City & Politics, Essay

The Social Beef Q&A: Pyramid Schemes and Tipping

Every now and then, the Prairie community reaches out to the Spectator Tribune’s The Social Beef, sending us questions on personal strenuous situations that involves everyday life, such as, when to hold an elevator open (and who for), things we must do when stuck in a mammoth queue, how to deal with fast and slow walkers on the sidewalk and apartment building laundry etiquette. 

This week two readers sent in queries on how to deal with a friend involved with a pyramid scheme and the etiquette behind tipping a homeless man offering to dry your hands inside a bar bathroom.

If you have any questions you’d like us to talk about send your queries to:


I was recently invited for what I thought was a catch-up lunch with a friend and it turned out to be a recruiting drive for a pyramid scheme. I stayed and didn’t sign up for anything, but now she keeps sending me messages on Facebook and through email telling me about other events. How do I tell her our friendship is finished and to politely decline her pyramid scheme attempts to recruit me?

What sort of friend tries to rope you into a sham? A bad one. Being sucked into an event on false pretenses is insulting and cowardly on their behalf. Is it crossing the line? Yes. In a big way. It’s out and out lying and us with manners, do not hang out with friends who lie. Also, friends who are involved with a scam makes you think what other shady things are they involved in. Cults? Gangs?

Here’s an example I can share with you. I too have been duped by a so-called “friend”.

Some years ago I was working for the government and a co-worker invited me to his place for Friday night drinks. We were good friends, so I didn’t suspect anything peculiar would happen. I arrived at his house around 8pm and noticed a large amount of cars parked on and around his property. I rang the door bell.

When the said friend opened the door, behind him, I saw a whiteboard set up and a man in a suit grabbing things out of his bag. On the white board an inverted pyramid had been sketched. Then, my stomach felt queasy.

I asked my friend: “What’s this about?” pointing to the unknown suited man.

“Ah, you’ll see. It’ll be great,” he replied.

I took a seat along with 20 others who all seemed to know each other. Then it got quiet.

“Thanks for coming everyone,” the man said. “Before we get started, I just want to say — this is NOT a pyramid scheme.”

Anyone who starts their big speel off  with “this is not a pyramid scheme” is in actual fact, declaring, it is a pyramid scheme. I was stunned. I may have cursed a few times, to my inner self of course. I felt betrayed, cheated and robbed of my Friday evening. As the suited man waffled on about the amazing amount of cash we’d all be earning within a few weeks, it felt it would have been rude of me to up and leave his presentation. Isn’t that bizarre? I’m the rude one.

Given my time again — and this applies to your dilemma — there are two things I’d do, considered a must.

The first thing I’d do is to be honest.  If you end up at a what appears to be a recruitment drive for a pyramid scheme, think quick and just say: “Look, I’m sorry, this isn’t my thing.”

Then leave. No harm done. You can then set about the task of shooting that friend an email with the title: “Sorry, but we’re done”.

The second — delete your friend from your contacts list inside your phone and de-friend them from Facebook — immediately. This will solve your issue with her sending you requests via Facebook. Social media is for sharing, not for harassing.

Really, by being upfront to your scheming pals you are doing them a favour (by making it clear you are not buying into their Amway-esque dribble) and doing yourself a favour by not being exposed to lies.

I went to a bar last week with friends to celebrate a birthday. When I walked into the men’s bathroom, there was a homeless man in there with towels, soaps and gum. As I was washing my hands he raced over and started drying my hands without my consent. I felt bad, but I didn’t tip him, seeing as I feel I can wash my own hands and I didn’t ask for it in the first place. Was it rude to walk out without tipping the man? 

Who to tip these days? Cab drivers, pizza delivery folk, hotel doormen, bar and wait staff, the milkman, postman — It seems like the list is endless don’t you think? And judging by your qualm, we can throw homeless toilet vendor in there too.

What a great setting for a ticklish encounter: The bathroom. It adds to the awkwardness of your situation. Would you have felt the same had this been on street? Probably not.

The fact he touched your hands compromised your personal space and probably made you feel he actually provided you with a service. And let’s be honest, having a stranger touch your hands inside a public toilet space is inappropriate behaviour — unless you’ve asked for it.

But let’ look at this from the vendor’s point of view for two seconds. He sits, observes, then acts on what he considers is “help”. In a fading society where please and thank yous are dwindling by the hour, we must step up and ooze grace.  And what better place to start, than the toilet.  Be the classy guy — or girl — and do a good deed. This situation has nothing to do with right or wrong, but is more about playing a good Samaritan role. We tip buskers for less don’t we? Tipping, in this situation, does make you feel cornered. You have nowhere to hide. Also, if the bathroom is full, you have all these eyes on you, judging you, seeing if you will tip or not. The night of your tomfoolery at the bar, you were most likely the 50th person to not tip the man that evening. But like the bar tender, the waitress, the hotel doorman, he was trying to offer you a service. In our society of tipping the service industry we need to acknowledge his efforts: therefore we should tip the homeless toilet vendor. But what to tip? If you use any of his products — soap, gum, mints, cologne — then the standard must be set at nothing less than $1. Sounds fair, right? If you use none of his products and he just drys your hands, then nothing more than $1. At the very least, acknowledge his existence.


If you have any questions you’d like us to talk about send your queries to:

Justin Robertson is a freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter: @justinjourno

Illustration by Sarah Jennings.

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