Uninvited and Unannounced: Handling surprise visitors

by epi on April 5, 2013

Q: I have in-laws and a few friends who constantly show up at my house unannounced and stay for hours. This really bothers me and my husband. Most of the time we are busy, in the middle of a project, haven’t had dinner or we have other plans. I think it is totally inconsiderate. What is the proper etiquette for visiting and do you have any advice for me as to how I might handle this problem without having to move and not tell them where we are moving to?

A: If you are genuinely busy, or simply don’t feel like company, you say, “Hi! How great to see you. I wish I could ask you in but we are just about to get ready to go out. Give me a call next week and we’ll pick a date to get together.” You have no obligation to entertain gusts you weren’t expecting. While it is rudeness to you to have someone drop in, many people were raised differently in areas where spontaneous visits are quite the norm. There is never a guarantee, however, that someone is available to entertain you when you stop by, so there should be no hurt feelings as long as when it is you who is being “dropped in on” you make a sincere effort to have a planned get-together another time. If this happens more than once, you can say quite politely that you love seeing them but are always so scheduled that it is difficult for you to focus, and would prefer that they call first, or that you really plan get-togethers so you can concentrate on them and enjoy their company fully without worrying about other things you had been planning to do.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanna April 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I wouldn’t expressly tell them to leave, but also I wouldn’t alter whatever it is I was doing — like, if they came in while I was washing the dishes or doing the laundry or whatever, I would keep on doing it. Anyone with one grain of social awareness would see the person is busy and themselves suggest they come back another time.

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Winifred Rosenburg April 5, 2013 at 3:00 pm

What you’re saying is true; however anyone with one grain of social awareness would call before coming over.

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Vanna Keiler April 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Unconventional solution to problem: answer the door together in towels (woops). Perchance that will curtail the unexpected visits. :)

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Ginger April 13, 2013 at 9:19 pm

I actually love Ms. Post’s direct answer of being firm at the door. But as an introvert, who desperately guards my alone time to recharge, I had this as a constant problem in college. Dorm living is notoriously casual about social calls. Here are a few ways I dealt with it:

1. Don’t answer the door. If my doorbell rings and I’m not expecting someone, I don’t answer. If you have the problem of cars outside or other evidences that you are at home, for all they know you’ve gone out for a walk. Or, if pressed, you could truthfully say you were busy and just assumed, since you weren’t expecting them, that it was a salesman. There is no law about answering if the doorbell rings. Same for phones.

2. It’s possible you might have to have a direct, but light conversation where you mention you are trying to do better about planning ahead of time — that life gets busier for all of us, and you are making an effort to stick to a schedule based on your priorities. Ask if they could help you with this. People actually usually love to be asked for help. (See this blog for details on time blocking: http://sweeticedtea.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/tuesday-tip-values-timeblocking/) My guess is if you have this happen regularly, you’ve in some way accommodated them in the past, so as Ms. Post mentioned, your priorities DO include them — just at another time when you’ve planned for it. You’ll both enjoy each other more.

3. It might do to make a quick note for yourself on your calendar after they’ve gone or someway of knowing when they stopped by. Perhaps they have patterns that will become evident — when they have free time, are in the area, or are lonely — which you could either plan for, by heading them off earlier in the day with a phone call, or meet them at the door, keys in hand, saying, “I was just about to head out — want to grab a cup of coffee on my way to the grocery/practice/church/whatever?” Then, grab your coffee, and head to your next location. They are out and about and away from your stoop is the point.

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DL Clark October 16, 2013 at 12:17 am

I get very annoyed when people from my church just show up at my door without a call or note. My family are temporarily in a location, and will be moving soon. Our furniture and belongings are in a storage facility, and we are giving my husband the opportunity to further his career and gain his PMP. We have made this clear, and yet, today two women came by, and I think they will be back tomorrow! I am unable to entertain now, nor feel so inclined at this time, as we are anxious to move back to Frisco, Tx, our home. I have some health issues that I am coping with until that time, and do not feel that I need to explain this to my church, despite their kindness, and efforts to know why I am unable to attend church some times. I was raised with manners, and at 51, I do not feel like I need to be put upon by those who are not trained, or try to show respect towards others privacy. I hope that my feelings are not too harsh, as I love to serve, yet right now, I do not feel well, and need some down time. I have several surgeries in the near future with rejection from TVT mesh, and abdominal adhesions from surgeries to ablate a tumor, then, remove the kidney.

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Elizabeth October 16, 2013 at 12:23 am

DL, you have perfectly good reasons for not wanting to entertain. When these women show up, you don’t have to let them in. When you open the door, plant yourself squarely in front of it. Exchange pleasantries without moving, then say, “Well, thank you for stopping by! Unfortunately, I’m not able to entertain right now. Please do call first in the future, I’d hate for you to waste a trip!” You could also call the pastor or whichever lady is in charge of sending people to visit the sick or homebound. You could explain that, while you appreciate the effort, you would rather not have visits for the time being.

