This is an advice and basic rules blog entry originally posted online at LiveJournal in March 2009. It was used as the base for a program book article at AWA 2009. This actually started back in 2007 as an advice email to my hotel roommates for Anime Expo who had never attended a convention before; we’ve been maintaining and updating this information between friends and convention roommates ever since.
I hope you find it as useful as it has been for myself and several others.
Last Modified: 04/07/2010
“Common sense is not so common.” – Voltaire (French Philosopher and Writer, 1694-1778)
This list was compiled primarily based on my personal experiences (and the experiences of my good friends) as someone who has attended a variety of conventions across the USA over the past (good gods) ten years. I have volunteered a couple of times, been staff a couple of times, even a panelist on more than one occasion, and I am a regular attendee and costumer.
The list is being updated occasionally, because there’s plenty of things that just aren’t on here. This is the fourth year I’ve been keeping this list and regardless of my past experiences, I have had something new to add to it every year.
Note: Please feel free to link to this post from wherever or to revise the shared room rules to match your own room and email them to your suite-mates. Just remember to provide a link back to here.
First, some of my own con-going advice.
Some seem obvious, but they all exist because I’ve seen or experienced problems in the past that make it clear common sense is NOT common.
When people say the word “convention,” they are usually referring to large gatherings of the employees of companies and corporations who attend a mass assembly, usually in a big hotel somewhere, for the purpose of pretending to learn stuff when they are in fact enjoying a free trip somewhere, time off work, and the opportunity to flirt with strangers, drink, and otherwise indulge themselves.
The first major difference between a business convention and a fandom convention is that fandom doesn’t bother with the pretenses. They’re just there to have a good time. The second difference is the dress code–the ensembles at a fan convention tend to be considerably more novel.
“Proven Guilty” by Jim Butcher
Book 8 of The Dresden Files
01) Con After Dark - I hate to be the one to say this for any still relatively new to the con circuit, but bad stuff happens at cons. Even the “family friendly” ones like Anime Expo and AWA. I’ve dealt with cases of near rapes occurring in the hotel lobby’s restroom at a “family friendly” con. (The police caught the guy, but that girl is mentally scarred for life. –This is why I believe it is naive to tag any con as “family friendly”.) So the rule is, do not wander the con by yourself after dark. And I mean “wander” in the sense of aimless roaming about or nighttime panel attendance, not I’m-making-a-run-to-the-ice-machine-or-the-Starbucks.
After dark, for your own safety, please travel in packs guys.
02) Standard Bar Rules - Do not accept food or drink that you don’t see from the moment it leaves it’s package. We are adults and should know better than to accept candy from the man with the unmarked white van. Just because you don’t see the van, don’t assume. Conventions are the geeky version of Woodstock– and there are drugs in some corners.
Addendum: Food in the Con Suite or at convention-run “cafes” generally has staff watching over it at all times, and thusly should be safe. All the same though, if it looks questionable, don’t eat it, and point the issue out to a staffer.
03) Eat At Least One “Real” Meal A Day - Its easy to pig out on Ramune, Pocky, chips, alcohol, etc the entire weekend, but don’t do it. I am no one’s Mother, and I’m not going to notice if you forget to eat something other than junk food all con and end up sick. And you WILL end up sick.
04) Keep Hydrated - Once again, your Mom ain’t here. And while your friends probably will go to the hospital with you when you keel over from heat stroke, they will not be pleased with you.
05) Drink Responsibly - No one wants to hold your drunk head over a toilet for 6 hours. Everyone’s at the con to have fun. Puke-drunk isn’t fun for anyone involved. Also, if your friend has had too much, do not let them leave with that guy/gal they just met. Regardless of how cute they are. Rape charges could come up the next morning.
06) Drugs - Illegal drugs are still illegal. Con doors do not preclude state laws.
07) Shower Daily - With soap. Con funk is bad. That’s it.
08) Perfume/Cologne - Perfume/cologne/Febreeze is not a replacement for bathing. Nor is it appreciated in large doses. Some people have chemical allergies or just sensitive noses. Be considerate of their gag reflex and your shoes.
09) Touching - Do NOT touch other people without getting permission first. Not everybody at a con is your new BFF, and different people have different personal space needs. Additionally, costumers spend a lot of time and money to create their costumes, and those parts may be either more delicate or pointy than they first appear. You do not want to “glomp” a costumer and either break their costume or impale yourself on it.
If you’re getting “friendly” with a new acquaintance, the first “no”, “stop”, etc should also be the last. Do not overstep bounds. Laws about sexual harassment/rape do NOT stop at the con doors. There are a lot of other people at the con if things don’t work out.
