When should a woman home alone answer the door to strangers?
June 23, 2009 7:40 PM   Subscribe

When should a woman home alone answer the door to strangers?

A few times a week, I get strangers at my door when I'm home alone with our babies. If it's clearly UPS or something, I'll open the door. If it's a stranger, I'm never sure what to do. So far, it's always been a solicitation of some kind -- money for some program, or an offer to do yard work. I never say yes, but I'm wondering whether it's a good idea to open the door at all.

The neighborhood is safe, I'd say -- leafy urban type neighborhood, single-family homes mixed with apartment buildings and duplexes, with some retirees and other mothers home during the day.

My questions are: (1) is it a good idea, safety-wise, to answer the door, as a lone female (I mean, the kids are 1 and 2, so although I'm not really alone, their hand-to-hand combat days are still ahead of them)? (2) If I don't answer the door, should I approach the door and say I don't answer the door to strangers, so that they know someone's home (this seems weird, I know, but the way my front door is laid out, by the time I see that it's a stranger, they can see me, too, so it seems weirder to just pretend I don't see them)? (3) Any other suggestions for how to handle strangers at the door?

Finally, I saw this thread, and it was helpful, but I thought the little side argument about whether answering the door is a good or bad idea would be the focus of these answers, and would help me. My personal concern is more safety than inconvenience.

Thanks for your thoughts.
posted by palliser to Human Relations (91 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
At the end of the day, you're not really running any RISK by not answering the door, but it's strikes me as a little overparanoid unless you live in a bad neighborhood. From your post it seems like, I don't know, you're worried about a home invader or something along those lines? The odds of that kind of thing happening are pretty minuscule, plus it isn't as if not answering the door is going to really stop anyone from getting into your house (it may even encourage a would-be robber).

Basically, I think that answering the door is the normal thing to do, and probably not unsafe. However, not answering the door is definitely the safest possible course of action (but also a little weird).
posted by axiom at 7:52 PM on June 23, 2009

Yea, I hate even asking "who is it?" when I'm home alone because even if someone says "killer" then they know I'm home. Exaggeration, but if it is someone with bad intentions then they already know I'm home and that's scary.

Is a camera or a strategically placed mirror a possiblity?
If this happens after it's dark out, having a light on by the door would make someone who is trying to do bad things less likely to approach your house, since it's well lit.
Maybe put a note out there saying to call you instead of ringing the bell, unless it's UPS. Then they might not bother you at all. And warn your friends and family to always call you before coming by so you'd know whether you're expecting someone?

But generally if it's a safe neighborhood you should be OK - no point in living your life in fear. Sure there's always the slight chance that something bad will happen, but you're probably just as likely to accidentally set the house on fire or something. OK, morbid, sorry.

Make friends with the neighbors, that way if anything even slightly dangerous/scary happens to them you'll know about it and THEN you can be more cautious about opening the door.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:52 PM on June 23, 2009

Best answer: If you don't already have one, get a chain for your door. That way, you can open the door to converse with a stranger without giving them free entry into your home. It may seem paranoid, but it's not your responsibility to make strangers who approach your house feel comfortable if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
posted by decathecting at 7:54 PM on June 23, 2009 [16 favorites]

If you ever feel vulnerable about opening the door to strangers, just keep this in mind--if you did not invite them over, you are under no obligation to answer the door!

Sure--the odds are that you would be perfectly safe--but especially with your babies in the house with you, go with your gut. If you don't feel comfortable, just sit tight.
posted by bookmammal at 7:55 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

2nding getting a chain for your door. It's probably not necessary, but if it would make you feel better to have an extra barrier. If you don't want people to be able to see through your windows and now that you're home, you may want to get some curtains or screens to make it so people can't see in your house.
posted by ishotjr at 7:58 PM on June 23, 2009

Best answer: Yea, I hate even asking "who is it?" when I'm home alone because even if someone says "killer" then they know I'm home.

You want them to know you are home. Most residential burglaries begin with the burglar knocking on the door, to make sure nobody's home.1 If you are at home, and someone you don't know knocks on the door, always let them know you are there.

What you absolutely don't want to happen, is that they think nobody's home, so they break in.