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Deb October 17, 2013 at 2:11 pm

We have friends that we have known for years and they always drop in unannounced. They will stay for hours and usually show up at meal time. Through the years though we have heard them make comments about other friends of theirs. How they like to go at meal time because the wife is a great cook. Also, how they do not want anyone to drop in with out a call and will tell them in no uncertain terms that they don’t appreciate it. Yet, they do it to us. We have over the course of the last few years asked them nicely every time they just show up to please call us so we can be better prepared for their visit. They simply will not honor this request and will even make joking comments when they arrive like, we know you don’t like drop in company, oh well. With a big smile. It has really made us feel completely disrespected and yes we take blame because when they do show up we don’t turn them away. By the way they never invite us for anything.

They did it again this weekend on my husband while I was away. Yesterday, the wife called and I said I need to talk to you about something that is awkward for me. I said we have repeatedly asked you very nicely several times to please call us before you come by. I said we enjoy your company (not so much lately), but it makes it awkward for us when you just show up. I asked her why. She got so mad at me. She started yelling at me and actually hung up on me. Then she called back and told me that they didn’t know they needed an appointment and do we require our other friends to make an appointment before they come. This turned into a huge scene. I made a point of not raising my voice to her and told her that as friends we should be able to speak calmly to each other, but she wouldn’t have it. She told me that I had a chip on my shoulder and that I didn’t have to worry about them ever showing up at our door again. I’ve got to admit that while I hate that this happened I am beginning to feel like we aren’t losing much.

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Michelle January 16, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Good for you for speaking up!
It’s their loss; definitely not yours.
Those people have no manners and simply use others at meal time; how pathetic.

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jeanie January 12, 2014 at 1:08 am

I have (had) a lifetime friend (high school friend) & we are now in our 60′s. For years my friend became progressively intrusive. Maybe in the early years it did not have an effect on me. Granted, we have been through everything together – children, divorce, school reunions, including each moving to another state. That did not deter her intrusion. If she drove through town, she thought nothing of stopping by – always unannounced, even when we hadn’t seen each other in over two years. Over the years, I came to see and know, that my friend is lacking social ettiquette! Not only that, she has no respect for me. When her actions became more than I wanted to experience, again, I ceased answering her phone messages and emails. It was never just about her dropping by – she would butt into my private matters and her bluntness often left me totally speechless! I was able to sever the ties with this lady — who it turns out, of course, had changed from the person I knew in HS. I don’t miss her and I don’t feel guilty. I gave her years of being a “sounding board” for her… I’m sure, with her personality, she is making someone else’s life miserable at this very moment.

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Michelle January 16, 2014 at 2:22 pm

I have very unusual sleeping patterns due to serious health issues.
Sleeping is a challenge to begin with and unannounced visitors is my biggest pet peeve.

People who know me are aware of this and I kindly tell people to always call before coming over. Yet, they simply don’t care and stop by announced anyway.

I disconnected the doorbell because it was such a huge problem.
They still don’t get it because they’ll bang loudly on the front door.

I no longer answer the door if I am not expecting guests. I think it is down right rude for people to assume their presence will be welcomed. NOT!

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Abaddon March 27, 2014 at 2:58 pm

I despise unannounced drop ins. My significant other’s people do it all the time and I really can’t stand it. The house is small. When people come over, they will be underfoot and its incredibly annoying when they just drop by. I have cats. They almost never close the door behind them. Plus I love my privacy and incredibly resent having to share my space with these fkng clods whenever they decide to show up. My people know to call first and I do the same for them. When I move out back into my own place in a few months, this is going to be one of the things I’m going to love not having to deal with.

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Alicia March 27, 2014 at 4:11 pm

I’d talk first to your significant other and then to his people. I really dont get the drop in thing as nobody has ever done it to me not in an emergency. However, talk to your significant other then with his agreement come to some house rules including maybe call before unless it is an emergency.

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Jay May 16, 2014 at 2:28 am

I was at a social function when a friend suggested to another guest that I could assist her with a financial issue as I am a CPA. After listening to her I told her that it sounded like she needed a lawyer not an accountant and I could not help her.

Unannounced and uninvited she started to show up at my door with all her paperwork in hand. When I did not invite her in, (I was in the yard that time) she started to spread her papers all over the hood of her car. The showing up started to happened too much and I even asked our mutual friend to speak with her and to ask her to stop. I won’t go into all the times she interrupted my plans and interfered with my family time doing this, I did give her my phone number so perhaps she could go to my office but no, at my home it was each time with no advance phone call. Finally she went away, this took about 4 months.

