Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tips for a Polite Christmas and Beyond

Hello Polite Readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

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

Hello Polite Readers!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps!

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dealing with "Toppers"

Hello Polite Readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Telling someone what they have to pay for

Hello Polite Readers!

It should come as no great surprise that a lot of the topics for this blog come from talking with my fellow artists and small business owners. When you are the face of your business and you're working through a difficult economy, you really want to impress clients with your professional, polite correspondences, but sometimes it's almost impossible to find the right wording.

Case in point: Sometimes you need to make it clear to a client that they're going to be the one to cover a certain extra expense related to what they're asking of you. There's many situations where this might arise. As a bellydancer, I might charge extra for a gig outside of town to cover my gas money. As a jewelry designer, I would have to charge more for a custom necklace if it was going to require more expensive materials than the similar one in my shop the client was inspired by.

There's a couple of important points to consider when informing your client about the cost of what they want. First, don't ask, state. Instead of saying "Will you be able to..." or "Can you..." you will say "Due to the fact that your party is 100 miles from my studio, I will have to add an extra $30 to my usual fee" or whatever. Also, don't make it about your budget. Never say "I can't afford" or "My finances won't allow." No matter how broke you actually might be, you always want to give the impression that you are a successful artist, and that this is simply your usual policy and that's just how things are in the art world. Your finances are none of your client's concern, they just need to know how much they should pay you.

One more thing to keep in mind: Charge more than what you need to. If you have to travel, it's not just your gas money, it's also time, wear and tear on your vehicle, and the inconvenience. If you have to order special materials, chances are your supplier has a minimum so you'll have to order other things, too, and you might only need 12 beads but they come in packages of 20, so you have to pay for and then find a use for those extra 8 beads. So don't hesitate to roll a little annoyance fee in to anything that forces you to work outside of your normal parameters. Far too often you'll find that these things take longer or cost more than you expected and you end up losing money (whether it's actual money, or loss of time you could have spent on other things you'd get paid for). Protect yourself!

Remember of course to be firm but polite as always. State only what you need to in order to explain to the client why this request will cost more than your standard work. Don't bog them down in details (ie, only say "I will be adding $50 for travel expenses" and not "Gas will cost $20 but there's also the fact that I should really get my spare tire replaced before I make a long drive..."). Also, get it out of the way early on in the conversation, don't spring it on them after they've already made a non-refundable deposit or otherwise committed to the deal. Unless they change the details on you, you're not allowed to change the cost on them.

Do you have an awkward situation you'd like help with? Send it to me at and you could be featured in a future column!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to invite vendors to your event

Hello Polite Readers!

Well, if this keeps up I might be able to go back to weekly updates! This week's request comes courtesy of one of my Etsy friends who received a vague and possibly misleading event invitation. She handled it herself because she's a pro, but she also thought it would make a great topic for this blog. So first we'll briefly cover how to respond to unsolicited invites and then we'll talk about how to write an invitation that vendors will want to accept!

First of all, I feel a bit iffy about using Etsy to invite vendors to shows. I generally distrust such invites and think they're probably against Etsy's TOS. On the other hand it seems to be becoming a normal way to do things and some vendors do seem to appreciate being contacted directly by a show that they might not otherwise do well at. I have two methods of dealing with unwanted invites. If the show holds absolutely no interest for me, I ignore the message. If it's a show that I don't want to vend at but may want to attend, or if the invite comes from someone I might otherwise want to work with in the future, I send a polite "Thank you for the invite but I'm not interested at this time."

Now, event promoters, what can you do to make your invitation appealing?

1. Personalize the message. I don't want to think that you've sent the same message to every single Etsy seller in Tucson. I want to be greeted personally and I want to know why you're inviting me to vend at your event.

2. Provide pertinent details. I don't need to know everything about your event, but there are a few things I do want to know before I make a decision:
How do I get more information?

3. Be honest about the size and scope of your event. You may have big plans, but if it's your first year you're probably going to have to start small. Even if you're an established event, you might still be low-key. Please don't try to convince me that your local convention has almost as big of a draw as San Diego Comic Con.

4. Sell me on the event. Don't just say "It's going to be awesome!" Give me something specific to be excited about. For instance "This year our guest of honor is Matt Smith" or "Our art festival is a juried event that only allows handmade items."

5. Be professional. Use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. You can have a friendly tone and inject some personality into it, but you're still trying to do business with me so act like a pro.

6. Be realistic. I am not going to travel halfway across the country for a first-year convention. I am not going to spend $500 for a table at an art fair I've never heard of. If, for instance, you're inviting vendors to a small faerie festival, try to only invite people from your state and neighboring states. Don't send an invite to every single person who paints faeries, even if your event is in Canada and they live in Australia.

If I receive an invitation that fails to meet most of these criteria, I am not going to respond positively and I'm not going to think of recommending it to my fellow vendors or attending it for fun.

Have something you'd like to add? Share your thoughts in the comments section! Have a sticky situation of your own you'd like help with? Send it to and you could be featured in a future column.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Consider the Source

Hello Polite Readers!

We're going to talk about gift-receiving etiquette again. This week's topic comes courtesy of my husband, who was curious about my opinion on this and thought it would be good blog fodder. Thanks love! So the question is: What do you do when someone gives you a gift that you know comes from a shop you don't like? There's no one blanket answer for this, so let me break it down into a few examples of possible situations.

1. The item is offered to you casually, rather than as a hand-picked gift for your birthday or a holiday, ie, "I got a great deal on these at the store, would you like one?" In this case, you can gracefully say "Oh, no thank you" without getting into why.

2. The item was chosen specifically for you and is given at a group gathering, but comes from a store you have a mild objection to. Say "Thank you" and try not to think about the source. Perhaps make some use of it in order to make the gift-giver happy, then quietly donate it to the thrift shop a few months down the road.

3. As above, but the gift comes from someplace you have a strong objection to, like the gift store that donates all proceeds to Puppy Kickers International. As above, say thank you, but at some later date take the gift-giver aside and say "I know you picked that scarf because it brings out the green in my eyes, but were you aware that Kicks Ahoy is associated with PKI? You know that as a dog lover I just can't stand those guys. I hope you don't shop there anymore!" Again, donate the offending object and if you're feeling really bad, donate some money to a group that fights puppy kicking.

Remember that no matter what, it's the thought that counts. So if the person KNOWS that you hate PKI and they bought an "I Kick Puppies" t-shirt for you anyway, you don't even have to pretend. Fall back on the "Oh, you shouldn't have" and then throw that thing away as soon as you get home. Just don't make a scene at the party, because that's awkward for everyone else around you.

I think the best way to avoid this sort of situation is to be pretty clear about your opinions. If, for instance, you feel strongly about supporting the local economy and you love to patronize small coffee shops instead of large national chains, make that obvious. Occasionally check-in at your favorite local businesses. Talk about the delicious meal you had at that new restaurant. When you get complimented on your dress, mention that you purchased it at that cute downtown boutique. Share your political convictions, the causes that you care about, and your religious affiliations or lack thereof (all of this at whatever level you're most comfortable with). Of course you'll avoid being annoying or self-righteous about any of this, because you're so polite!

Once people have a pretty good read on you, it will be less likely that they'll give you a gift that you find morally objectionable. As a non-moralistic example, I love the color green. I make it clear by wearing lots of green, having a Pinterest board dedicated to green, using a green color scheme on my blogs, etc etc etc. As such, whenever people want to buy me a gift, they tend to buy something that is green if possible. There are even people who have certain shades that they now associate as "AJ Green" which makes me ridiculously pleased.

Dear readers, have you navigated this problem before? If so, how have you handled it?

I am waiting for YOUR letters. Write me at and you could be featured in my next column.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lipstick Etiquette

Hello Polite Readers!

