work full time,
exercise almost every day, and enjoy spending time with my family.
Plus, it gets expensive to drive around all the time, even if we
aren't planning an expensive activity.

I'm nervous that if I approach the topic too directly they'll think I
look at them as clingy/annoying and there will be hurt feelings. Any

PS: could you please use a fake name if you choose to publish this?
 Can I use a fake name? Oh boy, can I! Friend, your new name is Dmitri. Feel free to try on a fake Russian accent.

Dmitri, you chose the right person to write to for advice. Whereas a lot of my columns are based on me just sitting here and thinking about the politest way to handle a situation I have never been in, this is a topic I have tons of real-life experience with. I am introverted by nature so I have lots of practice turning down invites to social events. It's not that I don't like my friends, it's just that sometimes I need to spend a night at home with a book and recharge.

I don't know whether you identify more strongly with introverts or extroverts, but I have a feeling that even the most outgoing soul is going to occasionally want to lounge around in their jammies in front of the TV after a full day of work and a hard work-out. We all need to rest from time to time, both physically and mentally. It sounds like your friends are leading a less strenuous life than you and you're worried they won't understand.

Well, stop worrying so much, Dmitri (I really like typing your fake name, can you tell?). You've got to take care of you, and you can do so politely. I don't think you really even need to explain yourself. Just start saying "Sorry, I can't come out tonight. How about we do something on Saturday instead?" or some variation thereof. Don't offer excuses! Your friends will counter them, and you'll have to either make more excuses (which makes it clear that you just don't want to hang out but can't bring yourself to say it), or you'll have to let yourself get talked into going out rather than admitting that you're lying.

I also don't recommend making a blanket announcement that you don't want to hang out as often. I think even the most polite wording will lead to some hurt feelings. It's easier to turn things down one by one and be able to decide what you want to do than deal with sulky friends not inviting you to their birthday party because "Dmitri doesn't want to hang out with us anymore."

I can't tell if you have one group of friends that wants to hang out together every night (which I find a bit extreme, but as I said above, introvert. My husband is the only person I see every day), or if you have a big social web that results in different people inviting you out every night. In the first case, it's pretty easy to just limit yourself to only seeing them 1-3 times a week as your schedule allows. In the second case, you may find yourself juggling friends as you try to get a chance to see everyone and make them all feel loved, without hitting the bars or going bowling every night.

My advice to you would be to decide how often you need a "you" night -- for me, I like to have one night a week that I don't go out for anything. You may be fine having one every two weeks, or happy going out every night as long as you come home early once a week. Then look for alternative ways to see everyone -- grab lunch with one friend, weekend afternoon coffee with another, see if any of them want to be workout buddies so you can combine socializing with exercise.

Most of your friends will probably be cool with the new arrangement, as long as they still get to see you on a regular basis. The ones who genuinely "need" to see you every. single. day. are probably the sort of emotionally needy person that you'll want to minimize your time with anyway.

As for the money thing, boy, do I hear you! If you live in a spread-out area, the cost of gas adds up pretty quickly. If you find yourself still going out a lot, do your best to work on some ride-sharing arrangements or make sure that a fair amount of the plans are close to your side of the town. You should never be in a situation where you always have to go see them unless your friend is housebound for medical reasons.

I hope this helps, Dmitri! (just had to type it one more time)

If you have your own sticky social situation, you can write me at and I will see if I can help!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gift Giving Obligations

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's column comes from Alisa, who wrote in with a very timely question about holiday gifts:

I have a bit of a sticky situation.  I worked with a woman for several years, and during that time, we became social outside of work.  We also began to make Christmas/birthdays at work more fun by exchanging gifts.  I kept my gifts around $15 in value, but she began to up the value of what she gave to me.  For my last birthday (in January) she gave me around $50 in gifts.  Shortly after, she left her job for another in a different city.  We still plan to keep in touch via email and facebook, but we probably will not be getting together much in person, if at all.  Her own birthday came up after she left, and since she'd spent so much on my last gift, I felt obligated to get her something, so I boxed up a gift and mailed it to her.  But now Christmas is coming, and I would really prefer not to continue exchanging gifts, since it was mainly a 'work thing', and honestly, I do not have the funds right now.  My question is, how do I let her know?  I'm afraid she is going to spend a bunch of money on me again, and I really do not want that.  But she's very sensitive emotionally, and, I think, lonely right now in her new city and job.  I don't want to hurt her feelings.  How do I handle this?