1I say this as a criminal defense attorney who has represented numerous burglars, and also as someone who witnessed a burglary that began with at least two minutes of insistent knocking on my neighbor's door.
posted by jayder at 7:59 PM on June 23, 2009 [28 favorites]

It is not weird to not answer the door. You owe the person on the other side no obligation.
posted by pinky at 8:00 PM on June 23, 2009 [6 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to mention --- when someone knocks on my door, I just yell through the door --- the wood door --- without opening it, just to tell them I am not interested. Aside from the increased safety you get from not opening your door, whoever's out there has no persuasive power whatsoever if they never lay eyes on you and they just hear you say, "Not interested. Bye."
posted by jayder at 8:03 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

If you don't feel comfortable answering the door, regardless of what type of neighborhood you live in, you shouldn't feel like you have to answer the door. It's your house, and unless you're expecting a visitor or a package delivery, there's really no reason to feel that you MUST answer the door. My mom and I never answer the door when someone knocks because 1) we're rarely expecting anyone; 2) neighbors know to call instead of just come over; and 3) we're not interested in buying anything, making donations, or talking to people with clipboards, etc. We don't answer the door more for those reasons than out of fear. Bad things can happen anywhere (urban, suburban, and rural areas).. I guess, I would say, if you have contact with neighbors or friends who might pop over without calling first and you don't want to miss their visits, tell them that you'd prefer them to call first, knock on the door in a distinctive way so you know to answer, or to call 'it's so-and-so' as they're knocking. Just as bad things can happen, but they usually won't, someone could be knocking on the door with an emergency, but they're probably not. I mean, you're probably not missing anything important by not answering. And, they can always leave their pamphlets or whatever it is they're looking to pass on.

Maybe a 'no solicitations' sign will cut down on the amount of knockers.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:10 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I never do. If I don't know they're coming, they've got nothing I want.
posted by lottie at 8:11 PM on June 23, 2009

I always answer the door to strangers. That said, a fairly common people-at-the-door management technique I've seen is being [or giving the impression of being] in the middle of a phone call. You can tell the phone "hang on a sec," ask them "can I help you?" and unless it's something requiring your immediate attention say "I'm sorry but I've really got to take care of this" [indicating phone] and close the door. Also I have a front door and a screen door so I can open the front door and talk through the screen which I feel is a little more removed than just opening the door up.
posted by jessamyn at 8:11 PM on June 23, 2009 [6 favorites]

A solid wooden door with no windows or peephole. Security camera in the corner of the entryway. A recording of a male voice talking on the phone. An alarm system.

Those things can all be installed in one afternoon. Not a big deal. So if that's all it takes for you to feel safer for the next thirty years, go for it.
posted by metastability at 8:15 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I get the sense by the fact that you are asking this question that answering the door when you are home alone makes you a little bit uneasy, so I would just like to say that whether or not it is statistically "safe" for you to answer the door is moot; if you are not comfortable opening the door for a stranger, you shouldn't feel bad about not wanting to do it. Your safety and comfort trump politeness.

To answer your second question, I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask, "Who is it?" through a closed door, and then to tell them that you're not interested in whatever they're offering. If they persist, you can just say something like, "I'm sorry, but I'm in the middle of something and I can't talk right now. Goodbye and have a nice day."
posted by kitty teeth at 8:17 PM on June 23, 2009

If you're nervous, you could loudly yell "Honey, I'll get the door" just before opening it. Then your visitor will think that your husband is home as well.
posted by nelvana at 8:17 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm curious, where is this line of thought coming from? Has something happened in your neighborhood recently?

but I'm wondering whether it's a good idea to open the door at all.

Stop wondering and get some facts. What are the crime rates in your neighborhood? How often is it burglary? You should be able to get this info from your local police precinct's website or the local daily paper.

Start a neighborhood watch. Call up the local police station and the officer in charge of that and schedule a meeting. Invite neighbors. Ask every question you might have, even if you think it's stupid.

Finally, consider what you would do if someone did break in. Have an action and escape plan.

As to answering the door, answer it with a cellphone in hand, preferably with an actual person on the line, possibly someone from the neighborhood watch. When opening the door, say "Hold on a second X, someone is at the door."