Today I am answering a letter about lipstick etiquette, which is slightly outside of the original concept of this blog, but there's a couple opportunities for polite wording, and besides, it's nice to get a letter! So let's get to it:
What is "lipstick etiquette"? I'm trying to wear lipstick more, but now I don't know what to do when it needs touch ups. Do I always excuse myself and find a ladies room or just pull out a compact? Do I wipe it off before eating or let it get on the silverware? Can I touch it up at the table? What if I try to fake-kiss a cheek but end up making contact and leaving a big lip-mark? Etc.
So. The truth is that I really hate lipstick and if I hadn't become a dancer I probably never would have started to wear it. Early in my career, if I wasn't specifically told that I had to wear red lipstick, I would wear a sparkly gloss instead and even then I wouldn't put it on until right before I went on-stage, and in fact some times I would forget to put it on at all and go out with bare lips. Oh, the shame.

The more I have to do my makeup nicely to dance, the more I've explored my options and I've discovered that not all lipsticks are created equal. So the first step to avoiding a lipstick faux pas is to find one that you really like and are comfortable wearing. Look for something that isn't too sticky or goopy, doesn't tend to wander around your face, and doesn't dry your lips out. Using a conditioner or primer before you apply can help, and makeup setting spray might keep it from coming off. Of course it's expensive to buy a bunch of lipsticks to try, so I recommend going down to your favorite cosmetics store, getting some brand recommendations, and having them apply the one you like best and then you can wear it all day and see how it holds up before making a decision.

Personally I prefer to avoid actual lipstick and go with lip tar. It's my new obsession. Some people also like lip stains. Both of these products are less prone to transfering onto silverware, wine glasses and friends' cheeks. I've personally found that the one stain I've tried dries my lips out like crazy, but your mileage may very. Also, matte lipsticks can be more reliable than shiny ones. So there you go. If you go with an actual lipstick, blotting it after applying will help avoid as much transference onto the things around you.

Now to address each question:

1. Personally, I don't like to touch up my makeup at the dinner table, it feels a little gauche and unsanitary. I don't want food in my makeup or makeup in my food, and I think it sends a weird message to the people you're with, similar to playing with your phone. Do a quick compact-check and if you need a touch-up, excuse yourself.

2. Don't wipe it off before eating, it's so hard to just remove your lipstick without messing up the rest of your face, and if you're anything like me, you'll end up with weird bits of color stuck in little creases in your lip. If you're wearing a good product and you've blotted, you shouldn't have too much trouble with it coming off on silverware.

3. You probably won't leave marks on someone's face, but if you do, simply have a tissue or handkerchief (clean of course!) to dab it off with. Brush it off with a simple "So sorry, I left a mark!"

And a little Politely Worded tip? Watch out for your fellow ladies, especially dancers. If you see that someone has a smudge, or needs a touch-up, or has lipstick on her teeth, please take her aside and let her know! No one wants to go on stage with messy lipstick, or walk around a party with red teeth. It doesn't have to be a big deal, just a quiet "Oh, you might want to touch up your lips real quick." Saves everyone a lot of embarrassment!

If you have your own etiquette questions, please e-mail me at and you could be featured in a future column!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sporadic Updates

Hello Polite Readers!

For the foreseeable future, I will only be updating this blog when I actually have received letters or topic requests. I would like to keep things up and running, so if you have something you'd like to see me write about, please either leave a comment on this post or write to me at I hope to hear from you soon!


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cover-ups and Intros

Hello Polite Readers!

Yes, we're still talking about dance, but this week it's dealing with dancers rather than audience members. The amazing Miz Becka Bomb, emcee extraordinaire, best audience member ever and dedicated ATS dancer has asked me to share some words about cover-ups and intros (I'll be writing separate blogs on both these topics with advice for dancers on my dance blog. Check the links at the bottom of this post).

First, let's talk about how to get your dancers to wear their cover-ups! For those of you who aren't in the bellydance community, it's considered proper etiquette to wear something over your costume when you're not on stage, so as not to distract from the dancers who are currently performing. Sometimes a dancer forgets to cover up, or hasn't been told this etiquette rule, or thinks she can skip it this one time because it's so hot in the studio. What's an event organizer or stage manager to do?

Try to nip that bad behavior in the bud. When you send out your pre-show e-mail with all of those important details, say something like "I know you're all going to watch the rest of the show! We'll have some seats saved in the back row so you can slip in and out easily. Make sure to bring your cover-up so your sparkles won't be a distraction!"

On the day of the show, you may want to have a couple of extra (opaque) veils or sarongs on hand for those performers who forgot their cover-up. It's happened to all of us at least once, I'm sure, you have to repack your dance-bag last minute and you accidentally leave that cover-up out, or you go to pack it and realize it has a huge stain from your last show, when that waiter tripped and spilled baba ganoush all down your back.

If you know that a certain dancer has a reputation for not bothering to cover-up, you may need to either keep an eye out, or task a helper with watching, so that when she goes and sits down in the middle of the audience in all her spangled glory, you can tap her on the shoulder and say "Oh honey, you forgot to cover up! Do you need a spare?" (Snarky AJ suggests that you make sure she gets the ugliest of the back-up cover-ups.)

Now, what about intros? It's weird, you'd think dancers would have an easy time talking about themselves, but sometimes getting an intro can be like pulling teeth. I've witnessed a lot of performers writing their intro hastily in the dressing room, on a Kleenex with an eyeliner pencil (ok, I exaggerate, only a little). I've also seen them tell the emcee to just "make something up." Hey, the emcee has enough work to do keeping the crowd entertained, they don't also need to try to come up with some fun facts about you.

And then there's the opposite problem, the dancer who copy and pastes their two page long bio from their website. Look. No one wants to read that on stage. No one wants to sit through that. Your intro should not rival your performance in length. And it makes for a truly awful YouTube viewing experience. People have short attention spans and will click through to the next video when they get bored.

So, when you send out that pre-show e-mail, give your performers some guidelines. Say "When you send me your music, please also include a brief (no more than three sentences) intro for your piece. Don't forget to include your name and your website so the audience can find you later!" When someone inevitably sends their music sans intro, respond back with a reminder! If they still don't send you one after that, then they are going to have to live with "Please welcome to the stage Oven Mitts in Space!"

What about the dancer who sends her entire CV? Respond back with "Oh, I'm sorry, I really need this to be only three sentences long. We've got to keep the intros brief so the show doesn't run late! Please get back to me with a shortened version." If she doesn't, do your own quick edit. "Lady Sparklepants dances and teaches in Walla Walla. She is also the director of Oven Mitts in Space. You can learn more about her at www dot sparkliest pants dot com."

If you know you've got some newbie dancers in your show who might not have any experience writing their own intro and are probably super-nervous about it, you may want to include a short example bio in your e-mail, or a link to a handy article on writing one.

Dancers, if you want help with cover ups and intros, here's the applicable blog posts:
Wear Your Cover-Ups
On Writing a Good Intro

Do you have a question, or a problem you'd like to see addressed? Send it to me at and you could be featured in an upcoming column!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Theater and Live Performance Etiquette

Hello Polite Readers!

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending a large dance festival and watching a whole lot of bellydance. It was a wonderful time, but it was slightly tainted by the horrible behavior of some of my fellow audience members. And I've noticed a lot of bad behavior at the movie theater and other entertainment venues. So this week I'd like to address some of the things I've seen, and the best polite way to point them out to the offenders.

1. Taking up more than your fair share of space. My main annoyance at the show was a man who was sitting directly in front of me. He kept stretching his legs forward, pushing his seat back and leaning back, sprawling in all directions. Eventually his chair was shoved against my knees and his head was well inside my bubble of personal space. Similar problems I've previously experienced have been people who lean way over a shared arm rest, or people who are taking up an extra seat with their belongings.

Solution: "Excuse me, could you please scoot your seat forward/move your bags/give me a little space?" I did ask this of another person at the show who pushed her chair back into my knees and she politely obliged.

