Shove Thy Neighbor: A Guide to Peacefully Co-Existing at Cons[This week's blog brought to you by Karen Martin.]
They’re loud. They’re rude. They ramble on about things you don’t care about, they spill over onto your space and they drive away the people who stop to talk to you.
And you can’t get away from them.
They’re the guys at the booth next to you.
In actuality, most artists and vendors at Cons are not Those Guys. Most of the people you’ll be seated next to are respectful, thoughtful and interesting people much like yourself. The douches and dudebros we refer to as Those Guys are few and far between, but spending just one Con seated next to them can suddenly make it seem like they’re everywhere.
Here are a few tips to ensure good relations with your fellow Con-Goers.
1) Arrive Early. Get there in plenty of time to set up your table before things get started. Not only does this head off any Israeli-Palestinian border disputes (if you’re not sure where your space ends and theirs begins, you’ve got plenty of time to flag down a volunteer and ask before things get busy), but it puts you in a better headspace. Running late makes you cranky, which will be apparent to your neighbors and anyone else who encounters you. Being early leaves you relaxed and prepared. It also gives you a chance to see who’ll be setting up next to you, so you know what to expect.
2) Start out on a good foot. Introduce yourself to the people around you. Shake hands, chat, ask them about themselves and their product. Putting yourself out there in a friendly and engaging manner predisposes people to like you, and gives your relationship with your neighbors the best shot at being congenial. Also, if any of them are socially clueless, self-absorbed monologuers prone to going on and on and on about things no one cares about, better to find out now while you still have the handy escape excuse of “Oh, looks like the doors are opening. Better get back to my booth.”
For almost every Con, Rules #1 and 2 are all you need. Most neighbors will be nice guys and you will get along swimmingly. Not only are you watching each others’ tables, but you’re all going out for beer and pizza together after the doors close.
But on the off chance that one of your neighbors is in fact, Those Guys, here’s how to cope.
3) Let the Little Things Go. Yes, your neighbor’s full-sized banner display is tacky and borderline offensive, and they insist on going on and on about why Wes Crusher was an underrated character. If it’s annoying but innocuous, let it go. Flagging down Con personnel to complain about petty grievances that they can’t really help only makes you look like the difficult one, and might affect your reputation and your ability to get in next year.
4) Laugh it Off. Yet another reason it’s a great idea to team up at these events. The guy who insists on speaking only in Naavii is insufferable when you’re stuck on your own, with only your murderous thoughts to keep you company. Companionship functions as a release valve. Having someone else to roll your eyes with takes that guy from Supreme Irritant to Comedy Gold.
But what if Those Guys can’t be ridiculed or ignored? Their loud house music or obnoxiously aggressive sales pitches or graphic displays of underage Japanese tentacle monster porn art are driving Con-goers away like AAA on New Year’s Eve. It’s affecting your bottom line and your blood pressure.
5) Address the Situation. Nicely. If you’ve waited until you’re mad as hell and you’re not gonna take it anymore, you’ve already lost. Remember how we told you to introduce yourself earlier? Well, now you have a pre-existing relationship with them, so you can walk over, complement them on… well… something. Anything. Start off on a positive foot (“Nice attention to detail on those Tentacle Monster scales!”), and then politely point out the issue. Frame it as something they were unaware of, because they’re nice people with the best of intentions, and you merely want to bring this small misunderstanding to their attention. If you can frame the issue as a correctable oversight that will benefit everyone, them included, once it has been addressed, you stand the best chance of making positive headway without damaging relationships.
6) Escalate as a Last Resort, and for the Good of Everyone. You’ve tried all of the above, and failed. Your polite request that Those Guys not crank their Swedish death metal/techno remix of the Super Mario Brothers theme up to 11 has been met with scorn, and they’ve actually become more obnoxious. One of Those Guys is now taking off his pants and clipping his toenails, and the other one is shouting offensive things at random people walking by. When you’ve given Those Guys a chance to correct the issue, and the offending behavior is causing people to leave the area, or even the Con, it is time to address the issue with the Con organizers. Con organizers put a lot of time and effort into planning and organizing, and they want to ensure a successful event, and a good reputation for the Con as a whole. Bring the issue to them with the same polite “I thought you should know about this” tone that you used to try and resolve the situation in step #5. Cons are busy, hectic places, and the people running them have no way of knowing what’s going on everywhere, all the time. You may need to put in some work to try and locate the Con person with the authority to address the situation, but don’t give up until you’ve given the Con every chance to make things right.
The good news is that Steps #5 and 6 are rarely necessary. The odds are good that you’ll go your entire career without needing to resort to them. But like condoms and nuclear missiles, it’s good to know that they’re available to you. Just in case.