I think this is a problem that far too many of us have, especially as the bad economy just drags on forever.  In a perfect world we wouldn't mind buying nice gifts for everyone we know, but in the real world, every gift that we feel obligated to buy for a not-so-close friend or distant relative is less money that we can spend on our nearest and dearest, or more debt that we go into so we can keep everyone happy and still pay the bills.

The first question I want you to ask yourself, Alisa, is have you and your former co-worker actually kept in touch via FB and email? Are you having meaningful conversations, or just "Liking" each other's vacation pics? Because if it's the latter, than the friendship is dying a slow, natural death and you don't have to worry about doing more than writing "Merry Christmas" on her wall in December.

If you're still close, though, then she probably does plan to send you something for the holidays, especially if she hasn't found a new work buddy. You should go ahead and break the news to her soon so that she hopefully hasn't already purchased your gift yet. Say something like this:

 Hi! Can you believe it's only a couple of months until Christmas? I was just starting my shopping and I'm pretty depressed about how low the budget is this year. I'm not really going to be able to buy gifts for most of my friends. I wanted to let you know because you've always been so thoughtful with gift-giving and I would feel horrible if you sent me something when I can't afford to return the favor!

Of course, the problem with this is that it might be revealing more of your financial situation than you're comfortable with. You can change the wording a bit to be more relevant to your situation and less about finances. Do you have kids, or is there a new niece or nephew or baby cousin in the family? You can say that you're focusing on the younger generation this year. Or go the tried-and-true "real spirit of Christmas" method and focus more of your giving on charity this year, saying something like:

Hey friend! How are things going? How's the new job? I just wanted to let you know that I was thinking about the holidays (hard not to when Wal-Mart already has Christmas trees up!) and feeling bad about how many people are out of work and homeless this year. As such I'm going to be spending a lot of my usual gift budget on canned goods for the food bank and I was thinking you might do the same! Wish you were still local, we could hit Costco together!

 Whatever method you go for, be sure to still acknowledge your friend at the holidays. I would send her a nice card with a heartfelt note, wishing her well, sharing a funny tidbit about a co-worker you both know, something that will make her feel remembered and help tide her over while she builds a social circle in her new home.

Also, keep in mind that whatever you say, she may still send you a nice present. Some people just really love shopping for the perfect gift, wrapping it up nicely, and seeing you enjoy it. It's not about give-and-take for them, because they get rewarded by the act of gifting to you. Did your friend ever seem resentful when you were giving her $15 gifts and she was giving you $50 gifts? If not, she is probably just the sort of person who sees the perfect thing for their friend and buys it, without any concern about the price or what you'll give them in return. In that case, you just have to learn to let it go, and not feel bad when you can't reciprocate.

On the other hand, if she does act resentful and starts making passive-aggressive comments, you have my permission to hasten along the natural death of the friendship by hiding her on Facebook!

Do you have your own holiday-related problems that are already stressing you out? Need to have the perfect response memorized when dealing with your creepy uncle at Thanksgiving? Just drop me an email at and I'll see if I can help!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More Copying

Hello Polite Readers!

Today we have a second question from my beadmaking friend. She writes:

I have a person come up to my table at a show, ooh and ahh, and select a large assortment of beads to purchase.  After the money has changed hands, she casually mentions that she loves my beads, but can't afford my prices to include in her "designer" work, so she's going to take the beads she just bought back to a bead maker she knows to have them "re-created" at a lower price.  Since this person obviously doesn't understand the concept of copyright, how would you handle it?

How would I handle it? Well, first I'd look at her like she'd grown a second head (and not in that "Cool, you're Zaphod Beeblebrox" sort of way, but in that "Maybe you should get that looked at" sort of way). This is, after all, the Politely Worded blog, not the Polite Facial Expression blog.