2. Carrying on a conversation during a performance. So rude and distracting, and think of how badly it's going to reflect on you if someone catches it on their video, or if loved ones of the performers are nearby and can see/hear that you care so little about what's on stage or screen that you're talking through it. If you're not interested in a performance, take that time to go stretch your legs.

Solution: I actually usually don't address people like this because I feel like it will make more of a distraction. But if they're getting really loud, you can say "Excuse me, could you talk a little more quietly? I'm really enjoying this piece."

3. Making a mess. Ugh. One reason why I don't go to the movies very often anymore is I can't stand to see popcorn and soda spilled everywhere. It's disgusting how much trash people leave behind! Likewise, at the live show I was at, many people left their food and drink refuse under their chairs rather than taking it with them when they left, leaving the people who were there at the end of the night to clean up after them.

Solution: Smile sweetly and say "Oh, don't forget to take your plate to the trash!"

4. Moving around during the show. Obviously if there's no break during the show and you have to get up for some reason during the performance, there's not much you can do. But in a variety show with an emcee announcing each act, is it really so hard to wait 5 minutes for the next chance to get up? I got really tired of having to stand up and let people in and out of the aisle during really amazing performances.

Solution: Not much you can do when they're looming over you, sadly.

5. Blocking everyone else's view of the show with your camera/phone/tablet. Ok, look. One of two things is true in this situation: either video and photos are not allowed, so you shouldn't be taking them, or video and photos are allowed, so pros will be doing a much better job of it than you are. Want to snap a quick picture of your favorite performer as she takes the stage? Go for it. A lot of dance performances start out with a beautiful walk or pose to make it easy for you. But don't hold up your unholy phone-tablet hybrid (about the size of a paperback book, for pity's sake) and film the entire performance. Or several performances in a row. When the only way I can see what is going on on stage is through the screen on your device, something is wrong.

Solution: I actually saw some ladies a few seats down from me take action. They started tapping people on the shoulder and saying "Please put that down, you're blocking everyone's view" and things along those lines. I wanted to high-five them so hard.

Don't forget that in some situations, you may be able to enlist an usher or other employee to help you deal with especially offensive people. I generally think it's best to try to handle it yourself first, but if your polite entreaties don't work, or if you feel like the person in question is not just offensive but possibly unbalanced and dangerous, don't be afraid to get help. Remember that whatever event you are at, you probably paid money to be there and you deserve to enjoy the show. Don't let the boors of the world take that away from you!

Do you have a question for me? Please send it to and you could be featured in a future column!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I don't want to talk about it, but I kind of do

Hello Polite Readers!

This week's topic is a request from an anonymous friend. The issue is how to handle controversial areas of your life (work, hobbies, politics, religion) when they come up in mixed company and you know they might not be well-received. It can be really awkward when you don't want to seem like you're hiding something or that you're ashamed of yourself, but by the same token, you don't want to bring down the tone of an event by going into details.

I think there are two basic ways to handle this, and you can use them individually or combine them. One is to describe what you do in accurate but vague terms, and the other is to ask the person about themselves instead.

Let's use something from my own life as an example. I am a belly dancer. I'm not ashamed of it in any way, and I'm lucky to live in a city where it seems like most people are already pretty familiar with belly dance, have an accurate picture of what it is, and think it's really cool. But it's entirely possible that I could find myself in a situation where I wouldn't want to talk about it. Maybe I'm visiting family in a more conservative area, or I'm talking with a guy who's a real creep and I don't want him to imagine me in my bra. So if someone asks me what I do, I might say "Oh, I dance and I make jewelry. Did you see my Mom's necklace? I made that last week." By putting more emphasis on the jewelry-making aspect of my life, I've subtly shifted their attention away from the thing I don't want to tell them about (I do undulations with my belly! and sometimes people give me money!). You can use this in a lot of different ways. They ask about your job and you're a telemarketer? "I work in sales but work was really rough today and I don't want to think about it for another minute! I just can't wait until I get to go hiking this weekend." Someone wants your opinion on a divisive bit of legislature? "I haven't finished reading up about it. What do you think about <far less controversial issue>?"

You can see that I am already segueing into "Ask them about themselves." People love to talk about themselves. I'm a natural introvert and even I've had conversations that I've looked back on and realized that someone asked me about something I was passionate about and I gushed on and on and on about it without ever thinking to ask them a thing about themselves. So if I want to redirect someone from my belly-barin' ways, I might say "Oh, I dance. How about you? I see you're wearing a bike chain bracelet. Are you a cyclist?" Later on they might look back and realize that they never got to ask me what style of dance I do, because they were too busy talking about their favorite bike path. Success!

If you want to tell someone about it, but it's not the right time or place (for instance, you want to tell this awesome lady you just met about bellydance class, but not in front of the creepy guy who keeps trying to buy you both drinks), try to come up with a good excuse to talk about it later, ie "I'd love to tell you more about my dancing but it would be better if I showed you! Can I send you the link to my YouTube channel?"

If you want to gauge someone's reaction to what you do to decide if they might be cool with it, try using some comparisons. I might ask someone if they've seen certain local dance groups, and use that to judge how they feel about dance in general. If they respond positively, I can say how my work compares to theirs. If they respond negatively, I can shrug and say "You might not be into my style either, then."

I hope this helps you all navigate the tricky waters of socializing in mixed company! If you have your own awkward situation you need help with, please e-mail me at

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Hello Polite Readers!

We have a first today... A topic request from my husband! I could have just given him my advice in person, but I'm sure it's a subject many of us encounter far too often. The issue is, how do you deal with people who keep telling you things that you don't need or want to hear?

It's an all-too-common problem. Whether it's the friend on Facebook who posts the gross details of their medical problems, or the person who won't stop telling you about their relationship problems (even though you're friends with both halves of the couple), or the person who has to tell you every. single. thing. they did that day despite the fact that you're behind them in line at the grocery store and couldn't care less about their life. Some of us seem to just attract this sort of person no matter what we do (I say "us" and "we" even though I have perfected the "leave me alone" vibe).

One simple catch-all phrase for people who are getting way too personal is "I'm sorry, I don't feel comfortable with you telling me this." It also works well for gossip! Rather than attacking the person who is saying it, or the content of what they're saying, it puts it all on you... for whatever reason, you're not comfortable. You can elaborate if you wish, ie "I have a really sensitive stomach and hearing about your nausea is making me feel sick" or "I love you and Jim both so I really can't be involved in your arguments, I'm sure you understand." It doesn't work as well for the stranger in line, because you can really only elaborate by saying "I'd rather be alone with my thoughts and also your breath smells like cheese."

Some people are chronic over-sharers and you may need to use stronger tactics with them. You may need to be a little blunt. "Friend, I don't feel like we're really close enough for me to advise you on your marriage/diagnose your condition based on a Facebook photo/help you navigate your tricky family dynamics." This may prove difficult if you've been in the habit of helping them before, because they'll have come to expect it. It can take a while to retrain people to not see you as their personal therapist. You can soften the blow by offering them an alternative source of help (a counselor, a doctor, whatever), but make sure you're also polite in how you suggest they need professional help. "You're too crazy for me" is harsh. "I think this is a bigger problem than just a friend can solve, have you considered seeing a therapist?" is better.

If they insist on continuing the conversation even after you've said you're not comfortable with it, or they change the topic for a minute only to segue back to it, end the conversation! Either make a polite excuse about how you have to go, or if you're really trying to drive home the point, say "It's clear that this is dominating your thoughts. Since I can't help you with it, I'm going to let you find someone who can. Talk with you later." Don't let anyone force you to have a conversation that you neither need nor want to be part of.

Do you have an awkward situation that you need help with? Send me an e-mail at!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Don't Interrupt Me!

Hello Polite Readers!

Before I discuss today's topic, I'd just like to mention that it is my birthday! Hooray! If you're in a generous mood and want to give me a present, I'd love it if you'd share this blog on Facebook or Twitter, or e-mail it to a friend. Help me get the word out!