10) Official Rules - Follow the rules and guidelines inside the program guide, especially those pertaining to weapons and safety. Also, any laws that apply in the country/state/city where your convention is held also apply at the con. This includes drinking ages, weapon laws, and laws regarding public decency.
11) Ask Permission - Ask for permission before taking a photo OR posing with someone in a photo. Someone in costume or at the Masquerade would probably love to have a photo taken, but be courteous in getting that photo. Grabbing a photo from within a large room to capture the scope of the attendance is one thing, but if you want an individual-specific photo, ASK. People in costume usually love to have their photo taken, but if they’re not ready, or missing people from their ensemble cast, its best to let them get ready. In fact, most costumers will take extra steps to help you get the best photo of them possible.
12) Mutual Respect - Treat people the way you want to be treated. A lot of people will say things online or at a convention that they would not dare under any other circumstances, or feel that it’s within their rights to mock a group or philosophy because of the convention atmosphere. Really, you’re going to be treated the way you treat others. Be prepared for the consequences there-of.
13) Do not stop in the hallways. - You will be run over by fourteen of your closest con-goers and yelled at by staff. This includes photographs. If you stop; you’re in the way. It’s as simple as that. If you’re stopped for a photo, please step to a side area out of the way. People tend to crowd en masse and everyone gets stuck for the next 15 minutes while camera shutters go off.
14) Don’t hover in the doorway. - This includes, but is not limited to stopping on exit, or sticking your head in. If you want to know what is in a room; go into the room. If you are leaving, leave. If you stop at the doorway, you run the risk of being run over by someone leaving. And you’ll probably be yelled at by staff too.
15) Panel Etiquette - This goes for both panelists and the members of the audience.
- If you are on a panel you are obligated to prepare for it. This goes doubly for panel moderators.
- Stay on topic. (This goes regardless of if you’re a panelist or an audience member asking questions.)
- Do not insult the panelists.
- Panelists, do not insult the audience.
- Try to be on time, or enter/leave quietly.
- If you think you might need or want to leave the panel early, please sit in the back.
- Silence your cellphone/DS/PSP/etc. If it rings (or otherwise makes noise), turn it off. If you must answer it, leave the room.
- If you are using your mobile device/laptop/etc to tweet, take notes, live-blog, or other relevant activity, try to be sensitive to others about it (in a darkened audience, sit in the back –screen glow is a bitch).
- Do not listen to your iPod. Do not play your DS/PSP/etc. If you don’t want to be at a panel, leave and make space for someone who wants to be there.
- Do not fall asleep. If you are about to fall asleep, go to your room or the Con Suite. (Note: Medical conditions are the exception.)
- Come prepared with questions. The panelists will be thrilled.
- It’s rude as an audience member to interrupt panelists. Raise your hand.
- Do not raise your hand and keep it up for twenty minutes (starting before the panelists have even introduced themselves).
- Don’t waste time on trivial comments. If you’re at the panel, it’s safe to say that <insert-big-guest-name-here> assumes you’re a fan, so keep your comments about how much you think <insert-fandom/actor/writer/artist/etc-name-here> is the best thing since sliced bread to a bare minimum and get on with your question (you’re cutting into other attendees’ question time).
- Don’t waste your question on something you know they won’t be able to answer. These people are usually contractually obligated to not give out spoilers. No amount of cute comments/begging/insults will change that.
- Don’t ask if you can go up and physically touch the cast. We get it. You love them. That’s why you’re there, but come on people, think rationally, that sort of request is just creepy.
- Respect moderator requests to move on, especially if you have brought up an adult issue during an all ages panel, something illegal, or something which, while legal, might be an extremely triggering topic for the panelists.
16) Do NOT Wear the Same Clothes/Costume ALL Con. - Most conventions are 3 to 4 days long, and very crowded. It doesn’t matter how pretty your costume is or how awesome that shirt is– it does not eliminate B.O.. After a day or so of crowded, hot locations, you’re going to sweat on it. So unless you have a way to combat the stench, please do not expose the rest of the con-goers to you wearing the same outfit for 3 days straight. A few people swear by Febreeze to make a costume wearable two days in a row, but even with that magic elixir, three days is just pushing it. And without febreeze, it’s like normal clothing. You don’t wear the same shirt two days in a row at school or work, don’t do it at a con.
17) The World is Not the Con - Conventions are not a magical land of sugar and gumdrops. You are in a real place, in a real city, with real people. Things outside the convention will not cater to your every desire. Expect that.
- Do not park your car somewhere that you would not park under normal circumstances. There are still car thieves, muggers, vagrants, and parking laws. Be conscious of that.