Now a year later she is back!

She drove by my home yesterday while I was in the front and realized we have had a pool installed, she seemed thrilled. She said she babysat her neighbors kids and would love to bring them over. When she stopped her car to say hi and saw the pool I DID NOT extend an invitation! She then suggested they would just use my backyard pool when I was not home – who does this????!!! I quickly said this would not be acceptable. Tonight she showed up – no phone call – with a car full of kids! Again who does this??!! My son told me she was in the driveway so I walked out – as the kids were getting out of the car I firmly told her that right now was not a good time, they could not use our pool that I had 5 mins to finishing mowing the lawn and we needed then to get to ball practice – all true.

I expect she will be back, uninvited and unannounced, and with children. She’s not a friend, but we have mutual friends so I cannot be rude to her. I’m guessing it is because she does not work that she doesn’t understand how busy people who do especially if they have houses to maintain and children. I do not want strangers in my backyard, I do not want the liability of other peoples uninvited children in my pool! We have dogs and I do not want anyone letting them out by leaving gates open. I can’t deal with months of her again, it was so frustrating.

What do I do?

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Alicia May 16, 2014 at 7:59 am

This is beyond the line. I’d talk to the mutual friends they may be able to reason with her and get her to back off and possibly get her to get some mental help. Failing that I would thrhreten her with a restraining order and possibly even get one. She needs help.

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Winifred Rosenburg May 16, 2014 at 11:01 am

I agree with Alicia. Unfortunately etiquette only works on people with shame, and this person doesn’t seem to have any. Just so you know, I unfortunately know from experience that you can’t get a restraining order against someone unless it is a domestic issue or the person has already been arrested for harrassment. If it comes to it, you may need to press charges so any record of these events you can gather would be helpful. The police will likely want to give her a warning the first time by way of a harrassment report, which may or may not be enough to bring her to her senses. After that, you can encourage the police to charge her and request a restraining order.

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Elizabeth May 16, 2014 at 6:22 pm

Wow. I think this woman’s antics have gone beyond the pale of what you could reasonably tolerate. She sounds like a nut! I would stop worrying about being rude, this person is clearly not getting the message in the more roundabout or subtle ways that you are trying to communicate. (Not that I think you’re being unclear, she just seems clueless.) I would recommend that you prepare a short speech that you can have ready next time she stops by. Something like, “Ruth, I do not want you stopping by my house anymore. We are not friends, and I do not appreciate your showing up her unannounced. You are not welcome to use the pool, so please stop asking and please stop coming here.” It is not rude to be blunt, especially to someone that is basically cornering you into doing it.

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David May 25, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Jay, I think you will have to speak frankly and kindly to her, and have your wife present as witness.
She may have misinterpreted your friendliness when you met through mutual friends. She sounds like a happy, well-meaning person who really wants friends. You don’t know how fragile she may be and you certainly don’t want to hurt her feelings, I’m sure. I really don’t think a restraining order or suggesting mental help are at all appropriate. Please gently tell her that she may have misunderstood the level of help you are willing or able to give her, and that you find her overly-familiar visits inappropriate. Say you look forward to seeing her again at other social functions, but please do not show up at the house again. Assure her she is a very nice person, but that you are not looking for new friends presently, as you are extremely busy with your current situation. This is difficult for anyone to do. I would script it, say it aloud first, then you’ll be well prepared for the next encounter.
She obviously doesn’t know she’s being obnoxious, but you probably know that we have to make difficult, adult decisions that are uncomfortable and don’t fit a particular mold. Please be clear, honest and gentle. It would be good for everyone.

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Ann May 24, 2014 at 10:35 pm

