I’ve been living rent free at my sister’s cottage, but she keeps making me run errands

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Dear Urban Diplomat: I’ve been living rent free at my sister’s cottage, but she keeps making me run errands

Dear Urban Diplomat,
My lease recently expired on my downtown apartment, so my sister suggested I stay rent free at her and her husband’s cottage. But since I arrived, it’s been an absolute nightmare. The fridge and washer seem to break every week, and my sister keeps asking me to run errands for her in town. If I knew the move would involve this much work, I would never have come up here. Got any advice?
—Cabin Fever, Lake Simcoe

Living rent free is a pretty great perk, so you should pay your sister back with as much sweat equity as possible. But if her demands become overly dictatorial, it’s okay to let her know. Tell her you’re happy to help out around the cottage, but you’re not sure fetching her husband a new coffee maker should be your responsibility. Consider drawing up a schedule of chores so you don’t feel like she’s randomly dumping stuff on you. After that, if cottage life still isn’t working out for you, I’d suggest looking for a place back in the city while the rental market is relatively soft.


Dear Urban Diplomat,
My co-worker recently purchased a new painting and proudly displays it in the background of her Zoom calls. It’s absolutely hideous, as if a bunch of kindergartners scribbled on a canvas with green and yellow crayons. I bristle at the idea of her putting it on display during calls with important clients. Should I say something?
—Art Attack, Corso Italia

Art is an eye-of-the-beholder thing, but if you can honestly say that all eyes on Zoom will be as offended as yours, then I would suggest encouraging your colleague to move the painting elsewhere. If it were anything else in the background that might cause clients to question her judgment—say, a photo of her on a Carnival cruise, pounding margaritas in a bikini—you would tell her. Ask where she got the artwork (probably at a garage sale), how much she paid (hopefully not too much), and try something like this: “It’s a bit outré for our clients’ eyes, don’t you think? Maybe it would look better in
the living room?”


Dear Urban Diplomat,
I recently took my three-year-old son to a nearby playground. When we got there, he wandered over to a group of children. Then I heard a parent yelling at my kid, telling him to get away from the group. Apparently, a few of the other parents had created a “bubble” for their kids and nobody else was allowed in. I’m terrified of conflict, so I went into full-on apology mode, picked up my son—who was crying inconsolably—and rushed home. But looking back, I wish I’d handled it differently. Thoughts?
—Parent Trapped, Riverdale

Make no mistake: your responsibility in the moment was to stand up for your son. How did that parent expect him to know the unspoken rules of playground bubbling? If a similar situation presents itself in the future, I encourage you to go full mama bear. Parents should always model good behaviour for their kids, and sometimes that means showing them when it’s okay to object strenuously.


Dear Urban Diplomat,
I have a few friends who are crypto-heads, and lately, when we’re texting in a group chat, they won’t shut up about Bitcoin, blockchains, NFTs and, the most maddening of all, Dogecoin. Frankly, I couldn’t care less about cryptocurrencies. How can I get the group to nix all the tech talk without making myself a total social misfit?
—Stock Broken, King West

Wouldn’t it be grand if every group conversation revolved around all the things you like? Sadly, that’s not how friendships work. Most of us spend a lot of our group-chat bandwidth merely tolerating an influx of baby photos and vaccine-related data. But if you really can’t muster an iota of interest in the subject, your job is to cleverly steer the conversation elsewhere. Share general-interest news stories, volunteer an amusing anecdote or ask everyone what they did over the weekend—and hope that they did something other than mine Bitcoin.


Dear Urban Diplomat,
At the beginning of the pandemic, I loaned a friend $10,000. He was struggling to drum up freelance work as a videographer, and I wanted to make sure he could cover his rent. Plus, he promised to pay me back with five per cent interest by early 2021. It’s now well past that initial deadline, but he keeps coming up with excuses for why he can’t pay me back. Is there anything I can do?
—Payback Time, East York

When your friend promised a return on the investment, he probably hoped—like the rest of us—that the pandemic would be resolved much sooner, making it possible for him to meet the deadline. If this was genuinely a loan to a friend in need (and not an investment in his freelance endeavour), you might consider accepting repayment without interest, which would probably make his life a little easier. Or maybe let him pay you back in monthly instalments. Either way, there’s a lesson to be learned here: never lend a friend money if you’re not prepared to lose it.


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