Now, on with the column! One of my loyal readers asked me for advice on a topic that she and a friend were griping about, and that is people interrupting you when you're in the middle of something important. Of course, important can range from working at your home office, or reading the crucial last few pages of a really good book, or putting the finishing touches on a really intricate art project. Anything where you are really in the zone and that interruption just pulls you right out and you want to just PUNCH the person who did it.

Sometimes I have to do a little mental roleplay to put myself in the shoes of my writer when dealing with a subject I have little experience with, but not this time. You see, my husband and I both work from home and we share an office. We have pretty different ways of doing things. He is a master multitasker and has no trouble working, carrying on conversations in several different IM programs, looking something up on Wikipedia, listening to music and eating lunch all at once. I, on the other hand, need to be really focused if I'm doing anything like reading or writing (although when I say "really focused" I usually mean that I read or write a paragraph and then switch over to see what is going on in my Facebook tab, but I'm really focused, honestly). I cannot stand to be interrupted to look at the pretty beetle he just found a picture of on a blog, even though I love beetles. I can't even tell you how many times I've cried "Leave me alone I'm trying to write a blog!!!" Likewise, forget going to a cafe to read a book... as soon as someone sits down next to me and starts talking, my focus is shot.

So, the most important thing to do is set boundaries.When it comes to your co-workers, spouse, housemates or kids, let them know what the rules are. For instance, when you work from home, make sure everyone knows what your hours are when you have to be on the clock and they can't just call to chat. If you share an office, perhaps having your headphones on can serve as a sign that you're doing something really important or involved. And for the avid reader, just tell everyone that as long as your nose is in a book, you are not to be spoken to. Obviously emergencies arise and can serve as exceptions, and you may have to train those around you as what counts as a real emergency, but this should help a lot. My husband now knows that if I am writing or reading something, he has to wait to ask me questions or show me things on his computer.

For spouses, kids, and housemates, you might also have an open/closed door policy. Growing up, I knew if my parents' bedroom door was closed, I wasn't supposed to bother them unless it was an emergency. For shared rooms, you could have some sort of other visible cue, like "If this teddy bear is sitting on my desk, I'm working. If he's sitting on the couch, we can chat."

When approached and interrupted by people who don't know the rules, or by those who should know better but are misbehaving, you can fall back on some simple stock phrases.

"Sorry, I'm on the clock. I have a break coming up in an hour, we can talk then."

"I'm almost done! Let me finish this chapter first."

"Hey, can you wait a minute? I'm really involved in this."

"I really need to focus. Let me get back to you when I'm done with this."

And above all, stand firm! Don't be afraid to say "I can't talk right now." You do not always have to be at everyone's disposal, you do not have to drop everything because your roommate wants to tell you about the funny thing that happened while she was at the store (it always turns out to not be that funny anyway). And remember that unless you politely spell out when you need to be left alone, the people who are interrupting you are not going to know they're doing anything wrong, and they'll think you're getting annoyed for no reason. Just spell out when you need to be allowed to concentrate, and they should understand.

Got a tricky situation of your own to deal with? Send me an e-mail at and you could be in a future column!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What do you call a lady?

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's request comes from reader Amy (I hope she doesn't mind that I use her name, I feel like there's enough Amies out there that she's practically anonymous). She writes: 
I was wondering about this the other day when I was thinking it's time to start having the toddler call people "sir" and "ma'am". What are your thoughts on calling women "ma'am"? I've always thought it a sign of respect and not any comment on marital status or age, and I personally get privately annoyed when I'm called "miss" instead (Don't I look older than thirteen?). But I've overheard so many women get testy with men who call them "ma'am" that I'm nervous he will get his head bitten off later in life.
 Personally, having grown up in two super-casual environments (Southern California and Tucson), I find that "sir" and "ma'am" always sound really formal to me, but really, there's no polite-but-casual alternatives. "Man" and "lady" sound weird, "dude" and "chick/babe" way too flip and/or 90s surfer-esque. So "sir" and "ma'am" it is. Your toddler may sound a little formal in our increasingly casual age, but I applaud you for teaching him proper manners (I know that this will be part of the lessons that also include "please" and "thank you" and holding the door open for the person behind you).

But... ma'am or miss? I think that a lot of people assume that "ma'am" is specifically for married ladies. There's also this idea that women are always automatically flattered when it's suggested that we couldn't possibly be old enough to be a "ma'am" (speaking as a woman in her early 30s who gets told she doesn't look old enough to be married on a regular basis, believe me, the novelty wears off). There might also be a certain amount of baggage with the word "ma'am." It may sound a little subservient to them, if they have bad memories of having to call a particularly overbearing relative or teacher "ma'am."

That said, you've settled on "ma'am" and there's nothing wrong with that. I think that while your toddler is young, most women are just going to be charmed by seeing such a polite little boy address them respectfully! It's then their option to say "You can call me Miss Anna/Mrs. Jones/Betty" or whatever they think is appropriate.

Once he gets older, you can sit him down and let him know that for reasons that are not at all his fault, sometimes women don't like to be called "ma'am." Tell him that if a woman gets upset with him, he can say something like "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend! My mother raised me to always call women 'ma'am' unless they asked to be addressed differently." Then they can tell him what they'd like to be called. Since he'll already have a lifetime of polite behavior behind him, he should be able to say this with grace and defuse the situation.

The good news for your boy is that when he grows up and gets a job, if he ends up in an industry where he has to refer to customers or clients by those honorifics, it will already be natural for him and he'll make a great impression!

Do you have an awkward situation that you need help with? E-mail me at and I'll do my best to help you find the right words!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

When people want to stand in the way of your dreams

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's letter is a bit of a heart-breaker for me. An anonymous friend (I'm going to dub him Rhys, because I'm in a Welsh mood) writes:
When I was 18 I had the chance to move to LA and live my dream by working for my favorite dance company. I ended up turning it down because my mother said she needed help taking care of my brothers. A few years later I decided to move to Chicago and stuck to my goals. It got UGLY between us and several other members of my family that didn't want me to move. I returned to Tucson and to be honest, I just know it's not for me. Now the dance company in LA is offering me a second chance and I'm ready to take it. I just know everyone is going to freak out and try to persuade me against it again. Any advice to negate fights about the topic?
Oh, Rhys Rhys Rhys, please don't let anyone talk you out of this. You had a rare chance to follow your dreams and you gave it up for family. Now you're being offered a second chance, not at a different dream, but at the same one you turned down before. How often does that happen? Never, that's how often. If you believe in any sort of higher power, you'd have to also believe that said higher power was bludgeoning you over the head with the message "Follow your dreams!!!"

Sadly, you're not the first person I've known whose family seemed determined to keep them where they were. Well, I'm here to tell you that you're an adult and no one can tell you where to live or what to do. Your brothers are not your children. It is not your responsibility to help your mother raise them. Few things break my heart more than seeing an older sibling forced to give up their life to take care of their younger siblings.

So how do you tell your family that you're going for it, you're moving to LA to follow your dreams? You know I'm going to tell you to be firm and polite, right? Ok, good. Let's do it.
Mom, I've decided I'm going to move to LA. Dream Dance Co has offered me a job again, and honestly, there's no opportunity anything like it here in Tucson. If I don't jump on this now, I may never get another chance. The job starts next month, and I'm going to head out a week or two early to get settled into a new place. I've already been looking at some apartments...
 Obviously tweak the facts I gave to fit your actual situation, but you get the idea. Don't ask for permission, make a statement. You are moving. You do have a job lined up. You're looking for a place to live. You have a date and a plan and everything. You are doing this thing, and you're doing her the courtesy of letting her know what's going on.

Other family members don't even need more than that. Just tell them you're moving. Or tell them after you move. I may not be the best person to ask about that, honestly. If not for Facebook I wouldn't be in touch with any of my extended family. If you're super close (although really, why be super close with people who want to crush your dreams?), you may want to give them a pared-down version of what you give your mother.