People who are not in the bead or jewelry making world may not realize just how depressingly common it is to have someone buy a sampling of your work and either farm it out to a crafter who's willing to work even cheaper than you, or worse, mail it overseas to be copied in a factory setting. I know numerous artists who have had this done to them, and I can only imagine that it happens in other industries as well.

However, this is the first time I've heard of a customer flat-out admitting that she is going to have your work knocked-off so she can pass the "savings" along to her customers. What gall! As if you would be fine with the fact, as if somehow buying some of your work negates the fact that she'll only be buying from you in the future if you have new designs that she wants her pet beadmaker to copy.

Not only do customers who do this take money from you, but they dilute your brand image. If people who have seen your work in the past see the knock-off beads in her design, they might not realize that they were made by a copycat and think instead that your own quality is slipping and thus stop ordering from you. Not cool.

So what would I do? I would give the customer her money back and take my beads back. Honestly. How can you let her leave your booth with your work, knowing that she's just going to contract someone else to copy it? Hand back her cash, write "Void" across the check, reverse the credit transaction, whatever you need to do, then firmly request that she return your beads and leave your booth. When she asks why, say something like this:

You just admitted that you're going to help another artist steal my designs. You are taking my livelihood, encouraging an undercutting artist, and damaging my brand image. I don't need your money. Please take your business elsewhere.

 Try not to cause a scene, because the other customers at the bead or craft show are not privy to everything that has happened and will just see a vendor yelling at a customer -- yikes! Keep your voice level, your expression firm but not angry. You may end up needing to let her leave with this batch of beads if she kicks up too much fuss and refuses to hand them over, but be sure to make special note of her face and her name so that if she ever returns to your booth, you'll remember not to sell to her. Make sure that any booth help you hire in the future knows her name and that she's not to be sold to.

Once this would-be idea thief has left your booth, calmly spread the word to your other beadmaking friends so they know not to sell to her, either. I wouldn't go around telling every vendor, just the ones you have a good personal relationship with. Of course, if another vendor saw the incident at your booth and asks what happened, you should calmly share the facts with them, too.

You may also want to share this sort of thing on-line, via Facebook or your blog. If you do, I would only outline what happened, and not post her name, as that may result in some nasty e-mails from the customer if it gets back to her. Feel free to provide her name and description privately to those who message you, but don't post it publicly. I've seen that sort of thing get ugly.

Do you have your own customer problems or sticky situations that you need a Politely Worded reply to? Just drop me an e-mail at and I may use it for a future column! And remember, I am now publishing on Wednesday and Sunday as long as my letter volume remains high enough! Thank you all for your questions, comments, and enthusiasm so far.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Roommate Relations

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's letter comes courtesy of my friend Kimberly, and it's about roommates and cultural differences (probably):

I have a new roommate who's really nice but foreign (Nepali, specifically). He works 9-9 seven days a week and I think he is desperate for socializing or maybe it's a cultural difference thing but he literally pulled up a chair behind me last night while I was at my computer trying to have chat conversations with friends and do research and read over my shoulder everything I was doing! I can tell he has no idea how inappropriate this is so I don't want to be a jerk. I'd like to nicely indicate a boundary so that I can have private internet time without having to hide in my room. Also, he seems intent on feeding me which is odd. Seriously, he cuts cake for me without even asking if I want any. It's really kind of him but... um...awkward!
Here's where I admit that I have never had a roommate who was not my family or my spouse. I love my privacy, and could probably never be as polite as Kimberly would like to be with this young man who is reading over her shoulder.

Kimberly, it's hard to say whether his strange behavior is because of his culture, his upbringing, his own personal quirks, or just the fact that he is a new roommate awkwardly trying to get along with you. The good news is whatever his reasons, it doesn't sound like he is doing anything malicious, and I would have a hard time complaining about someone who brought me cake, up until I started dieting a week ago.

It sounds like your roomie wants to be friendly, so you first need to decide how friendly you're willing to be with him. Are you willing to set aside some specific time to hang out with him? If so, suggest that every Thursday at 10 is when you can play board games and share cake, for instance.

