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!