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Life Skills for Fanboys:  Food Gifts

written by Tony DiGerolamo, Copyright 2014

Welcome to a special episode of Life Skills.  Twitter in Focus will be back next week.  Take this criticism in the constructive way it is given.  Like you, I am also a fanboy.  This is meant to help, not insult.

Food Gifts

One of the great things about having fans is that they sometimes like to give you gifts.  Who doesn’t like to get free stuff?  Admittedly, sometimes it’s something you don’t really want, need or can use.  But hey, I never turn down anything except, sometimes, food.

Now keep in mind, I am a fat guy that great enjoys food.  Food is like the perfect gift for me because I delight in trying interesting and new savory things.  But when fans give me food, it can get a little bit uncomfortable because that line between fanboy and creator starts to blur.

The Sliding Scale

Eating food is kind of an intimate experience.  People like stuff a certain way.  They also have allergies and pet peeves about food.  The better one knows you, the more likely they are to be okay with sharing food.  Most fans, while very nice, are mostly strangers to creators.  Typically, fans know your work better than they know you.

What’s Acceptable

Usually food that comes in sealed packages are perfectly fine.  You’d have to be pretty insane looking for me to turn down a candy bar or a bag of chips that were still sealed in a wrapper.  I mean, even a total stranger could probably offer you a sealed bag of M&M’s and most people would be fine with taking it.

What’s Semi-Acceptable

Beverages and food in containers from a third party company.  In other words, you can bring me something from Starbucks or that pizza joint near the hotel.  Assuming it’s still in the container it came in and you seem pretty cool, that’s probably fine.  This is, assuming, you checked with me first so you didn’t order something I hate or expect me to chip in when I wasn’t expecting to do so.

But again, a lot of this hinges on how normal you seem and how many times you’ve met.  When I was promoting Complete Mafia for d20, I’d often meet players who had demoed the game with me at previous shows.  They’d return and play again and again.  Obviously, if I’ve met you half of a dozen times, I’m going to feel more comfortable splitting a pizza or ordering some Chinese food, than if I just met you.

What’s a Very Gray Area

Homemade food and going out to eat.  If I don’t know you, I have no idea how good or how clean of a cook you are.  You might be perfectly fine or you might have two cats who are allowed on your kitchen counters and they shed everywhere.  Gross.  Sorry.  I don’t want even chocolate chip cookies from that kitchen.

One of my fellow webcomic creators used to get tons of free homemade food and she’d just end up throwing most of it out.  Partly, it was because she didn’t want to carry it home and partly was she just didn’t know the fans that had given it to her all that well.  Better safe than sorry.  You have to ask yourself, would you take food from a total stranger you’ve just met?

Going out to eat is another very gray area.  I’ve had fans offer to take me out to dinner and I’ve mostly, politely, declined.  Again, during the Complete Mafia days, I made exceptions.  Sometimes the gaming group would want to hit an Italian Restaurant and act like mobsters.  Usually this was a group that had either hired me to come down and run their game and/or attend a convention.  That’s a little different.  If you’re running a con, you’ve got a certain amount of credibility and bank roll.

When it comes to just straight up fans, I say no.  I don’t want to be beholden to a fan.  And if I don’t know you, you might be buying me dinner to corner me for three hours while you explain about how good your Star Trek/Hobbit fan fic is.  Another person I know from my convention days is a semi-famous actress.  She once got invited out to dinner by some fans in a bar and when she politely declined, the fans had a meltdown.  Insulted, they verbally berated her until she left.

That kind of incident is rare, but it can happen.  Part of the reason creators don’t take you up on dinner invites is just that they don’t know what you expect.  If you expect too much and suddenly for us to be best friends, that gets weird and uncomfortable.  Most fans don’t do this, but the tiny percentage that do can be scary.  Again, what would you do if a stranger you just met offered to buy you dinner, off site from an event you were attending in a city that you don’t know?  You’d probably turn it down because better safe than sorry.

What You Should Do

The best thing to do if you’re a fan and you’d like to buy your favorite creator a snack and/or beverage is check with them first.  “Hey, I’m going to the snack bar.  Can I get you anything?  My treat.”  That tells me my options and who is going to pay.  And don’t be insulted if I turn you down.  Maybe I’m just not hungry or maybe I’d rather you spend some cash on the stuff at my table.  Don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that I pegged you as a sketchy weirdo that may try to poison me.

Some creators just don’t like to accept gifts at all and some got their own nutritional things going on.  A convention center hotdog and a soda may not be on their “okay” list.  And if the creator turns around and orders up a whole pizza, drink and side, don’t complain about the cost.  You started it and I’m hungry!