In the meantime, the next time he comes up behind you and starts reading your chats, minimize the window, turn around to face him, and say with a smile,

Oh hey, I'm just taking care of a few things on-line. It's kind of private. If you want to chat or hang out, I'll be done in about half an hour.
 If he doesn't take the hint, then a simple "Please don't read over my shoulder" should get it across.

And then there's the cake thing. This may be a cultural thing for sure. Some cultures have such strong feelings about feeding other people, he may have been raised to believe that it's wrong to get food for himself and not bring some for everyone else in the house, too. It's tricky to deal with this sort of thing without offending, which is why I once had to choke down some cold borscht (though to this day, I wonder why I was singled out for the offending borscht. Neither my brother nor mother had to eat anything. I was, apparently, too skinny?).

You may need to slowly and gently retrain him on this one. Start turning down his unexpected snacks with a simple "Oh, I'm not hungry, thank you!" When you're getting a snack, ask if he wants anything, with the hopes that he'll learn by your example. Maybe even explain to him that he should ask you before bringing you food.

This could lead to some good dialog. Maybe he'll tell you that he was raised to share food, and you can be understanding and say that's just not how you do things. Now that you've both explained your side of the food thing, he'll hopefully be comfortable to bring up any of your quirks that he finds unusual in an equally polite manner, and you two can both take care of any issues before they turn into resentment.

I feel really bad for anyone who is working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, so I hope you can resolve this in a way that leaves him feeling like he gets to be social, and leaves you feeling like you can chat in privacy.

Have your own strange roommate question? Send it to me at and I'll consider it for this blog!

By the way. Kimberly also has a great Etsy shop, Night Lily Design. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Hello Polite Readers!

Oh, it's a banner day! I've had so many requests from you all that rather than build a month-long backlog, I've decided to update twice a week as long as I receive enough letters. So please enjoy this first Wednesday edition of Politely Worded!

I've had multiple requests to cover the topic of copy-cats. Here's a specific letter from a friend of mine who makes lampworked glass beads, about a problem she had a few years ago:

I'm at a show and have a newbie set up beside me. She starts quizzing me on general things in bead making, and I answer honestly, trying to help out a new person. She examines everything on my table (I don't think anything of this, back then it was common to do so among glass artists). However, at the next show, I find that this person has the same style of bead (novelties) on her table as the ones I'm making, but poorly done. This continued for all the years I did shows--anything new I came up with, next show it would be reproduced poorly on her table. How would you have handled that?
Much like fair pricing, copying is one of those issues that dogs artists all over the world, in all fields. Sometimes it's not a genuine problem. I have seen a lot of artists complain about being copied, when it was actually just a case of simultaneous inspiration by someone who was not aware of the other artist, and meant no harm. But then there are times like this, when you know someone has looked at your work and is suddenly producing copies of it. What do you do?

This is another situation where it is important to be polite but firm. I recommend sending the artist in question an e-mail. You can of course easily get their e-mail address by snagging a business card off of their table at the show, or if you want to be especially sneaky about it, send an accomplice to get it for you.

Stick to just the facts, and not your opinion of her work or the fact that you helped her out. Say something like this:

Hello! I couldn't help but notice when I visited your booth at the Local County Bead Show Thingie that you have begun to copy my work. Your Christmas trees, Easter eggs and Jack-O-Lanterns are the same designs as the ones you were admiring in my booth last month. I understand the desire to break into the novelty bead market, but I need you to stop attempting to duplicate my beads. Focus on your own original designs. Thank you!

If this doesn't work you may need to examine your legal options, but I am in no way qualified to comment on that and in fact there are few things I dislike more than participating in on-line discussions about copyright in the arts and crafts world.