- If it’s the first year or two in a new location for the con, expect the hotel staff will be a little shell-shocked by the influx of costumes and other gear. They’ll ask questions. Some will be weird-ed out; others will be excited and fascinated. Don’t accept rude staff, but be understanding.
- Allow plenty of time for dinners out, and keep in mind that the poor waiter/waitress has been swamped by the influx of con-goers and is probably overwhelmed. The restaurant may run out of certain foods or just be understaffed for the crowds. Patience is a virtue. Planning ought to be.
- TIP your waiter/waitress/bellhop. It may be a con, but they still survive more on tips than on their wages. They don’t get paid more just because several thousand people are at the convention center down the road.
- It is still required to wear shirt and shoes in most public buildings, businesses, and restaurants. Please do. (Nobody cares if you are dressed as “L”, carry some flip flops and take them off for photos. If you are dressed as Kamina and going out to dinner, put a shirt on. Even if you DO look good without one.)
18) Take A Break - Big cons are usually held in big cities. If you get tired of the con, there are usually tons of things to see nearby. Visit the local historic district (great photo-ops for costumers), downtown, see Chinatown/Little Tokyo/etc, visit the beach/harbor, check out the zoo/aquarium, etc. Get on your hotel website, ask around the forums pre-con, or ask the concierge. They can usually tell you about non-con attractions that are close by. Take advantage!
19) Don’t argue with Security - The people that run security for conventions don’t make the rules, the convention, hotel, and/or local law enforcement does. Security is responsible for doing what they can to protect the safety of the attendees, guests, and the convention’s assets.
20) Staff Misbehavior - If you feel that security member, staffer, or volunteer is behaving inappropriately, find a(nother) con staffer and discuss it calmly and rationally with them. (The less cursing and screaming you can manage, the more likely the staffer will be agreeable to helping you resolve the problem. However, be prepared for the idea that you may be wrong and the con-staff was behaving according to the rules.) The faster you can let con staff know something is wrong, the faster they can get the message up the chain of command to correct it. Having the name and security/volunteer group of the person-in-question is extremely helpful. Large cons like SDCC may have as many as three different security companies and several dozen departments handling volunteers to run things.
21) Cosplayer Common Sense - See rules 9, 10, and 13. Due to recent(2010) incidents though, apparently more specification is needed beyond those.
- Racial or culturally offensive behavior should be avoided no matter the day or location. The “Seig Heil” is not appropriate in any kind of public venue any more than putting a noose on an African American person or walking about in a KKK uniform.
- If you are wearing a military uniform or have a country’s flag as part of your costume, be aware that these are symbols representing real people and real groups, and should be treated with respect to the people that they represent.
- Be aware of where your props/prostheses are in relation to you. Try not to hit anyone with your staff/wings/gun/etc and avoid poses that risk rubbing your stage makeup off onto another person or person’s belongings.
22) To Parents - The convention is NOT a daycare. While they do have security of some form as a part of the convention staff, that is mostly volunteers that are there to keep the lines in order and to kick people that can’t behave off the premises. The convention bears no responsibility for your child, and no one is there is getting paid to watch out for them (or their safety). If you wouldn’t send your kid to a theme park or a bar without a guardian, don’t send them to the con without one. Similar atmospheres.
01) Getting Suite-Mates - Whoever booked the room under their name has the final end-all be-all say on who can stay in the room. If something gets damaged within the room or someone flakes out, it’s the person who the room’s name is under that has to be responsible for handling the cost. This means that they get the say on who can and cannot stay in the room. If you did not book the room, don’t invite people to stay in “your” convention room, suggest they ask the person whom the room belongs to and talk to that person. While the room holder will generally get the okay of everyone in the room before adding/removing guests, the final yes or no is always theirs.
02) Room Keys - Most hotels will only provide a limited number of room keys. Therefore, make sure you always have a key or know how to locate a suite-mate that does.
03) Curfew - This is a room-by-room issue, but generally I don’t have a curfew. However, if you’re not coming back to the room until extremely late (determine what constitutes late with your suite-mates) it is generally polite to give your roommates a heads up so that they don’t worry.
04) Sleeping - This may vary from room-to-room as well. If someone is sleeping in the room, there is no partying. Please be respectful that not everyone has the same amount of energy as you do so if someone is sleeping and you are still in the mood to party, take it to the lobby or some other parts of the con. A lot of rooms don’t sleep much during a con, but some people do, be respectful.
