Ask a Fancy Person: First Parties, Working for Free, and What to Do When Your Gym Is Crawling with…

Ask a Fancy Person: First Parties, Working for Free, and What to Do When Your Gym Is Crawling with Children

by Kirsten Schofield

~the gym~

Dear Fancy,

I recently started working out at a new gym at a new time (lunch time), and apparently this is when oblivious parents exercise with their children in tow. There’s a staffed day-care room for them to use, but often, there are just children wandering through the gym: an 11-year-old who messes with the rowing machine while his mom treadmills, kids that keep running away from dad on the way out, gaggles of children toddling in everyone’s way. Is this just my child-averse, selfish need to focus at the gym or should I talk to gym management?

Related: what’s your take on leaving a group exercise class early? I think it’s rude and want to tell other people to stop doing it until I’m that jerk who’s on a tight schedule and doesn’t have time to stretch out or savasana.

I guess what I’m trying to ask is, what are the infractions that really count at the gym? I know I just need to get over my issues with people who jump-rope in a minorly crowded gym, but, for example, is it worth saying something if the super sweaty guy ahead of you neglects to wipe down a machine?

-Sweaty & Steamed

Dear Sweaty,

The gym, along with public transportation and movie theatres, is among the most lawless spaces in the civilized world. Between all the grunting and the lack of sanitary procedures, it’s practically the Wild West, with Pitbull dance remixes instead of player pianos. Frankly, I’m surprised we’ve all survived this long going to them, which is why I recommend staying put in your air-conditioned living room in a maribou-trimmed bed jacket, eating bonbons. But, necessary evils, no? We’d all enjoy our time in that hellhole six percent more if everyone would adhere to four basic rules of order at Planet Swoll. I’m going to number them for ease of use. Print them out and wave them about in the faces of offenders if you like.

1. Sounds: Keep them minimal. If you’re too busy to use the elliptical without talking on your Bluetooth, you’re too busy to be at the gym. If you can’t press your weights without making sex sounds, you’re lifting too much. If you can’t not fart repeatedly in Bodypump, you’re probably better suited to doing Jillian Michaels DVDs at home than in polite company, regardless of how smelly other gym goers may be.

2. Leaving early or coming late to group exercise classes: I don’t know the circumstances for their lateness or early departure and neither do you, so I don’t advocate snide comments, angry glances, or tattling to the management. If you’re the latecomer or early leaver, be courteous to those wanting to do a whole yogilates class uninterrupted. Move efficiently and quietly. Watch where you’re stepping, and don’t stop to chat.

3. Be clean and tidy: don’t leave your hair and empty hotel shampoo bottles in the drain of the gym shower, wipe down your machines with the knockoff Clorox wipes provided, don’t take up all the locker room benches, and put away weights, balls, and bands after you use them. Model excellent behavior and don’t sweat (har har) the more minor infractions, but go ahead and let someone know if they’ve left a mess in a nice, non-aggressive way that still says, “I saw you wipe your snot on the handlebar of that exercise bike and expect you to not make that my problem.”

4. Be spatially and temporally aware. Ask someone if you can “work in” (this is what bros say to each other if they want to use the leg press machine) rather than just charging right ahead. Keep an eye on where you swing your jump rope. Try not to crowd other people if it’s at all avoidable, and constrict your workout area if the gym starts to fill up. Don’t use the lone rowing machine for two hours if people are circling you like sharks hoping you get up.

Other than that, all you’ve got to do is be pleasant and reasonable, which means that it’s usually not worth it to police gym behavior in the case of bad wipe etiquette and early departures; gym staff is aware that these things happen, and you can take your cue from what they do, even and especially if it’s “nothing.” And don’t make fun of anyone else’s workout faces, because they can see your eyebrow contortions, too.

Before moving on, let’s address that question about rogue kids at the gym. If your gym has a facility for kids, you’ve got no excuse. Gentle reader, you are one hundred percent in the right here and this is absolutely a safety issue. Kid-havers, take note: either deposit them in the loving clutches of another trusted adult, or do not come to the gym.

