Ask a Fancy Person: Entry-Level Expensive, Unwanted Guests and the Gratefulness Feedback Loop
by Kirsten Schofield
Ask a Fancy Person is the Hairpin’s latest advice column, in which Kirsten Schofield takes your questions about deluxe behavior.
I live in San Francisco with my boyfriend. We have an apartment with 2 bedrooms. As we all know, San Francisco is a fun place to visit and the hotels are so expensive, so friends, acquaintances, and relatives are constantly asking to stay with me. They frequently say things like, “Since we are friends and you have the space anyway….” or “You let me stay once before, why can’t I stay this time?”
It is hard to turn down people you love asking to stay over or people saying they don’t have the money or a friend who offered to pay me $75 a week while she rents out her own apartment room for much more! I know I can just say no to any of them and don’t need a reason. Butttttttt I’m often worried about offending them, or it just doesn’t seem worth the strain on the friendship, or I guess I should always let my cousins stay because they are related?
Overbooked on the Bay
Isn’t living somewhere nice kind of the worst? I live in a similar Nice Place to Visit with Expensive Hotels, and yeah, it’s totally great to have a beach and awesome restaurants and gorgeous architecture, but I had guests every single weekend from the first of January to Easter this year, all of them singing the same song. Don’t get me wrong: I love hostessing, but Christ on a cracker, I was beat. People I barely knew came out of the woodwork asking to stay with me for a weekend, and I said yes to some stuff I wasn’t altogether comfortable with.
I feel you: it’s exhausting to keep your house Company Ready (TM), create itineraries for myriad interests, ages, and budgets, and to never have a minute to go grocery shopping or pick up your dry cleaning. You’ve got stuff to do, and they’re on vacation.
That said, San Francisco is going to keep being a place that people want to visit, so you’ve gotta either learn your limits and know when to say no or learn how to lie convincingly. Let’s start with the moral high ground, shall we? If it’s your mom, you have to let her stay with you. She gave birth to you, so shut up and scrub the grout in the bathroom because you KNOW she’s going to check. Other family members and friends get preference on a sliding scale based on how closely related they are or how long you’ve known them, how much you like them generally speaking, and their particular situation (e.g., you can’t turn out your friend who is totally broke and came for one night for a job interview). Since family and close friends are more or less required to keep speaking to you, this is a group you can be honest with. “Katie, you know Peter and I would love to have you, but Aunt Carol and Uncle Mike were here last weekend and you KNOW how she is. I’m just exhausted, but I’d love to meet you for the Emperor Norton tour and get ice cream Friday night!”: Hold your ground and don’t leave the door open even a smidge. They’ll get over it.
If telling the truth isn’t your thing, I’ve got some convenient white lies for you that are all extremely workable. Remember, for a lie to be convincing, it must be slightly embarrassing for you to tell, it has to be plausible, and it has to be something that makes the hearer of the lie feel a little bad for you. A great example goes something like, “I would love to have you, but they’re spraying our building this week for termites, so we’re not going to be there ourselves!” If that’s too brazen, you can say, “You know we’d love to have you, but Peter’s fraternity brothers are coming in on the 3rd and I know it’s going to be a massive headache.” You’re also welcome to tell them that your boyfriend came down with a summer cold and you don’t want to expose them to all his phlegm. Again, make sure that you’ve not left wiggle room for them to exploit. Tent your lie well, let them know about some reasonable place to stay you know about, and offer to meet them out somewhere for a drink or a hike or whatever you feel up for. At the end of the day, if they really want to spend time with you, they’re going to make the effort, and if they’re only calling to exploit your cool house, feel free to just magically stop getting their texts.
If someone gives me a thank-you gift, do I write them a note? Do they write me a note for the thank-you note? Where does this end?
Gratefulness Feedback Loop
This is an easy one: the interaction terminates after a thank-you note is written, but not before. If you get a present of any kind for any reason, you should write a thank-you note. After that, you’re pretty much finished. Say you help your friend move, and she sends you a massage gift card as a token of her gratitude. You then dash off a quick note, and you’re finished. Of course not everybody believes that written thank-you notes are essential, but the Fancy Rule of Thumb is this: if a personal note is arguably required, a personal note is required.
