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!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Thanks... I guess?

Hello Polite Readers!

This week's column is very special, because I have an actual letter to respond to, rather than a quest to address a broader topic! Oh happy day! My Etsy teammate Melissa of Rainwater Studios sent me this message:

 Hey AJ ~

Thanks for taking this on! I haven't responded because I wasn't sure what to say, I've never gotten a message like that before.
Here is the convo that this person sent to me, I love how she threw in the "special discount" to Etsy owners. ;D


Hey Melissa!
These earrings are gorgeous. FYI the completely correct description would be verdigris patina - versus turquoise patina.
I found your item in a treasury that featured one of my items as well.
I am favorite-ing your item.
this means it will show up on my fb.
good luck!
If you ever want any of my items, I will give a fellow etsy shop owner a discount.

Thanks again AJ,

Faery wishes,

Around this time is when I realize I should have come up with a catchy moniker for myself, like Dear Abby or Dear Prudence or Dear Sugar, but you know, I already have a real name and a stage name, do I need a third identity? AJ it is.

So, this letter represents a very special sort of message which Melissa says that she gets as many as four times a week, and has seen others complaining about on the forums. It's the "Sales pitch masquerading as a compliment." But this one has a very special twist -- advice on how to improve her listing!

The only thing worse than unasked for advice is bad advice. Melissa knows what she wanted to say. She wanted to say turquoise patina. I think we can all agree that verdigris patina is actually a little redundant. Verdigris is a type of patina. It would be like saying copper metal or bread food.

I've already responded to Melissa privately because I didn't want her to have to wait all week to respond. This is what I said to her:

So, you're well within your rights to just. not. respond. But if you want to sweetly acknowledge her note and politely let her know that you do actually know how to use your words, I'd recommend something to the point,


Thank you for your note. I'm glad you like the earrings, I think they're just gorgeous and I was happy to see them included in that treasury.

While I appreciate your concern about my item description, I really do mean 'turquoise patina.' I find that most people associate verdigris with the lovely green color of aged copper, whereas these earrings have a definite turquoise blue hue that is really unusual and beautiful. I wanted to play that up.

Have a nice day!

Note that I did not address her offer of a discount, because it's just so beyond ridiculous. Much like traditional etiquette suggests that everyone politely ignores a belch at dinner, my brand of Etsy etiquette politely ignores silly spamming.

This whole message has an odd note of self-congratulations. "Look at me, I am smarter than you, I am politely telling you how to write your description. I was so kind as to add your item to my favorites so that all of my FB friends will see it! I am so invested in your success, all because you were lucky enough to be in the same treasury as me!" She lays it on a bit thick. Believe me, if I sent a convo like that every time I added something to my favorites, I wouldn't have time to write this blog.

Of course, it's really just a way to advertise yourself by trying to skirt around the Etsy rules. Oh no, it's not an unsolicited advertisement! I'm telling her how much I like her item! I'm helping her with her description! I just happened to mention that I give discounts to Etsy shop owners (ie, most of the Etsy population), and if she happens to buy something because of that, well, that clearly was not my intention! I was just being friendly.

If you're an Etsy seller and you're reading this, here's my advice to you. Don't do this. Just don't. Remember that time is money, and the time that you spend sending personalized "Oh, I like your item! Like me too!" messages could be spent creating new things. In the meantime, invest in some cheap advertising on Facebook or Project Wonderful or by sponsoring a blog. You'll reach more than one person at a time and you won't look like a pedant for correcting someone's actually accurate description.

That's all for this week. Remember that you can E-Mail Me if you would like your own Politely Worded reply to a ridiculous message.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Friends and Money

Hello Polite Readers!

Whew. This week is a doozy! A friend asked me for advice on how to handle it when friends owe you money. Now, growing up I was always told "Don't mix friendship and money" but the truth is, that's really hard advice to follow. If you're selling a car and your friend wants to buy it, are you really going to turn them down because you'd rather sell it to a stranger? Of course you're not.

So. For whatever reason, a friend owes you money. First, decide if you really need the money back. If, for instance, you were out for lunch and your friend only had AmEx and the restaurant only takes Visa, and you say "Oh, don't worry, I'll pay for it" and your friend swears they'll pay you back after payday but then they forget, that's a pretty easy debt to dismiss. But if, as mentioned above, your friend is buying a car from you and is behind on the payments, that's pretty hard to let slide.