In the immediate, you should address the parent. Keep a calm voice, and say something like, “Is this little girl with you? I was doing kettlebell swings and almost hit her! Would you mind to keep her a little closer? I don’t want anyone to get hurt.” Smile, and be gentle: as a non-parent, I forget how hard it must be for working parents to eke out time for themselves, and the offender is probably just clueless and harried, not horrid. On your way to the showers, mention to a gym employee that there were unattended babes in the workoutland and that it made you very nervous. Emphasize that it seemed unsafe, and if it persists, ask to talk to the management. If nothing changes, you should find a new gym; this one isn’t making health and welfare of its patrons a priority.

Yours in Sweat-Stained Tank Tops,


Dear Fancy,

I moved into an apartment with my serious boyfriend, and we finally got the point where our place is starting to come together as a, well, place. We’re coming up on the one year anniversary of living here, and I’m interested in hosting our first party; I’m thinking hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, possible theme, something pretty fancy (which you know best).

The problem is, I’ve only been to parties of the “flip cup until you barf” variety, so I’m a little unsure where to start. Our place is only about 900 square feet with no yard space and we’ve NEVER had our friends over before, so I’m starting to feel really overwhelmed just thinking about it. What kind of advice would you offer for a first-time party planner? Any steps I should take to ensure this shebang is a smashing success and won’t bore our pals to tears?

Sincerely, Party Pooped

Dear Pooped,

The transition to “martinis with Nigel and Muffy” entertaining from Librarians and Barbarians at DKE is a tough one to straddle. At my alma mater, the dean tried to help us make the leap by having wine tasting classes for graduating students, but I don’t know how helpful that was (also, I want to take this opportunity to apologize for my comportment at that particular outing). All it did was make me realize Yellow Tail was pretty swilltacular, and most of my classmates still didn’t know how to throw a low-key party where no one vomits and the dress code isn’t “midriffs.”

To protect yourself from a total nervous breakdown, start very small. It’ll be best for the space you have and your experience level with entertaining. Once you have a couple successes under your hostess apron, it’ll be a breeze to get larger groups together for more intricate gatherings. There’s no need for this to be stressful, and there’s def no reason a less Animal House fete should be boring.

Your impulse to have a theme is a good one, though no one needs to know you have a theme (though if you do, please invite me. I love theme parties so. much. and solemnly promise to go balls to the wall with the costume). For example, decide you’re going to do a French night at your house. Invite six people you like pretty well and that’ll give you a nice little crowd. Tell people you’d love for them to come around nine, and do this about a week in advance. Nine tells people they should eat a dinner-sized meal beforehand but can also reasonably expect there to be snacks. Asking them a week in advance gives makes it known that it’s an occasion. They’ll ask what they can bring; tell them to bring nothing at all! This is for two reasons: one, this is your party and they’re guests, so you should be hospitable and anticipate what their wants would be. Two, you’re going to be really irked if someone flakes out last second and then you don’t have a bag of ice or any liquor or any paper napkins. They’re probably going to bring a six pack or some flowers to be nice, but it’s better to not depend on it. (All these tips I’m about to give you transpose easily to other parties: pick people you think will get along and should meet, then plan a grazing appetizer, a sit-down dessert, a cocktail, music, and some kind of fun game to play since games are awesome.)

Once you’ve got your RSVPs, go to Whole Foods or a local specialty grocery and search out the “bits” bin and pick out three cheeses. The bits bin is where you get the odds and ends pieces that weren’t perfect-looking or were too small, and it’s a great way to try new stuff for a fair price. Get a couple charcuterie things if that’s your jam, grab some olives and mixed nuts, and pick up a few baguettes. Voila! A meat and cheese plate. At the liquor store, buy about four bottles of inexpensive white wine and a bottle of creme de cassis for Kir Royales. Nip in to the grocery store, get some fruit and marshmallows and the other ingredients for chocolate fondue.

When you get home, clean your place nicely and tidy up. Put on the 60’s French pop Songza station. Dim the overhead lamps and light some candles: everyone looks better in low light and no one can tell if your wallpaper is a little peely in your rental if it’s kinda dark. Write down thirty or so charades clues on index cards. Assemble the cheese plate and do all the prep you can do ahead. Then, get dressed and pour yourself a cocktail. When your guests arrive, you should be as ready as you can be: it’s a bummer to be invited to someone’s house and for them to then answer the door in their bunny slippers like they aren’t excited you’re coming over.

