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The question

A friend of mine has started her own business and I applaud her for that. She’s even doing pretty well and I applaud her for that even more. Problem is, at every social gathering she is always promoting her product to the people around her. Which is fine, but she does it when she comes over to my house and I feel as if it’s making other guests uncomfortable. I want to tell her to cease and desist, but feel awkward. What should I do? Let her have it or let it go?

The answer

Since, I think, the eighties I’ve been predicting the following as a future scenario:

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You’re sitting in a coffee shop with a friend.

Friend: “Nice shirt.”

You: “Thanks.”

Friend: “I like that plaid. Although I will say Shirtco™ has more interesting plaids, many of them authentically sourced from the Scottish Highlands. Made of soft, yet durable cotton. Superfast delivery, and their return policy is second to none.” Friend sips coffee. “You know Shirtco? Maybe you should think of buying your shirts there.”

You (thought balloon): “Why is my friend going on and on about this company?”

Later, you find out your friend is being “sponsored” by Shirtco to slip references to their products into seemingly casual conversations with friends.

Lo and behold, it has come to pass. Not too long ago, I was at a party and this guy was out back with all the smokers vaping some pot product. Every time I went out there he was talking about various vaping devices, how his compares with others, different types of tinctures and edibles, levels of THC versus CBD and so on. For hours.

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“Whew, this dude really has a one-track mind,” I thought. But later the host told me he has a pot-related business and picks up a lot of customers at parties.

In a way it was relaxing knowledge, even made me think more highly of him. He wasn’t a bore; he was a hustler. On the grind, trying to make a buck: that I understand. We live in a capitalist society. Everyone’s got to make a living, right?

And really how is it different from a Tupperware party, or friend who’s just become a real estate agent handing out his card at a dinner party, “networking,” or product placements in movies?

(Castaway, hello? I love the movie, but the whole thing is like one long ad for FedEx.)

People do what they have to do to put food on the table and diapers in the diaper genie and I don’t fault them for that.

That said, I do also enjoy the gentle art of non-sponsored conversation – to me, one of the great pleasures and art forms in life. Luckily, along with being capitalistic, ours is a society of great freedoms, envy of the world, so if someone at a social gathering is filling the air with an extended monologue about some product they’re promoting – well, then, I have the freedom to moonwalk out of there and find someone willing to talk to me about love, life, recent events, etc.

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And your guests are obviously free to do the same.

So I don’t think you should worry about it too much. If you do want to talk to your friend about it, don’t do it for your sake or the sake of your guests but for hers. She might be hurting herself with all this social shilling.

My mother talks about the time a colleague came up to her and complimented her on her skin. Mom thanked her. But then her colleague suggested she could do better and tried to sell her some sort of moisturizer or ointment or unguent made by the company for which she was a representative.

(Similar to the fictional nice-shirt scenario described above.)

But the whole encounter left a bad taste in my mother’s mouth and she never looked at that particular person the same way again.

(No doubt the “you could do better” bit didn’t help.)

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As I say, over all I endorse whatever people need to do to make a living.

But not at the expense of one’s reputation and friendships. That’s definitely a short-term strategy, and if you care about your social salesperson friend you might want as gently as possible to give her a heads up about that.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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