Start up gentle and amp the pressure up. The next time you see them in an appropriate situation, casually mention the money and give them the chance to pay you. Maybe they were already planning to. If that doesn't work, you'll probably have to call or e-mail them and say something like this:

Hey friend! Just wanted to remind you that you're three months behind on the car payment. According to my records, you still owe me $2000. I know things are tight so I'm willing to work with you on this. We can change the monthly payment or when it's due if you need. Let's talk about it.

Adjust as needed to fit your particular situation. But do try to be flexible if you can. Of course, things may be just as tight for you, so you may need to be a little more firm:

Hey friend! Just a reminder that you still owe me $500 for your share of Jill's bachelorette party. That's $200 for the hotel, $100 for dinner, $100 for the limo, and $100 for the sexy fireman. Let me know if your math is different. Either way, we had agreed you'd pay on the 10th and it's now the 18th. Please get the funds to me ASAP! Thanks!

One important note: Keep the money dispute between you and the friend in question. Please do not drag it out at group gatherings. I once witnessed a very messy friendship-breakup over money where they kept bringing it up at social gatherings until they had to be asked not to. That's an awkward situation for everyone involved.

That's it for this week! Remember that you can E-Mail Me if you'd like your own Politely Worded way of handling your problems.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

On giving and receiving RSVPs

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's topic comes to us via a special request from one of my belly dance friends! She's asked me to talk about Facebook RSVPs and how little respect we all show for them, and how to politely address that when you're hosting an event.

I have to admit, I have a bad habit of saying that I will attend an event via Facebook, and then deciding the day of that I actually don't feel like leaving the house. This is very rude of me and I'm trying to train myself to use the "Maybe" function more often and to better honor the commitments that I do make. We all tend to take Facebook events less seriously than we take events that we receive paper invitations for -- and that's saying something, because I've read a lot about traditional invites getting ignored, too.

When you say "Yes" to a casual event like "Hey, I'm having a potluck, come if you can!" and then don't show up, it's rude and disappointing but the host isn't out much. When you say "Yes" to a major event that the host has to put a lot of money and effort into, such as a sit-down dinner or a dance workshop, you have wasted your friend's resources and possibly made them look bad. Likewise, if you ether say "No" or don't respond and then show up anyway, you run the risk of the host not being able to accommodate you, and then you both feel awkward.

As a hostess, I've been on the receiving end of this many times. I used to organize a restaurant dinner for out-of-town visitors to the Tucson gem show. Every year, I would have some guests not show up, and others show up without having RSVP'ed, or show up with other guests in tow. Sometimes it would balance out, other times we would have a few empty chairs in an otherwise packed restaurant, or we'd have the servers scrambling to try to make extra room. Either way, I always felt like a bit of a jerk for not having the number I told them (especially since sometimes I would have called the day-of to adjust the reservation due to sudden changes).

So, let's all try to honor our RSVPs, and let's remember to apologize when something unavoidable comes up (illness, family emergency, dead car) to keep us from attending.

Now, hosts, how can you politely stress the importance of a proper headcount? I have received some very pushy invites in the past that left me feeling like my very presence was going to be an inconvenience. No one wants to feel that way! You want to be firm but gentle, and always with a friendly tone. For instance, for a dinner party, consider something like this:

Dear Guests, I need a final headcount by Friday so that I can make the reservations (or go buy the steaks). Please RSVP for yourself and anyone you'll be bringing. Thank you!

For a workshop or performance sort of situation where it is not just your resources and time on the line, but also that of the teacher and performer(s) who may be coming in from out of town, you may need to not only require a RSVP but also a monetary deposit. I will almost never skip an event that I have already paid for, unless I am deathly ill. Pre-selling tickets or workshop slots allows you to judge whether there is actually enough interest in the event you'd like to host. Consider offering a small discount to early birds (even $5 off is usually enough to get me to buy early), or if you can't afford that, consider offering some other perk -- early birds might get front-row seats, or maybe if they purchase their workshop spot within the first two weeks of pre-sales, they're entered into a drawing for a free copy of the teacher's latest DVD.

In your event description, just make it sweet and to the point:

We need a minimum of 10 attendants to bring Sophia Ravenna to Phoenix! Please purchase your workshops and show tickets now to ensure that we can bring this performer to our community. Tell all your friends!
 (Yeah, I used my own stage name there. No, I do not actually teach workshops)

When people are concerned that an event they dearly want to attend will get canceled, they will not only purchase their spot ASAP, they'll also try to get their friends who are on the fence to sign up. Even after you've reached your minimum, you can post the occasional reminder: "One month until this great series of workshops! Act now before it sells out!" Always keep the tone breezy. Do not start with the guilt-trip if sales are slower than you expected. No one likes the reek of desperation!