And then there's your brothers. I don't know how old they are, and I'm not good with kids, but you'll need to give them some age-appropriate chat. Obviously they survived you moving to Chicago for a time, so they can handle this. Especially since LA isn't that far from Tucson, maybe they can come for visits. Surely you'll come back for holidays. And modern technology makes it really easy to stay in touch, so I'm sure you can set up some video chats or XBox live gaming or something to let your little brothers feel like they're still part of your life.

Of course, if your family has given you push-back in the past, they'll probably not be stopped immediately by your firm announcement that you're moving. So when they bring up some sort of complaint, say "I understand your concern, but I've given this a lot of thought and I'm going." Don't explain yourself any more than that. If they try to start a fight, do your best to extricate yourself from it. Change the subject. If that doesn't work, hang up the phone or walk out of the room.

By the way, I know someone who did what you're thinking of doing, and he wasn't exactly polite when he told his parents he was doing what he wanted no matter what, and things were ugly for a bit... but they got better. There's hope for you, Rhys. Be polite. Stand your ground. Make compromises where you can (ie, promise to call your mom every week/other day/day, whatever, but don't let her berate you when you do call), but follow your dreams. Good luck, I'm rooting for you!

Do you have a situation that's left you at a loss for words? Drop me a line at and you could be in a future column.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Back off, he's mine!

Hello Polite Readers,

This week's topic is a doozy. What do you do when you're in a committed relationship, and a friend who you both socialize with clearly has a crush on your mate? Of course our natural reaction is to say something along the lines of the title of this post. "Back off!" or "Get your own man!" but that's not really polite, now is it? But you want to say or do something, because inaction can seem like approval.

Relationship advice isn't really my specialty, so I'm going to suggest that if you're worried about setting boundaries with your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend that you go seek out someone who really knows their stuff. This will be all about handling the crusher.

Example 1: The Serial Crusher

This person develops a crush on just about anyone that shows attention to them and is of the gender they find attractive, regardless of how much they have in common or whether the crushee has done anything to encourage them. They may maintain simultaneous crushes on every applicable person in their vicinity, or they may bounce from dreamboat to dreamboat. Either way, don't stress much about this person because it's not personal and they probably won't do anything more than flirt shamelessly. At some point, you or your SO may need to say "Oh hey, not interested" but otherwise if you both ignore the flirtation and the crushee doesn't flirt back, it should die down.

Example 2: The One Who Flat-Out Admits It

Is there anything ickier than when someone tells you that your spouse is so hot that they rate right along this person's celebrity crush? I mean sure, it's a compliment to your ability to land a hot mate (I guess?), but when that person always talks about their fantasies about said celebrity crush, you really don't want to think about them having similar thoughts about your spouse. When someone says something like this to you, I would not at all blame you if you say something along the lines of "Ha ha, yeah, I'm glad he's mine." Put a slight emphasis on the mine even. Or if applicable, say, "Yeah, but Hunky McHunkerson is actually single" while leaving the "and my man isn't" silently hanging there.

Example 3: The One Who Wants You Both

Another awkward situation for the strictly monogamous couple is when you realize that a single friend or another couple is trying to broach the subject of a three-way or partner swap. If they're being subtle about it, be equally subtle by casually mentioning how you're not at all bisexual, or how you're amazed that such-and-such is successfully managing an open relationship, because you can't imagine being with anyone other than your spouse right now. If they bring it up outright, let them down gently, because you're still friends after all. "Ewwww no, that's gross" is not appropriate. A small smile and something along the lines of "We're flattered, but that's not the sort of relationship we want to have" and then change the subject.

Side note: This advice assumes that you're not into it. If you are, that's another one where you'll want to seek out the advice of an actual expert on how to do it right.

Example 4: The One Who Thinks They're Totally Subtle

This person doesn't do anything as blatant as sending you texts about how hot your spouse is. They didn't drunkenly kiss your boyfriend on New Year's Eve and then claim not to remember it the next day. But it's still obvious that they're crushing on your mate, because somehow at every party they end up sitting next to him or her. There's constant IM or FB conversations, not about anything sexual, but with a certain level of emotional intimacy. They bring little presents for your spouse, remember their birthday and favorite color. While the crush may have originally been fostered by some shared interests, now they're suddenly into his favorite band, her favorite TV show, and reading all the same books.

This is the most annoying thing, because if you complain, suddenly you're the unreasonable, jealous one. After all, nothing is actually happening, and don't you trust their mate? YOU have opposite-sex friends, why can't they? Ugh. You're left to either pretend you're fine with a situation that makes you uncomfortable and wait for it to inevitably fall apart one way or another, or you get to look like the bad guy when you "force" your spouse to dial-back the friendship.

So what do you do? First you go find that good advice on dealing with your spouse, and you have a conversation about how s/he needs to set some boundaries with the crusher and they can't hang out alone together. Be prepared to hear all of the above things and more. It may turn into a fight. People don't like it when they think they're being told who they can and cannot be friends with, even if they don't return the crush and you aren't saying they can't be friends, you're just saying dial it back a notch.

Next, talk with the crusher. Don't be accusatory, give them the benefit of the doubt. "I'm sure you don't mean it that way but lately some of your behavior towards Lee has been pretty flirtatious and I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea." I mean gosh, wouldn't it be so embarrassing if someone else noticed and came to you to warn you that your SO might be cheating? Let that idea sink in.

At times, it may be possible and appropriate to re-direct, too. Maybe the person crushing on your SO is lonely and really drawn to people like your partner, and maybe you guys just happen to have another friend who is single and shares a lot of the same qualities that makes your mate so attractive. Have a big party. Invite them both. Let them know that they both love Battlestar Galactica. Maybe sparks will fly! Or maybe it will at least remind the crusher that there are other fish in the sea, and they shouldn't go after one who has already been hooked.

Do you have an awkward situation you need help addressing? Drop me a line at and you could be in one of my upcoming columns!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Criticism Sandwich

Hello Polite Readers!

Every now and then we find ourselves in the position where we have to offer polite criticism. And there's nothing wrong with that! I think sometimes people are too afraid of saying anything critical, lest they hurt feelings. But the truth is that without criticism, it's very hard to grow as an artist because we don't know what we need to do better (as an artist I tend to focus on artists in this blog, but of course you might also have to give constructive criticism in an academic or professional situation).

My favorite method, which I have seen recommended in various places, is the criticism sandwich. Some people call it a compliment sandwich, but that's silly because sandwiches are named after their filling, not their bread. You might also see it called by a more vulgar name, but this is a family-friendly blog. The criticism sandwich is very simple: First, you say something nice, then you offer your criticism (but phrased politely and with a suggestion on how to fix it), then you top it off with something else nice. As an example, if a friend sent you the first few chapters of your book and you felt that the dialog was really wooden, you would present it this way:
First, the bottom slice of tasty sourdough bread -- "The story sucked me in right away!"

Then the gooey cheese in the middle -- "But the dialog felt a little awkward at times and pulled me out of the narration. I think you should really focus on how the conversations flow when you do your second draft."

Lastly, the second slice of delicious bread -- "The fast-paced action scene in chapter two was amazing, by the way! I can't wait to read what happens next!"
You may have noticed that my sandwich is grilled cheese. I love grilled cheese.

If you stick to this simple format, you can avoid hurting the feelings of all but the most thin-skinned creative types. You can also use it on yourself. My dance teacher once had us do this as a practice in class.  We had to give ourselves criticism sandwiches, not because we had to learn to criticize ourselves but because we had to learn to be nice to ourselves. So instead of saying "Argh, I'm so frustrated, my shimmies suck!" We could say to ourselves, "I have great posture. My shimmies aren't very good right now so I should practice them every day this week. I'm also really happy with how my turns are progressing." I think that this is such a beautiful way to treat yourself. It's hard to get depressed about what you're struggling with when at the same time you remind yourself of what you're doing right.

