How Do You Deal With Uninvited Guests?

February 28, 2007
Uma Ranganathan

What do you do when a friend arrives unannounced at a time when you don't particularly want to meet him or her? I'm not sure about this but I figure that in India most people would smile and pull up a chair for the visitor, offer the person tea and make polite conversation with gusto till the time the individual decided to leave. These kind of gestures of courtesy have won Indians the reputation of being the most friendly and hospitable people on earth.

Well, a friend did turn up unannounced the other day at a moment when another friend and I were sitting and chatting over a beer. The two of us were comfortably immersed in a topic of mutual interest and the bouncy "Hallo" and smile of the visitor who pranced in through the door not only startled us but had both of us downright dismayed. The extra chirpy smile our visitor threw us indicated that she was expecting an evening of social entertainment at a time when we wanted to just have a very quiet conversation about the nature of life and things like that, with long pauses in between sips of beer and looking at the sea. I didn't pull up a chair for my visitor who hovered on the threshold of the room (I can still flaunt my fractured ankle as an excuse for not doing many things), so after a minute she pulled up one for herself.

In the longish pause that followed her arrival, friend # 2 hesitantly asked if she were interrupting something and I responded with a remark that I neither remember any more nor even understood at the time. This is what confusion does to you. It has you talking nonsense. So we just sat together, a not too cosy triangle, and a desultory kind of conversation began between friend # 2 and friend # 1 which by then I had decided I did not want to be part of. I preferred to look at the sea and to struggle with my feelings, torn between annoyance at someone just landing up at my doorstep without bothering to even check if I were free and reluctance to send her packing because ... well because she had come all the way to meet us from the other side of town and well, you're supposed to be delighted when a friend takes the trouble to surprise you in this manner, with her presence.

Finally, friend # 1, who also decided she did not want any of the desultory talk, fell silent, more or less forcing the unwelcome visitor to ask if I was annoyed with her. To my surprise a firm "Yes" came out of me. If I was being selfish in not wanting to make place for a newcomer at a particular point, well that newcomer seemed to me also to have been selfish not only not to have bothered to find out if I wanted her around but to have barged into a conversation which was already flowing instead of trying to quietly and unobtrusively be part of it.

I won't go into the details of the somewhat bitter exchange that took place between us after I admitted my true feelings. I am not writing this to show someone else up in a bad light but rather to look at this question of how to deal with awkward situations when you're caught between wanting to be "good" and hospitable and "bad" and dying to turf out the unwanted individual.

For myself I decided that I had spent too many years being polite to people I didn't want to be polite to and realized, that at the age of fifty six, you don't have all that much time any more to waste on niceties. So I have decided to stick to my truth and to accept the consequences as well. Finally, friendship, more than anything, is about being honest and about developing a common ground where hearts and minds can really meet. It is not about being polite and it is definitely not about being hypocritical. Ah, yes. There is one thing I regret. And that is the fact that both friend # 1 and I were unable to firmly and kindly tell friend # 2 to go home as soon as she had arrived, instead of (as she pointed out) subjecting all three of us to a pointless half an hour of uncertainty and unpleasantness. Oh well, I'm learning!

Having wandered through various fields from special education to environmental conservation, Uma has been working these last fifteen years or so as a psychotherapist, mainly in India. Along with friends and colleagues, she conducts workshops and sessions in self awareness and is looking for people who are interested in creating an environment in which people actually listen to each other. Her book “Bombay to Eternity – memoirs of a laidback Rebel” was published in 2004 by Penguin India.
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How Do You Deal With Uninvited Guests?


Author: Uma Ranganathan


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BJ Kumar
February 28, 2007
10:45 AM

Uma, I am surprised that in this day and age, when nobody leaves home without a cell phone, anyone would show up unannounced. But if one does, it probably indicates that he/she felt comfortable enough with you to do so. Therefore, at least you could pull a chair for him/her. Being rude and insulting is not the answer - and even at fifty-six, one is not too old to relearn that simple fact. It is easy enough to come up with - "Sorry, we are a bit busy now, could we do this at another time?!" Further, the reality is that as the host, it was within YOUR ability to salvage the evening and turn it into a meaningful experience for all three of you - instead, you did more than your share in ruining it. One can not POSSESS friends. It is still within your power to restore your friendship, if you have the courage - for there is nothing as tragic as a permanent wall of bitterness among old friends.

