Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Politely Worded Guide to Gem Shows

Hello Polite Readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Politely Worded Guide to Vaguebooking

Hello Polite Readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

When a service provider doesn't provide

Hello Polite Readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ways to be more polite in 2014

Hello Polite Readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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