05) Guests - As a general rule, guests can stay and party but cannot sleep at the room (everyone else is paying for the room split and space is probably already tight). If they get drunk at the shared room, they need to hop a shuttle back to their hotel. If they drive, please make them aware that guests are not allowed to stay so they limit their drinking. If there is some horrible situation where a guest is dislocated from their party and needs a place to stay, the decision for them to stay will have to be unanimously decided by everyone else. I know this is a little mean, but you do not want to get any of your stuff stolen or broken by random people.
06) Drinking & Smoking - Underage drinking is not allowed in the hotel room. Drinking is allowed however (given the room holder and suite-mates are okay with it), as long as you are legal. There are laws about providing alcohol to minors.
Smoking is generally a rule set by the hotel. It is becoming more and more common for hotels to not have “Smoking” rooms available at all, so if you are in a hotel-dubbed “Non-Smoking” room, you must smoke outside. If you are staying in a “Smoking” room, rules about smoking should be set between the roommates.
07) Personal Belongings - In general, try to keep your stuff semi-organized and out of the way. This is especially important in shared rooms with costumers. Rooms with multiple costumers make true organization impossible; however, generally, do not use the bed(s) or anyone’s sleeping spot as storage/table space for extended periods of time. This is more important in the evenings when there is partying or sleeping occurring than it is in the middle of the day.
You’re going to rush around and leave stuff out –it’s a given. However, exhausted con-goer or random party-er should not be in charge of moving your stuff off of the bed before they can sleep or sit down. This is how stuff ends up broken, dirty, or lost.
When possible, try to store stuff with your bags, in the closet, wherever is appropriate to the room. Under the hotel room tables or counters is often a safe space to use as storage as it prevents things being stepped on or tripped over.
08) Door Sign - Once you check in, leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign up at all times. You do not want cleaning people trying to straighten up con-crazy, and they probably don’t want to deal that mess either. You will most-likely lose stuff, something will get broken, stolen, etc after a hotel maid comes through. We’re all big kids, we can make our own beds. When you need towels, you can call down to the reception desk.
09) Bathroom - Con space is always tight, and you all have to share the bathroom. So if you’re going to need the bathroom for an extended period of time (taking your shower, complex costume, etc) let everyone know –we don’t need a why, just need to know it’ll be unavailable for a bit– so people can use the restroom quickly if need be before you have it for the next half hour or more. This also means that if you can do something like makeup or hair-drying in the main room, please do so.
10) Decency Check - Always check the room before bringing guests in. Make sure your suite-mates are conscious and “decent”. Someone might have been alone and is doing a quick change in the main area (bad idea, but it always happens). Or they might be ill or sleeping. This is not a good time for a stranger to pop in without warning. Especially ones toting cameras.
Along the same lines, do a decency check before answering the door. Do not swing the door open to answer it while your roomies are in the middle of a clothing change.
Also, sometimes roommates just may not want a bunch of people in their room, especially if they are costumers and have delicate bits out, or have brought along expensive personal items such as their laptop.
11) No Sex in the Room - Con hook-ups are not entirely uncommon. However, unless ALL of your suite-mates agree to have a policy otherwise, assume that it doesn’t matter if your suite-mates are in the room or not –they could return unexpectedly. No sex within the shared hotel room. Do it at the other person’s hotel room or sneak into some dark alleyway and do it there. If you have a balcony, that’s off limits as well. The same goes for the bathroom. Convention hotel rooms are a limited, shared space and beds are frequently shared in a non-romantic sense. Be considerate of your suite-mates.
12) Keep In Touch - Day one, everyone in the room should have everyone else’s cell phone number, and the room phone number. This is so you can find each other if needed. Lost keys, unforeseen emergencies, etc. Keep in mind that texting is the most reliable method of contact at a con, and check your phone regularly to avoid missing things –like group dinners.
13) Visiting Rooms - Keep in mind that not every con hotel room is a “party room”. Ensure that everyone with a paid share in the room is alright with any guests that come through the door. This goes for if you are going to someone else’s room, or bringing people into your own.
14) Costumers with Heavy Make Up - If you’re dressed as a zombie or something with a lot of blood and gore, or any costume with heavy makeup or details that might rub off on cloth, walls, carpet, etc. Respect the wishes of those in the room to keep the fake blood off of their stuff. Generally don’t bring it in the room, or stay in a spot where your mess can be contained anytime the make-up is being worn.
These are just advised things to bring with you, and directed mostly at those sharing a hotel room at the con.
- Your badge pick-up info. (Most cons require photo ID and Registration number if you have pre-registered for a badge.)
- Camera (Optional, but you’ll regret not having one)
- Bag to carry your necessities (Plastic grocery bags will break. I suggest a backpack, messenger bag, or similar.)
- Drugs (Legal kind only.)
- Prescription: Bring extra in case your transportation takes more time than expected. Check rules of your transportation provider – airline, bus, etc.