So, what about when you're in a situation where you are not sure that the person deliberately copied you? In that case, you should give them the benefit of the doubt. Contact them, but it treat it like it's clearly an accident. Here's an example:

Hello! I was just browing Etsy when I came across your beautiful necklace. I was surprised because it looks so much like mine! <include link to the necklace in question, preferably on your blog or something other than an Etsy listing so it doesn't look like the advertising spam we all hate so much> I see some differences, so I have a feeling it was a case of simultaneous inspiration! I just wanted to give you a heads-up that I'm going to blog about it, and you might want to do the same, so we can both assure our fans that there's no copying going on. Keep up the great work, I love that green bracelet in your shop!
 If it was an accident, you both can share a laugh about how there are only so many ways to combine beads (or design scarves, or choreograph to a specific song, or whatever) and defuse a potentially ugly situation where a well-meaning fan goes on a very public rant accusing the other artist of being a no-good, dirty rotten copycat. If it was on purpose, you've now made it clear that you're aware of this person's existence and that if they copy any more of your work, you'll notice.

One more thing. If you are not the artist being copied, don't take it upon yourself to contact the apparent copier. Instead, contact the original artist (IF you know them) and give them the heads-up. Maybe they already know, and in fact, maybe they gave the person permission to use their design. If not, they'll want to handle it themselves in whatever way they think is best.

Thanks for reading, and remember, if you'd like me to continue updating twice a week you can E-Mail me with your own questions that need a Politely Worded response!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fair Pricing

Hello Polite Readers!

This week's topic comes via special request from my Etsy team mates, but I think it's something that all of my crafter, artist, performer, photographer, contractor friends will appreciate. Yes, this week we're talking about fair pricing, how to defend yourself, and how to deal with undercutters.

It's pretty much a universal problem for anyone who works in a creative field. You set a fair price for your work, based on materials, time spent on it, your skill level, what the market will support, what you need to make to make it all worth while, etc etc. You might spend months or even years tweaking your pricing formula, consulting with other professionals in your field, before coming up with something that you're happy with. But no matter how perfect your pricing structure is, someone always comes along and says "Why is this so expensive? I could do it myself! This girl over there says she'd do it for half the price" and so on.

What's an artist to do? It's tempting to go off on the customer and explain in patronizing detail just how your work is better than the cheap imported rip-offs at the mall, because hey, what does it matter if you insult them, they're not going to buy from you anyway! But that's not a healthy attitude to have, and you may chase off would-be customers who were planning to pay your fair prices but were disgusted by your attitude.

It's also tempting to give a polite but thorough explanation of what goes into your product. For instance, as a dancer, I've seen some people advising that when a potential client balks at the cost of a 30 minute performance and wants to know why they can't have 15 minutes for half the price, that you politely explain that they're not just paying for your time, but for the time it takes to get ready, for the time you spend in classes, for the cost of your costumes and so on. But the fact is, the client doesn't care that you spend 45 minutes on your eye makeup alone and that your new skirt cost $75.

Most importantly, explaining has two major flaws. It sounds too much like making excuses, and it lays out exactly what goes into your work and ruins the magic. A potential dance client doesn't want to think about all the layers of makeup you apply to transform from your mundane self to a glamorous performer. A potential jewelry buyer doesn't need to know that those really fabulous beads actually only cost you $2 at a yard sale.

Once again, the answer is to be short and sweet. Smile and say "I think you'll find my rates are actually pretty standard in this area" or "I base my prices on the materials used and the time it took me to create it. You'll find that most artists price their work similarly."

But what if someone in your field is charging much less than you? It's a pretty common problem for artists and crafters to pretty much sell their work for just the cost of material, with no thought to the time it took or the need to make a profit. It's common for performers and photographers (and probably people in other fields as well) to work for nothing or a pittance because they "just love what they do." It's unavoidable that at some point, a potential customer will ask you why you are so much more expensive than the other person. Some people recommend saying something that hints at "you get what you pay for" but I find that often seems a little too snarky and underhanded. Try something along the lines of "I charge what I feel is a fair rate for my work. She has a different idea of what is fair for her work."

And what about approaching the undercutters themselves? I only recommend this if you're in a situation to be friendly with them -- they come to your booth at a craft fair and are chatting about your shared field, they're your classmate at the dance studio, whatever. Don't frame it as accusing them of undercutting you, because that will put them on the defensive. Point out that they are undercutting themselves, ie "I can't believe how little you're asking for this necklace! Your work is so beautiful, you could really ask for more."