As soon as people hit the door, get them a drink. My mom always said the secret to being a great hostess was getting people pretty drunk, and I completely advocate this approach. Everyone will think your food tastes oh my gawwwwwwd soooooooo gooooooooood and no one will notice that you forgot to empty the bathroom garbage after a couple refreshing adult beverages. Let people hang out, chat, graze, etc. Make sure your lovely friends all get introduced to each other and that everyone has stuff they need. They’re having fun, I promise. After everyone exhausts the snacks you’ve made, go get your dessert ready and bring it out. Everyone will sit down to hover over the melty chocolate, and you can play intoxicated charades. Since this is French night, feel free to get really stupid with the pronunciation of sha-rhaaaaaaad until someone puts you to bed because you’re clearly in your cups.

Bottom line: Present yourself, your home, and your snacks as nicely as you can, and be gracious. If you have fun and see to everyone’s basic needs, you’re doing a great job. Happy entertaining!

Yours in Hospitality,


Dear Fancy,

I have an interest in working full-time in the fashion industry, but I’ve already graduated from college with a degree in another field. Going back to school is not an option, so I’m currently working to build experience in the field by doing freelance work via my personal style blog. The problem is, I’ve done some jobs pro bono in the past as favors to friends when I was starting out or done blog posts in exchange for items (which is pretty common in the blog world), but I would really like to start making steps to make this blog a money-making venture as I’ve seen other bloggers do. Unfortunately, these same friends or business associates keep expecting me to do this “free” or “barter” work without offering to pay me for my time and expertise, and their expectations only continue to rise as my readership grows; I feel like I’m being taken advantage of. My question is, what is the best way to ask for compensation for my time? At what point should I start saying “no” to unpaid opportunities, if at all?

Signed, Broke Blogger

Dear Broke Blogger,

Before you do anything else, consult this chart. Those are the circumstances upon which you should be working for free at whatever it is you do best. I’m an editor, so my wall-painting skills and basketball coaching are gratis, but I won’t just “read a couple chapters” of your sci-fi novel for you. You wouldn’t ask your plumber to fix your toilet for free in exchange for the publicity, so your fashion expertise is the same; this is how you make your living.

Talking about money with your friends is an uncomfortable task, and this is why I think it’s best to take your business to people who aren’t also the person you call crying when your boyfriend’s brother pees on your cat after too many Kir Royales at French Night. Spend your money with people you know and trust, of course, but always keep in mind that fifty bucks can ruin even the closest relationship forever if you aren’t careful.

Since you’ve already got this problem on your hands, though, it’s best to just start charging everyone right now. As you’re transitioning into making your blog a career, respond to any future offers of “portfolio building” work with a kind but firm email that explains your new situation clearly. Say something like this:

Dear Anna,

I’m so glad you want to work with me again! I had a great time doing that shoot with you with those alpaca wool nosewarmers last winter. Just to let you know, since we last did business together, I’ve made the jump to making my blog my full-time job, and left my position in sales at Wiglets, Inc. My page views are way up, I’ve purchased all new equipment, redesigned my layout, launched the e-commerce section, and so much more; I’m doing my best now to make this work sustainable. Since we’ve worked together in the past and are pals, I’m happy to offer you my friends and family rate of $65 an hour and to feature your product as my “Pick of the Week” from 17 September to 23 September. I’m excited to see your new line of dog sweaters and I can’t wait to help you promote them.


Broke Blogger

Keep the note upbeat, but don’t leave a lot of room for special cases. If these people are really your friends and not freeloaders, they’re going to be excited about your big move forward and eager to help you. Giving them a lower rate and something extra will remind them that you value their friendship and want to lend a hand on their project, but putting a price tag on it keeps the fact that this is now your livelihood center stage. Let them know that you’ve made a step toward a better experience for them, and be clear about what they can expect moving forward. Value yourself and your product, charge a fair price, and do great work. If you’re going to charge them, you have to extend the same professionalism to them that you would any other client.

All this aside, be open to the idea of the occasional freebie or trade. Say the friend in question is an accountant comes back at you with an offer to do your taxes in exchange for you taking a couple headshots for her for her website: that’s a totally reasonable barter to entertain. And of course Vogue magazine asks if they can excerpt your blog and credit you, that’s exposure worth having and you should take it.

Congratulations on your new career, Blogger! Knock ’em dead.

Yours in Invisible Labor,


Kirsten Schofield is an editor living in Charleston, South Carolina, where she might invite you to a tacky wedding party. She’s taking questions for Ask a Fancy Person here.

Photo via Manuel Sanvictores/Flickr