February 28, 2007
02:11 PM

Athithi devod bhava or something like that!
You know what they say, to make omlettes, you need to break a few eggs. In this case, to make a point, you need to be firm and yes, a bit unkind. Else, the one who'd be despondent would be you!

February 28, 2007
02:32 PM

Uma, such a bold post and a fun one to read.

It feels ironic because most Indians in the US constantly lament how people don't just drop by to see them anymore. "You have to call and make an appointment", they'll tell you.

Yet I remember feeling some of the same angst when I grew up in India and was curling up with a book to be rudely interrupted. Its definitely a very individual thing.

But is this just about uninvited guests or is it about uninvited guests not high on the priority list?

February 28, 2007
04:00 PM

To be fair to the interloper, she did ask you if she was interrupting something. You could have just said that you were in the midst of a conversation that you didn't want to share, and that you would prefer another moment to be with her. Perhaps then you wouldn't have needed to blurt out the "yes" which led to bitter words?

I remember my grandmother taking a perfectly clear stand on guests who were not particularly welcome - they would be offered a seat, given the refreshments and told quite clearly that we were in the midst of things and no-one could spare time for them but they were welcome to stay and amuse themselves. That generally worked...it helped that we had no TV back then, but we also learned that one must never have a tv in a "public" part of the house anyway. :-)

February 28, 2007
05:01 PM

You regret your not being able to tell friend 2 to go back home as soon as she arrived? That's harsh!
She was foolish to have dropped by unannounced but the treatment meted out to her reminds me of girls in high school forming cliques.

February 28, 2007
11:45 PM

I know this sounds crazy but I agree with much of what you all have said, (contradictory though it might sound!) and I am not "trying to please". Yes, I feel guilty about having wanted to - and ultimately sent - the guest home. She was not on my high priority list of friends as Aspi suggested. It was a person who is often quite insensitive to others. And yes I really ought to have had the courage to tell her firmly and kindly to leave, within the first few minutes. I'm struggling!!

March 1, 2007
11:41 PM

We all have our ways of dealing with unwelcome guests. Growing up we used to subjected to all kinds of far flung relatives who used to stay put for months together.

But with the demise of my grandparents the mooches slowly petered out with my mom being 'briskly' hospitable.

Dropping in at someone's place unannounced in today's day and age depends upon the kind of friendship one has.

My childhood friend will be visiting Bangalore for a wedding and she has told me that she may take my car. She 'told me', not asked me and I didn't think much of it since she is like a sister to me and I would gladly share all my stuff with her.

What Uma did makes me kind of uncomfortable since it goes against the way most of us have been taught to deal with unwelcome guests but I wish my mom had been able to do the same thing back in her youthful days instead of spending most of her time in the hot kitchen catering to those no good relatives.

March 2, 2007
07:58 AM

Dee,I agree with you about the privileges that certain friends are accorded. My really close friends know they are welcome night or day and that I would do anything for them. Then there are other friends who are maybe people we arbitrarily call "friends" for lack of a better word. And you don't want those dropping in whenever they feel like. I guess it is time for us to learn to recognise where we stand with each other, right?

Deepa Krishnan
March 5, 2007
10:08 PM

I had an unwelcome visitor a couple of weeks ago, and I made the time to sit down and talk to her, all the time wishing I could go back to the work I had been doing when she arrived.

At the end of the day, though, it didn't cost me much to set my work aside and chat with her for an hour, she was having problems at work, and it helped her to talk about it.

There are two simply questions to answer:
1. What's your relationship with the surprise visitor and are you willing to break it?
2. What is the opportunity cost - what exactly is it that the visitor is taking away from you by arriving unannounced?

If you weigh the answers to these two things, some sort of solution might suggest itself...

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