Do you have an awkward situation that you need help with? E-mail me at and you could be featured in my next column!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Correcting people on the internet

This comic is constantly referenced in my house. Visit XKCD for more great comics.

Hello Polite Readers,

Oh goodness, I gave in and added an image. I couldn't resist, this comic is just so perfect for today's topic, which is about how to be polite when correcting misinformation on Facebook and other internet forums.

Now that we live in a world where we're constantly connected to almost everyone we know via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, Tumblr and more, we're also constantly bombarded with their opinions about everything. And sometimes, we find that the people we know are just plain wrong. Next thing you know, you've spent the entire day arguing with them and five of their like-minded friends, and you have nothing to show for it.

Personally, I don't really like to argue on-line anymore. I got burned by too many people who were not at all interested in my politely stated facts and just decided to insult me. I do still occasionally get into it with people over something I feel especially strong over, or when people are spreading clear misinformation, but otherwise I avoid it. Here are my guidelines for when Someone is WRONG on the Internet:

1. Is it fact or opinion? It's very hard to change people's opinions by arguing on Facebook. But if you're polite, you can usually correct people about facts. Say things like "Actually, that study has since been proven to be based on bad data" or "I'm sorry, as much as I wish it were true, this one is an urban legend."

2. Is it important? In the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter if your uncle believes that Microsoft will give him a million dollars for forwarding an e-mail. On the other hand, it does matter if someone is spreading dangerous misinformation about treating the flu with lead paint (I think I managed to make up something so ridiculous that no one has actually suggested it and no one will be offended, right?).

3. Do you feel confident in your argument? If you don't have a really informed opinion and reliable sources to back you up, don't jump into the fray. "Actually, I heard someplace that Donald Trump's toupee is made of kittens" is not as strong as "Here is a five page expose on the wig factory that uses 100% kitten fur."

4. Will it make things awkward? Arguing with a distant family member who you see every few years is not a big deal, but getting into a political debate with your parents before Mother's Day brunch might make for a sulky family meal. Likewise, arguing with your troupemates might lead to sore feelings at the next practice, and arguing where would-be customers and clients can see it may cost you business.

5. Can you stay calm? There are some things I never get into arguments about because I am SO passionate about them that I will get myself so wound up that I can't even function for the rest of the day. Even if I manage to remain polite in my posts, I stomp around the house buzzing with anxious energy, just wishing I could say what I really want to, wishing the other person wasn't being so dense. It's unfair when those around you have to suffer the results of your arguments.

Over all, it's a complicated subject. Sometimes it feels like by not arguing with people, you're tacitly agreeing with them. Sometimes the answer is to make an opposing post of your own on your Facebook or blog, but that can look passive aggressive and cowardly. So choose which soapbox you're going to stand on, and make sure that whatever you say is polite, well-informed, and has plenty of sources to back it up. Good luck out there.

Is there a situation where you struggle to keep your cool? Send me a letter at and I'll do my best to advise you on how to be calm and collected.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Politely Worded Guide to Blogging

Hello Polite Readers!

Recently some of my fellow business-ladies have complained about how hard it is to maintain a blog. As someone who has three blogs of her own and writes occasional content for other blogs and ezines, I understand. Even if you have a lot to say like I do, the well can eventually run dry. And if you're not a natural writer, it can be hard to know what to say. To that end, I thought I'd write a little post containing my thoughts on how to keep your blog professional, polite, and fun!

Note: I blog a lot but I am not a "social media expert". If you are looking for advice on maximizing the SEO potential of your blog, you are definitely in the wrong place. I am just a wordsmith and I am here to help you write, not to help your ranking.


-Remember that your blog is part of the public face of your business! Try to keep a professional tone. Now, I don't mean you have to talk like a businessman, but I do mean that you should avoid using your blog to trash-talk your competitors or otherwise engage in unprofessional behavior.

-Spelling and grammar count. Blogs are semi-casual but you still want to come across as well-written. Proof-read your posts! If you struggle with language, find a friend who excels at it and is willing to be your beta-reader.

-If your blog is for your business, talk primarily about your business. I'll discuss exceptions in the "fun" section, but for the most part your blog should talk about things like your products, upcoming shows, and goings-on in your industry.

-Try to keep it positive. It is alright to occasionally post about how illness is keeping you from working as hard as you would like or that a sudden tragedy is weighing heavy on your heart, but if your blog is always negative customers will not want to come back. Focus on your business's success, happy events in your life, fun things happening in your field.


-Your blog is not the place to air your grievances with customers, competitors, suppliers, or the government. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to write a scathing post but I've held back because I remembered how I felt when I read similar columns from other writers. It comes across as very bitter, especially if you do it often. The exception to this rule is that you can offer occasional humorous bad customer type stories, or use your blog to spread a warning about scammers in your field. Otherwise, these complaints should be saved for private professional groups where you and your fellow vendors can vent.

-Don't feed the trolls. I know it's tempting to argue with them, but if your blog gets trolled (and I hope it doesn't!) you should ignore and probably even delete the comment. Trolls call this "censorship" without realizing that free speech does not grant you the right to say whatever you want on someone's blog. Don't let them guilt-trip you.

-If you need to correct misinformation, do it politely. If someone says "That's a beautiful pair of ruby earrings!" the proper response is "Thank you! I can see how you would mistake them for rubies but they're actually made with Swarovski crystals. I do hope to work with more genuine gemstones in the future." Correct them without making them feel stupid.

Fun (aka, writing stuff people want to read)

-Show people that you're a human being. Yes, you want to primarily write about your business, but share a bit about yourself, too. The occasional pet picture, kid story, and mention of the good book you just read helps readers get a sense of who you are.

-Share your creative process! Post in-progress pictures. Discuss the design process. Share your inspiration. Get people excited about the fact that you make what you sell and that you are an artist.

-Set up a regular feature. If you have something that you do, say, every Friday, it makes sure that you blog at least once a week and that your readers come back at least once a week. This can be a weekly picture of your workspace, or an opinion piece about trends in your field, or book reviews.

-Be passionate. If you aren't excited about your business, why should your readers get excited? Gush about your favorite materials. Wax poetic about the early days of your career. Swoon over the work of your idols. Geek out! Freak out! Passion is contagious.

-When you're struggling for inspiration, go read some successful blogs. What are they writing about? What are their readers responding to? Is there something similar in your life that you can write about? Read the blogs of those working in your field, and the blogs of people who are doing something completely different.

-Think about what you would like to read. If the thought of certain content bores you, it probably bores your readers, too. And if you're bored writing it, it will come across to the reader. Write things that you enjoy, and you will eventually attract readers who enjoy it.

-Start discussions. Ask questions in your posts! Encourage people to share their own experiences. Engage your readers. Just don't do it in every single post if you post daily, because that looks desperate.

-And remember, you are probably reaching more people than you think. When I go through a long period of not getting comments, I ask myself why I bother blogging... But oftentimes people comment on Facebook instead, or mention it in e-mail, or when we see each other in person. So don't get discouraged by all those posts that say "No Comments."

If this post inspires you to kickstart your own blogging efforts, post your blog in the comments! I'll have fun weeding out the real bloggers from the spammers. And remember, you can always send your questions to to be included in a future post.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

No Solicitors!

Hello, Polite Readers!

We're having a beautiful Spring week here in Tucson, which has apparently pulled the door-to-door solicitors out of their Winter hibernation. From missionaries to security companies to meat salesman, they all knock at my door and set off a flurry of barking corgis. I should really remember to hang a "No Solicitors" sign to deter them, and set the dogs on those who don't read it (don't worry, my dogs aren't vicious, only excessively affectionate and excited), but until them, I have to politely tell them to go away.

The trick is to not let them get started. As soon as they ask you a question which you instinctively answer, they set off on their spiel and waste 10 minutes of your valuable time, never letting you say "Thank you, but I'm not interested."