Since I’ve got you here, I’m also going to address another thank you-related question I got in my mailbag, which is something to the effect of the correctness of an emailed note of thanks and a written one. With my personal commitment to the Fancy Way, I do not advocate emailing your thanks pretty much ever, but I understand that it is a necessity when time is of the essence. If you interviewed for a job, for example, go ahead and send an email; you don’t have four or five days to burn hoping the post office gets everything to the right place. But otherwise, default to the written note. People get a charge out of it, and it takes roughly two minutes of your time, inclusive of the minute you spend looking for a stamp. If you’re feeling anxious, you could send an email to the effect of, “Sarah, I got the flowers, and they’re gorgeous!” and then follow up with a note of thanks later.
When in doubt, write it out.
When I have disposable income, I tend to spend it all on non-material goods (travel, nights out, etc) and I never really take the plunge to buy Nice Things. Partly this is because I usually don’t have an excess of disposable income, partly this is because I am sort of an impatient/infrequent shopper and don’t have the patience to figure out which Nice Things will be worth it and partly it is because I rarely think that Nice Things will provide me more life enjoyment than a weekend somewhere fun. But then, on the rare occasions I do buy Nice Things (like Frye boots) I always get briefly very aware that top-quality possessions are actually really fucking delightful and also you don’t have to replace them or like, go on business trips with all your stuff in a nylon duffel bag from JV track. For people who want to start getting entry-level Fancy, what are some good places to start? If you had, like, a spare $500 and wanted to treat yourself, what would you buy?
No One’s Ever Called Me Fancy In My Life
Dear Fancy in Training,
OMG Frye boots, right? My mom has been wearing hers since the autumn of 1978, and I’ve had the same pair for a decade, and… okay, I’ll stop there, but good choice on that one. Since you’ve knocked out the quality footwear thing, I’ll not harp on that, but I wanted to congratulate you out of the gate; you’re well on the way to being a swell.
I applaud your desire to spend your shekels on experiences rather than material goods and I’d never advise you to buy a white leather moto jacket instead of a taking the money and running away to Asheville for a weekend (they have really nice hiking AND great beer! Spread the word. Not too much. There aren’t lines there and I like that.). I agree that it’s more beneficial in the long run to spend time with people you care about and do neat things than to have lots of scarves. That said, having a couple nice things can really improve your quality of life because the upgrade makes you feel either better about yourself or less anxious or (ideally) both!
The things to consider above all others is cost per use and longevity of your purchase. Yeah, I also love a good, hideously expensive statement necklace, but the thing about statements is you can only make them so many times. I would NEVER call this investing because investments by definition appreciate in value, but this kind of purchasing should be of classic items that stand the test of time.
I’m always somewhat broke as well (the check is coming, Nelnet!), but recently came into the exact amount of money you mention, so I have some good, gender-neutral advice for you, dear heart. In this instance, I turned $500 into luggage. I recommend Hartmann above all others because they have a lifetime guarantee and, anecdotally, a close friend’s mom was gifted a set in 1950 for her high school graduation and it is still functional and attractive. I just picked a color that was on sale and decided that was going to be what I got (it’s really pricey!), but Hartmann and the other great brands have been using the same palettes for decades.
Another investment I can’t recommend enough is quality kitchen knives. My entire kitchen was full of hand-me-downs from deceased relatives and recently divorced friends until recently, and the early-80s Chicago Cutlery block wasn’t, forgive me, cutting it anymore. I bought myself the essential three kitchen basics (a paring knife, a serated blade, and a chef’s knife) from Wusthof at the advice of the knife expert at this nice cooking store here. You use your knives daily, and they make cooking so much easier and more pleasant. You can sharpen them, in some cases, for ten years or more, so your cost per use is in the quarter of a cent range. The best knife companies have more or less one basic design over their hundreds of choices, so you can later buy steak knives or a fish boning knife or a cleaver and it’ll both go with your set and be of a familiar, excellent quality.
The last recommendation I’ll make for today isn’t exactly a single thing but a small lifestyle upgrade that makes a huge difference, and that’s finding a good tailor and cobbler in your town. I know this is totally boring, but hear me out: a good tailor can make a dress from Goodwill look like couture, and will also be able to tell you what’s not salvageable at all. Cobblers are universally cheap, and they can resole your boots, recap heels, shine toe boxes, and stretch out leather that got wet. You drop your stuff off with these people and come back a few days or weeks later and you feel like you have new stuff. Going to the same people over and over again is important, because they’ll learn your style and what matters to you. For the price of a Forever 21 blazer, you can give new life to stuff you really love and stop wasting cash you could be spending on your Oregon Trail-themed road trip.