Being an artist, whether you're one who creates tangible objects or who performs, is more than just being in a business, it's also being part of a community. By building up your competition instead of tearing them down, you're allowing for friendly competition, fostering an environment where your customers choose based on whose style appeals to them most at the moment rather than who has the cheapest price.

And the people who still think you're charging too much? Well, they can go shop at the mall, and good riddance to them. Don't let them bring you down. You are an artist, you are worth what you are charging, and the right clients will find you in time.

Have a tricky convo that you just can't answer? Rude people getting you down? E-Mail Me and get your own Politely Worded response for life's tricky situations.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Announcing, not begging

Hello Polite Readers!

I have another actual letter to answer this week, but my friend has asked to remain anonymous so I get to change her name, and her fiance's name as well. Allow me to introduce you to my friends Vivian and Giles. They recently got engaged. I don't have to worry too much about you guessing who they really are, because it seems like everyone I know who isn't already married has become engaged this year! How wonderful! Here's Vivian's note:

I have a politely worded question! Giles and I are not inviting all of my extended family to our wedding, opting instead to send a select few (who I haven't seen in forever, don't remember what they look like, etc) announcements instead. However we don't want these announcements to look like we're begging for cash or presents...we're not! We want to include them, but don't want to potentially shell out $125 plus for them to come/don't think they would come anyway. Basically, we want to it say: We got married! It's exciting! Don't feel obligated to send presents! We love you! Do you think this is something that Politely Worded would handle?

Is this something I can handle? Well, normally I would have referred Vivian to a wedding site, but she said that she and Giles already looked at some and everything they found sounded horrible and like it was begging for gifts. They genuinely do not want that.

So. Weddings are tricky. You, as the soon-to-be-newlyweds, just want to have a beautiful, fun day with your nearest and dearest. Parents, siblings, grandparents, maybe a few favorite aunts, uncles, and cousins, maybe your adorable baby niece, and of course your best friends! But some of your relatives always feel like every. single. family wedding must also double as a family reunion!

Well Vivian and Giles, it your wedding, and you can invite who you like. It appears that you've already come to that conclusion and made your guest list accordingly, but what to do about those 20-50 great-aunts and third cousins that you had to leave out in order to make room for your high school best friend?

I recommend thinking of your wedding as kind of like having a baby. You want everyone to know that you had a baby, but you don't want everyone at the shower! So your nearest and dearest get invites, whereas your more far-flung acquaintances get an announcement afterwards, with the baby's name, birthdate, and maybe a photo. You can use this same approach for your wedding. Try some wording kind of like this:

Dear Aunt Mildred,

I'm happy to tell you that Giles Penderghast and I were married on December 17th. I've included one of our favorite photos from the ceremony. Give our love to Cousin Isabel!

Keep it short and sweet! If applicable, you can also add if you're changing your name to Vivian Penderghast, or hyphenating your name. This is also a good time to make sure they have your address. Even if you and Giles have been living together, if your family is anything like mine, some of them may have still been sending Christmas cards and such to you via your parents. This is the way to announce your entrance into Real Adult Life. You are a married woman with a home and a career, you have your own address.

If you keep the focus less on "Hey! We got married!" and more on "Here is an update on my changed status and also a recent photo in case you keep a family photo album", it will not look like a gift-grab. Some people will of course feel hurt that they didn't get invited, but there's nothing you can really do about that. The hurt feelings should fade as soon as they get distracted by another wedding/christening/Thanksgiving dinner.

Some people will still feel obligated to send gifts. I kid you not, when we got married we got a set of dessert plates from a resident at the retirement home my grandparents worked at, and a lovely wedding album that my mother-in-laws co-workers chipped in for. People hear wedding and they think gift! Accept that some people will send you unsolicited gifts, and be prepared to write a sweet thank-you note. Others will contact you asking what they can send, to which you can say "Oh, we already have everything we need, but it's so nice of you to think of us!" Make sure to tell your parents to say the same thing to the relatives who call them asking for registry info or what you still need.

I hope this helps, and that you and Giles have a fabulous wedding!