So this is the one time where I think it is acceptable to both interrupt somebody and shut the door in their face. When my corgi doorbell alerts me to someone at the door, I always open it in case it is a mail delivery or an unexpected drop-in by a friend. When I see that it is not, and my polite "Hello" (punctuated by a sharp "quiet!" at my dogs) is answered with a "Hello I'm with --" this is where I cut them off and say "I'm not interested, have a nice day" and close the door before they can argue with me.

It's important to be polite, because whoever they are, they are just doing their job (well, except for the missionaries. Is that a paid job or volunteer work? I guess it varies from church to church), even if their job might be to scam you out of your money. Invariably when I do get suckered into talking to one of these people, they are full of high-pressure sales tactics and want you to buy right away, without any chance to read up on their product or research it on the internet or discuss it with your spouse or roommates. No thank you!

There are times when you may want to let the person at least finish saying who they are with. Maybe you're waiting for Girl Scouts to come by with cookies, or if they have a clipboard, you may want to see if they're collecting signatures for something you believe in.

That said, please remember to put safety first! If anything about the person at the door strikes you as off, do not open your door to them! Don't let them in, don't step outside to talk to them on the porch! If they are insistent, it is perfectly OK to say "I'm sorry, I'm too busy right now" and close that door right in their face.

Lastly... please feel free to give the stink-eye to anyone who thinks it is OK to ring your doorbell before 10am on a weekend morning! There is nothing polite about waking people up.

What would YOU like to see me write about next? Send your letters and suggestions to please!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Taking This Week Off

Hello Polite Readers!

I've been up to my eyeballs in preparation for a large event and as such I completely neglected to come up with a column this week! Shame on me, I know. I apologize for not giving you anything to read today. But I do invite you all to send your ideas to so that I will have so many letters to choose from next week!

Thank you for reading,

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Talking to the boss

Hello Polite Readers!

I've been asked to talk about standing up to your boss. I had to mull it over for a couple of weeks because I'm not really a normal day job kind of person, and as such, I don't have a lot of experience dealing with bosses. When my husband has an issue at work, I'll say "Well you should tell your boss this and this" and he'll mutter something about how I obviously don't know how business works. Apparently managers don't respond well to my natural snark, so let's go into Politely Worded Mode.

First, decide if the issue is worth making a stand about. If you feel like the boss's current policies are going to cost the business money, or if it's an issue of personal safety (physical or emotional) then you should definitely bring it up. But if you want to complain that your boss's collection of Precious Moments figurines is tacky and makes the office look unprofessional to potential new hires, that's probably not worth the hassle.

If you're pretty sure it's a serious matter, then discuss it with one or two close friends and make sure they agree that it's a big deal and get their opinion on valid points that you can bring up in your argument. For instance, if you have to leave the store at night down an unlit flight of stairs, be sure to bring up employee safety and how if you did fall and break your arm, you'd have to be out on disability until you healed, and then who would do your job?

If it's something that is affecting multiple employees (let's stick with the dangerous staircase above), talk with the rest of them too and get their feelings. Have any of them had a close brush with falling? Have customers noticed and complained? Choose one employee to be the spokesperson (we'll assume it's you) but get permission to mention the others by name.

Before you go to the boss, do a little research or soul-searching on the ideal solution to the problem. For instance, look into the cost of installing a light. Get the name of a good contractor who can do the work. In the case of a less physical, more emotional issue, such as being bullied or forced to work unpaid overtime, decide what you need to have changed to feel comfortable at work.

Now, choose a good time to bring it up. You don't want to start berating your boss during a big rush of customers, nor do you want to start the day off on the wrong foot, nor do you want to start something at the end of the day when you have a pressing appointment right after work. If there's never a convenient time at work, you may need to write an e-mail instead.

Finally, the hard part. Use my favorite firm-but-polite attitude to confront your manager. Stick to the facts and the proposed solution. Continuing with the dangerous staircase scenario, you might say something like this:
Thanks for taking the time to have this meeting with me! I wanted to let you know that we're all really concerned about the back staircase. It's unlit, and those of us who work the closing shift have had a few bad scares on it. Did you know that last week Jane slipped on an icy stair and fell down? Luckily she only had bruises, but if one of us tripped at the top we could break something and possibly be unable to work! I know you prefer us to lock up the front and then go out the back, so for our safety I think it would be best to install a light back there. I did a little poking around on-line and I think it would only cost the company about $xx to put up a fixture. Is that possible?
Now be open to the boss suggesting other possibilities. It may be that the lease doesn't allow any changes to be made to the building, or that there's no money in the budget for improvements. The boss may suggest keeping flash lights by the back door instead. You might suggest being allowed to go out the front at closing. It may take a bit of negotiation to come to an ideal situation.

Keep in mind that no matter how polite and well thought out your argument is, the boss might just say no. Some don't like to be questioned or given suggestions on what to do. At this point you will have to decide whether you can come up with your own work-around (carry a flash light in your purse), take it up the food chain (assuming your boss isn't the owner/CEO/top of the line), pursue legal recourse (is it an OSHA violation?), suck it up (well, you haven't broken your neck yet, after all), or start looking for a job with a better situation and a better boss.

I hope you can adapt this hypothetical situation to whatever real boss-problems you may have. If any of my readers have a specific workplace situation that needs addressing, feel free to e-mail me at and you may be the subject of my next column!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Speak clearly, please

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's question comes courtesy of a friend, and it concerns phone etiquette. Read on:
 I have a hard time understanding accents over the phone, to the point that I sometimes cannot even follow the conversation with customer service representatives. Usually, I claim that there is a bad phone connection, apologize, and ask if they could speak slower and louder for me. Some times, this works just fine--they are equally apologetic, speak slower, and we have a conversation. Other times, this just seems to annoy the phone rep who refuses to talk any slower and, instead, just starts yelling into my ear. If they are in a particularly bad mood, I get snapped at if I ask a second time to repeat themselves. Once, I was hung up on. At this point, I want to ask to be transferred to someone else in hopes I can understand them, but, as I have just claimed it was a poor phone, I don't know how to now say, "I cannot understand your Southern-belle slang coming at me at a hundred miles an hour, so please send me to someone who can speak the King's English. Oh, and your manager, so I can tell him/her that you need some basic customer service skills."
 This is just one of the many reasons why I hate telephones. E-mail or instant message is so much better, as long as you're dealing with someone with good writing skills. However, oftentimes we're forced to call in for tech support or other customer service, and with call centers all over the country and the world, you never know what you're going to get (the last customer service person I dealt with had the sweetest Minnesota accent, but it's rare to be that lucky).

My friend, you are starting out with the right idea, blaming the phone rather than the person's accent. My suggestion would be to shift the blame even further, to yourself. Say simply "I'm sorry, sometimes I have a really hard time understanding people over the phone. Could you speak more slowly?" Retain the apologetic tone that you've been using so far. Hopefully if you make it seem like you have a hearing problem (even if the "problem" is that the agent is talking at a mile a minute and there's all sorts of office background noise coming through the connection) and emphasize that you need them to talk more slowly, they won't resort to shouting.

If you still can't understand them, say something like "I'm so sorry, I still can't understand you. Your voice just isn't coming through well. Could you possibly transfer to someone else?" Hopefully they will understand that some people just can't hear some voices -- my husband has a voice like that, which tends to lead to a lot of mis-heard orders at restaurants. Good thing he's not a picky eater.

But what about when the agent gets snippy with you? Absolutely ask to be transferred to the manager right away! Summon your best icy politeness and say "I still can't understand you. Please transfer me to your supervisor." Then when you get the supervisor, calmly explain what happened and request to be helped by someone else.

In the case of being hung up on (really? I know a lot of people who have worked in call centers and you're generally only allowed to hang up when the customer gets truly belligerent, as in cursing and making threats), you should call back and ask immediately to be transferred to a supervisor. Then provide the name of the employee who hung up on you! Hopefully your call will have been monitored for quality assurance (or whatever they call it) and they will have proof of how poorly you were treated.