I live in a tiny studio apartment in NYC. Because I work from home on the phone and because I value my privacy, everyone who knows me knows that I simply will not answer my buzzer if they just drop by for a surprise visit. Calling first is a must, unless it’s an emergency. Last week a good friend from Connecticut who I haven’t seen in 5 years but who I talk with on the phone all the time, (we both like it that way for various reasons), apparently decided impulsively to drive down for a visit at around 9PM without any prior discussion at all about doing so. I was on a rather protracted business consultation call at the time and could see him trying to call me, (I have call waiting-caller id), numerous times first from his home phone and then numerous times from his cell phone. After an hour or so, someone buzzed me (which made me very nervous). The person to whom I was speaking heard it (not good) but fortunately was amenable when I asked if I could call her back. When I then called my friend on his cell phone to see if everything was ok, that’s when he told me there was nothing wrong but that he’d driven down to the city to see me. I politely explained that I was working, and then he tried to bribe me by telling me he had cash for me. (weird or what?) When I again said it was a bad time and that I couldn’t buzz him up, he told me to just come downstairs to say hi for a second and then I could go back upstairs. I again apologized but said I simply couldn’t do that because I was working. He then said okay and drove back home. Well, he has since yelled at me on a couple of occasions about how enraged he is at me about that, about wasting the gas, etc. At ME! I think his response is completely inappropriate bordering on psychotic! If anything, he should be apologizing, shouldn’t he? But I’ve yet to receive one, which is actually highly uncharacteristic of him by the way. If ANYONE should be angry in this situation, it should be ME, shouldn’t it? Yet I was nothing but polite with him, said I’m sorry a number of times, (until he went into his raging routine). He has only himself to blame for choosing to do something like driving down from another state for a surprise visit to me when: a)there would’ve always been a chance I was busy or not even home and b)he KNOWS I absolutely do not tolerate that sort of thing — from anyone. It almost seems as if he was testing my boundaries trying to assert his will in the situation, and then got angry because he COULDN’T. That’s fine. But put the blame where it belongs: on yourSELF, not on me. Because I certainly didn’t invite him. Bizarre or what? Should I be worried?

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Ronald June 4, 2014 at 2:43 am

I have a few relativs who come over unannounced at all random times of the day and evening. Never any phone call or any warning. what makes matters worse is my grandmother gave them a key to the house for emergencies and they completely abuse it. I live with her and am her caregiver. I never know when they are going to barge in out of the blue and make themselves at home like they own the place no matter what is going on. I have tried to get them to wait to be let in at least but they made the biggest commotion over it, essentially bullying. My grandmother gets extremely upset at the slightest bit of conflict and they all know this and take full advantage of it. After months of being on the recieving end of quite a lot of bullying attempts over it I finally did get them to at least ring the door bell as they are coming know. Which they do sometimes. If it were just up to me I would just change all of the locks and no one have a key. But they play on Ole grandma’s emotional issues. Has anyone ever had a situation like this? How did you deal with it?

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Alicia June 4, 2014 at 8:46 am

” Oh I’m so sorry this is a bad time. Such a shame you did not call ahead. You are going to have to leave now.” Gracefully escort them to the door, wave goodbye. Sounds like they are pushy so this may take a few times to sink in. Then invite them to visit at other times so it is not that they are being pushed out of grandmas life.
Firm but polite spine

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David June 4, 2014 at 9:20 am

This seems less of an etiquette problem and more of one based on how you are perceived by the relatives. Do they see you as a live-in maid? Are you? What authority do you actually have in the household? These questions should be asked of your grandmother and your role then needs to be explained to the relatives. Sitting face to face and discussing this problem with all involved is the only solution.

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Vanna Keiler June 4, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I agree with David completely. Perhaps you need to explore the reasons for these impromptu visits and address them with the family so you can all move forward. Perhaps it may be time for you to become the caregiver in official terms e.g. legally. Do realize that the family has a stake in the well-being of your grandmother and their visits may be to check up on her and her care. She may also actually encourage/like the visits. Unfortunately, it is her home, she is of sound mind at this point and there is not much you can do without their cooperation to keep them out. Etiquette-wise, I gather she would be the only one who could suggest more appropriate times to visit her home unfortunately.

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Carol July 11, 2014 at 7:12 pm

I have been going out to dinner with a guy for several months (we are older retired people) & the other night he told me he was going to drop something off in the morning & to call him when i woke up. That same night i am sitting there in my nightgown all relaxed & watching tv & he rang the doorbell!!! I was really aggravated & said i’m not dressed but i will crack the door & then he passed the stuff through & said by & left. He has a cell phone so he could have called or text me but he just showed up & then was mad at me for not letting him in!!! I thought this was really rude as he had already said he would be by the next day! DUH! What is with people like that???

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Lyn July 15, 2014 at 7:31 pm

I think sometimes there is a little bit of a control aspect. I, too am older and the guy I am dating can be bad about that too. He actually showed up at my workplace one afternoon after I told him I had other plans after work. He said we can go to dinner, then you can do what you need to do. I was very firm in saying “no” I already told you I had other plans. He didn’t like it too much, but it has taken me years to not just “go along with what other people have for me to do” and I don’t plan to give that up.

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Lyn July 15, 2014 at 7:16 pm

I also despise people who drop in. My job requires all day interaction with people and my home is my only place of peace. With everyone having cell phones these days and odd work schedules, I think it is incredibly rude for people to just “drop in”. I always have projects going at home and like to work at my own pace on my days off. I may stay up all night and sleep in or I may be in the middle of a good book or a project that requires my undivided attention. My motto is “if you don’t respect me enough to call first, then don’t be upset if I don’t respect you enough to answer the door”

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