- Over the counter medications: Tylenol/Aleve/Advil or the like. Stomach medication, allergy pills, sleeping pills, etc.
- Vitamins and immune boosters: The con-crud is not something you want to come down with, and lack of sleep and alcohol will lower your resistance. If you can, start taking these a week before con to boost your immune system.
- Especially bring your own medicine if you have allergies for certain kinds of medicine, bring headache, allergy, and stomach medicine that you CAN take –just in case, it’s possible you will not be able to find the right stuff when con food suddenly makes you ill. (I have a friend that is allergic to wheat gluten and cannot take most standard pills. I am going to glue a bottle to her hand if we do 3 years in a row of her getting sick without having gluten-free meds packed.)
- Cash / ID / Credit Cards (Do not count on ATMs, they tend to run out of money at a convention.)
- Cell Phone (AND charger)
- Sheet protectors in a hard notebook (Optional — Great for autographed pictures, prints, etc.)
- Contact Info (Optional — MooCards make new friends)
- Swimsuit (Optional — Most host hotels have pools. It’s a nice thing to do one evening after prime-time con hours.)
- Feminine Hygiene Products (The stress and bustle of a con can kick off your cycle early.)
- Snacks (use your own judgment, but remember–you’ll probably have NO FRIDGE)
- Water (seriously –water bottle– HAVE ONE)
- Etc. (You might want to bring a non-perishable breakfast food. –like Pop Tarts)
Sleeping / Hygiene Essentials
- Sleeping Bag / Comforter (MUST HAVE for shared rooms)
- Pillow (Good idea for shared rooms)
- Toothpaste / Toothbrush
- Deodorant (For the love of all that is decent, PLEASE.)
- Shampoo / Soap (hotel complimentary shampoos won’t cover for everyone if you have a large group to a hotel room)
- Emergency Sewing Kit (With thread colors you’re likely to need. Clear thread is an easy solution here.)
- Small Magnet (Optional – to locate the sewing needle you WILL drop from your kit.)
- Hot Glue Gun (and glue sticks)
- Make Up (including some to put in your con bag for touch ups)
- Make Up Remover (especially if you’re wearing stage-grade make up)
- Bobby Pins
- Safety Pins
- Tape (if applicable for potential repairs – I usually carry blue painter’s tape. This is good for broken props, costume slippage, and temporary repair of fabric rips. I use the painter’s tape because it does not do long term damage to/leave sticky residue on the fabric or prop.)
- Clear Nail Polish (If anything you wear has pantyhose)
- Wig Cap (if applicable)
- Topstick (fashion tape)
Entertainment (optional, but a good idea for long lines)
- Nintendo DS
- Sketchpad & Pens
Very KEY ITEM… A bag. Not a purse, and not a plastic or paper bag. A sturdy backpack or messenger bag. You will be carrying it most of the day, so make sure it’s comfortable and has absolutely only what you will need (at minimum: money, ID, room key/car key, and water bottle). Try to leave extra space for purchases. If you can, you do not want to carry your bag plus three plastic or paper bags of con goodies. This is less of an issue if you are staying at a con hotel, but still.
Check out the online schedule before the con if you can, but be sure to get your hard copy at the con, and watch the room signs for events important to you. Schedules and rooms often get switched during the con due to, well, Conventions == Organized Chaos(TM Michelle).
IF there are maps of the convention center online, (hopefully they will put these with the schedules, but not all cons do) look them over to kind of know how the con is laid out if not printing out your own copy.
If you’re with a group, have a default meeting place. This is a good idea so you can tell people just to meet at 5 for dinner or some such. It minimizes confusion and makes a default place to find your friends at if you’re in between events or panels.
Be sure to have a pen or pencil to mark changes important to you on your paper schedule. A highlighter is also useful when planning panel attendance. I usually try to remember to have two colors, one for must-see events, and one for maybes. If you’re attending costume photo shoots, remember to write these into your schedule!
For Costumers, have a regular change of clothes for every day. Just in case something occurs where you can’t or don’t want to wear your costume after X-hours. You never know, somebody might spill orange soda on your costume. It happens.
Consider coordinating with your hotel suite-mates on snacks. Stuff is cheaper in bulk, and different people can be in charge of different snacks.
- The rules for the convention you are attending. These will be posted on your con’s website.
- RM’s Con Behavior: Clues for Free
- Comics Oughta Be FUN!’s On A Serious Note blog entry
- Girl-Wonder.org’s Convention Anti-Harrassment Project
- GWMC’s SFCon Survival Kit for Newbies
- Shrub Monkeys’ Etiquette for Meeting Your Idols
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