The important thing is to stick to just the facts. While it would be very satisfying to say that you think the agent needs some "basic customer service skills" after being yelled at, you look so much better when you are the one calmly saying "All I did was ask her to repeat the product number I needed to order" and she's the one who hung up on you.

I hope this helps, and I hope that you don't encounter too many irrationally irritable customer service representatives any time soon!

Do you have a question that you'd like to see answered in this blog? E-mail me at and you could be one of my next letters!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Staggeringly Rude

Hello Polite Readers!

Chances are at some point in your life, someone has said something jaw-droppingly rude to you. It might have been street harassment, or someone suggesting that bellydancing is the same as stripping, or an unprovoked insult about your appearance. And chances are that you were either left speechless, or you responded with something equally rude. Well, don't feel bad. For the most part we don't go through life expecting that random people (or sometimes, our own friends and family!) will say awful things to us.

In a perfect world, we'd all be ready with a clever quip for every occasion, but when wit fails you there are other options. When someone is rude to you, it actually is a pretty good idea to just ignore them, because you're denying them the satisfaction of the response and possibly saving yourself from being drawn into an argument or even a physical fight!

If you feel like you have to respond, there are a couple of options which work well in most situations. Often you can give them an either shocked, perplexed, or hurt look and (matching the tone to your expression) say "Why would you say that?" it gives them pause, and prompts them to apologize if they didn't mean it that, or to explain exactly why they think your art is the ugliest thing they've ever seen. For those of you who are more directly confrontational, you can say "That was very rude/hurtful and if you're going to continue to talk like that I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

The most important thing is to resist the urge to respond in kind. It's tempting to try to hurt someone who has hurt you, but returning insult for insult just drags you down to their level. By all means, think of a snide comeback if it makes you feel better, but don't say it. Rise above it all by remaining cool and collected, and you will earn the respect of onlookers.

Do you need help dealing with the rude people of the world? E-mail me at and I may feature you in my next column!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

When a seller is dragging their feet

Hello Polite Readers!

I've written a lot of columns from the seller's point of view, dealing with difficult customers and requests for freebies. But this week we're going to switch things up a bit and talk about how a buyer should deal with a slow, non-responsive vendor.

This request comes courtesy of a dear friend who recently had a troublesome run-in with a vendor. Last year around this time, she finally made a long-awaited purchase of a custom item. Due to the handmade nature of the item and the popularity of the vendor, she was told she wouldn't receive the item until September, November at the latest. This was fine with her and she dutifully made her down payment and began the long wait for her item.

September came and went, as did October and November, and still no item, plus no communication from the vendor explaining the delay. So she decided to contact them and got an explanation and a promise that her item would be ready soon. Again she settled in patiently to wait... but her item still never arrived, and the vendor once again did not step forward with an explanation.

Finally, last month, patience began to wear thin. My friend had wanted to have this item available for Fall and Winter use, and here it is almost Spring in AZ. It's been nearly a year since the original order date, and still no (very pricy) item. Her husband decided to send them a letter, and because he did not ask for my Politely Worded advice ahead of time (shame shame!) it came across a little strongly and set the vendor on the defensive. Rather than providing the info he wanted, they responded with their own dose of snark. After a bit more communication, my friend was finally able to get an update, and last week her item was delivered at last and is quite lovely, but she's asked me to share some advice to spare other people from having similar problems.

First, let's talk about how to avoid this sort of problem in the first place. Oftentimes you can dodge a bullet by researching a seller ahead of time. This is one reason why I like sites like Etsy and eBay... the feedback system gives a good indication of how reliable a seller is. Lacking that, you can ask your friends, or do a Google search for the company name to see if anyone is complaining. This doesn't always work, of course. My friend had many personal recommendations for the vendor she used, and I've also seen sellers drop rapidly from having 100% feedback when a purchase was made to 97% as they suddenly lose the ability to run their business properly.

Next, if you've done your due diligence but things still start to look poorly, don't just wait around for the item to show up. As soon as it starts to feel like your order should have been fulfilled, start looking into your options. If purchased on eBay or Etsy, see what you need to do to request a refund. Also look into getting refunds via PayPal or your credit card company or bank account if applicable. I recommend doing this right away because sometimes there's a deadline involved, and in the past I have waited too long and lost out on my money. You want to know what your deadline is so you can invoke it with the seller if need-be.

Now once you're armed with the necessary facts, start out with a polite letter that outlines the facts but also assumes that this must be a simple misunderstanding or oversight or problem outside of their control. For instance, say something like:
Hello, on January 1st I purchased a set of fuzzy slippers from you (insert link to listing/receipt). I thought they'd make the perfect birthday present for my mom, and from viewing your shipping policies I knew they'd arrive in plenty of time for her birthday on March 2nd. However, it is now February 4th and I still haven't received them, nor have I received any shipping notification. Do you have a tracking number? I want to make sure that USPS didn't lose them somewhere along the way.
This lets them either provide said tracking number or admit that they are SO sorry, they thought they mailed your package but it actually slipped under the seat of the car and has been sitting there for weeks. They'll mail it right away and here's a coupon for $5 off your next order to make up for the delay. Hopefully that will be the end of it and the item will soon be in your hands (or you'll find that the tracking number shows a problem, in which case you have to deal with USPS. That's beyond my scope, sorry).

However, you may find that either they don't respond at all, or they respond with fishy excuses and you still don't get your item. This is when you need to get a little tougher, but of course still polite. Lay out the facts again and offer a proposed solution and an ultimatum.
Hi, it's me again. I wrote you on February 4th to inquire about the slippers I ordered on January 1st (again, insert link to listing/receipt). At that time you didn't respond to me/gave me an invalid tracking number/told me you were mailing it tomorrow. I still have not received the slippers, and my mom's birthday is getting really close. I don't want to have to leave you negative feedback and start PayPal's conflict resolution process, but I am afraid that if I have not received the item or a refund by February 28th, I will be forced to take action. I'd really appreciate an update on the status of my order, and I hope we can work this out to both of our satisfaction.
If the seller is just a little flaky, this should scare them straight and you should get your item. If they are just a rip-off artist trying to bilk as many people as they can as fast as they can before eBay/Etsy/whoever catches on and shuts them down, they will probably either ignore you or give you more excuses ("I'm sorry, my hamster died and things have been so chaotic"). This is when you give up on being patient and set things in motion. Send one more note informing them of your intent and then start the necessary process to get your money back!
Hello, it is now February 28th and I still have not received the slippers that I ordered from you, nor a valid tracking number. My mother's birthday is the day after tomorrow and now I am forced to go to the mall and find her a replacement gift. It is clear to me that you never had any intention of fulfilling my order. I have already contacted PayPal for a refund and I will be leaving appropriate feedback on Etsy.
 It's my understanding that Etsy has a "kiss and make-up" feature which encourages buyers to let the seller make it up to them. Honestly, I am not into that. Unless the seller genuinely had real circumstances beyond their control that made them unable to fulfill orders or e-mail customers (ie, their house was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, they had a serious stroke and have been in the hospital and PT ever since, etc etc), I think they deserve their negative feedback! If you've waited months and not received your item, that is a serious problem and future would-be buyers need to know about it.

And what if you're not using a service like eBay or Etsy with built-in feedback but you want to warn friends away? I'd stick to the facts. Say "Hey, I know some of you have also been checking out this website and were thinking of ordering some things, but I just had to request that Visa reverse the charges because they never responded to my order or sent my items." Avoid inserting an opinion about how they are lazy, stupid, or bad at business. Remain professional -- that will put you ahead of them.

Please note that I am of course not qualified to offer legal advice and if there's a lot of money on the line (for instance, you bought a sports car on eBay), you might want to consult with a lawyer rather than an internet advice columnist. My advice is geared towards purchases in the tens to hundreds of dollars range, not thousands and up.

Are you looking for the best way to navigate dangerous communication waters? Contact me at and I'll help!