In summation, with a little more mutual respect and a little gentle prodding and kind wording, we can all work together as hosts and guests to make fun, successful events.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Charity Cases

Hello Polite Readers!

Once again I'm going to touch on a general problem instead of a specific letter. This week we're talking about how to politely deal with charity requests. Whether you're an artist, a crafter, a performer, a business owner, or just someone with extra money, you probably have to field a lot of requests for donations.

I used to lurk on an etiquette forum where a favorite phrase was "No is a complete sentence." It was a concise way of reminding people that you don't need to explain yourself or make excuses. I like this advice in general, but it can come across as a little blunt, especially on the internet. If someone asks you for help and you send back a one-word e-mail, they're probably going to be a little hurt or offended. You may not mind that if it's an unsolicited charity request, but if it's a friend asking for help, you may need to be a bit more gentle.

You may notice that it sounds like I'm assuming that you want to turn down all charity requests. Of course this is not the case. But if you give to everyone who asks, you're going to get stretched thin and possibly end up donating to causes you actually don't support, just because a friend asks. You need to set boundaries! Either decide how much you are willing to donate each year, or what sort of charity you want to focus on, or better yet, do both.

For me personally, I have one charity that I donate my beadwork to every year, and I will throw a bit of money into the hat to help people in my community. I am also the sucker who will pretty much always give a little money to a pet charity. I love animals!

So what should you do when you can't give anymore? I recommend saying something like this:

Dear Friend,

I'm sorry, but I've reached my limit on donations this year. However, this looks like a really good group, so I will share your fundraiser on my blog/Facebook and hopefully some of my followers can help! I wish you all the best, keep up the great work.

This allows you to be polite, and still help out by spreading the word. This is ideal for those times when you want to help. Feel free to add an explanation if it's a simple conflict, ie "My troupe would love to perform at your fundraiser because it's a cause we can all get behind, but we're already committed to another gig on that night. Please keep us in mind for your future events!" or "I'm sorry, the bracelet that you asked me to donate is already promised to another customer. Can I donate this necklace instead?"

For the times when you don't want to help, because you are being asked to donate to something that you are opposed to, for whatever reason, keep it short and to the point. "I'm sorry, I'm unable to donate to this." Unless you know the person is open to debate and having their mind changed, don't say that you're not donating because you think it's a horrible charity. No one wants to be made to feel guilty when they think they're doing good work, especially not if they've already donated their money! Just wait for an opportune moment further down the road to try to steer them to a more worthy charity.

Now what about unsolicited charity solicitations? Ugh. It's one thing to get a request from a friend, or from a group you've donated to in the past. But to get out-of-the-blue requests from someone you don't know, representing a group you've never heard of? I really don't like it. Doubly so when it's a group that has nothing to do with anything I am involved in. If someone contacts me and says "Hey, I see you have corgis, we're trying to raise money to expand our corgi rescue operation" then that makes sense. But if a black lab rescue group is contacting me just because I make jewelry, and they want jewelry? No.

I'm not saying that you can't accept unsolicited requests, because of course it's your money/time/art, you can use it as you like. And maybe sometimes a group will contact you and you realize that they're doing something you're really into and you want to help. But in general, I don't like to encourage this sort of behavior. I think that most charity requests like this rely on a certain sense of guilt. You can't say NO to CHARITY! And all they're asking for is a 20 minute performance by your troupe...

Before you say yes, do your research. Make sure that the group is reputable, or if it's a more personal matter of someone raising money for an ill family member or other small local charity, see if you can verify the facts. Also, determine how much impact your donation is going to have. I am pretty into the idea of donating my jewelry for a raffle or auction, because that's directly raising money that might help many people. I am not into donating my jewelry to be given to someone, because that's helping one person, and how much are they really helped by having a pretty piece of jewelry? Unless it's a child's dying wish to have the world's largest bracelet collection before they die, one bracelet is not going to have much impact.

Saying no to an unsolicited request is easy. Don't let the guilt get to you! Say something sweet and to the point like this.

Thank you for your message. I am sure your group does great work, but I am unable to donate to you. Please take me off of your list.

By the way, if they have contacted you via Etsy, this is another Etsy TOS violation! I promise that not all of my posts will be about Etsy's TOS, but I have to write about what I've experienced! If you'd like to see a bit more variety, please E-Mail Me and maybe your letter will be here next week.