When head up the neighborhood watch for our block and the officer who came out and spoke said criminals want easy targets. If they know someone is home, that's not an easy target. If they know the person is in the middle of talking to someone, that's not an easy target.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:18 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I open the door and step out on the stoop to talk to solicitors or people I don't recognize.

I did keep a triangular wooden block I'd use as a door wedge if I was worried when I lived in an apartment. I would place my foot behind the wedge and crack/pull the door onto it if the person at the door was unknown or over four feet tall. It was better than the chain, although I'd use that too for extra oomph and a visible bar.

I also totally had the "Unseen Boyfriend/Spouse" and a lot of phantom phone calls.
posted by julen at 8:19 PM on June 23, 2009

Best answer: Hi! My name's Fiasco da Gama, and I wonder if I could have a minute of your time to talk to you about the issue of doorknocking?

In my country, during elections, I spend a lot of time coming around to people's houses, just like yours, to talk to them about the political issues of the day and about why my Party's candidate is worth their vote. Last year, when the US was having their Presidential election, I answered an American's ask about knocking on strangers' doors. I recommended it, strongly, but that's not the point.

What you're describing happens a lot, and it's totally normal. It's very frequent that we'll hear kids playing or the sounds of TV or cooking behind an unanswered door. I'm a fairly tall bloke, and I can see why a woman home alone wouldn't want to answer my knock. I try to stand on the lower steps, away from the door, to make myself look less threatening, but sometimes, people just don't want to talk.

Lots of people won't open before they shout "who is it"? When I say, "I'm with the Australian da Gamaist Party", sometimes the response is positive, sometimes I get an obscene reply. That's cool. We don't take it personally. Nor, which I think is what you want to know, do we then know anything about who's behind the door.

If all you want is strangers not to knock on your door, an ugly or annoying dog will do the trick every time.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:22 PM on June 23, 2009

I've been using a door intercom for ~10 years now. Here's one that hooks up to your existing doorbell. There's probably cheaper solutions out there, but I'm too lazy to look further.
posted by torquemaniac at 8:23 PM on June 23, 2009

Yes. Install an intercom with a buzzer. That way it's much easier to say "Sorry, I'm not interested" to random sales people and religious crusaders, yet it's still easy enough to open the door to friends.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:27 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think maybe you would be benefited by someone giving you permission to simply say, "I don't open the door for strangers, I'm sorry, that's just a rule of this house."

I give you permission to say that.
posted by jefficator at 8:33 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

I never answer the door if it's not a delivery person or someone I'm expecting. Because why else would I want to? If they're in obvious distress, that's one thing, but more often than not, it's just going to be a survey taker or magazine seller. Answering the door is just going to waste time for both of us because I'm not going to be interested. Of course, if it's a crazy magazine seller looking for his/her next murder victim, then hey! I've killed two birds with one stone. Like others have said, you owe them nothing. It doesn't have to mean you're paranoid.
posted by katillathehun at 8:35 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

1. I regularly open the door to UPS drivers, delivery people, etc. This is usually because they're driving a big honking truck that obviously announces them as such though. Otherwise, I don't open the door unless I know the person or I'm expecting someone. This isn't so much as a safety issue with me as much as a privacy one. I just don't like having my time wasted and that's always been the case with total strangers knocking on my door.

2. If I don't want to answer the door, I don't answer the door period. It's like deciding not to answer a ringing phone for me -- I may look up briefly to acknowledge it's ringing, but I feel no compunction to pick it up.

3. Re: your front entry layout. Are there panes of glass around the door where strangers can peer inside? Can you cover them up with translucent paper? The overall visual effect isn't so bad and it affords you some privacy as well. Definitely get a peephole.

Basically what Mael Oui said. I don't think there's any reason to feel an obligation to interact with strangers at all.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 8:36 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to say also that about six months ago two men who said they were neighbours barged into my apartment because they said the adjoining unit was on fire. When they had rushed through the apartment, out onto my balcony, and saw that there was no fire, just some high burning tiki-torch things on another balcony, they simply said goodbye and left.

To this day, I can't figure out what possessed me to just open the door to two men because they said there was a fire.

I vowed never to do this again. If they'd been the wrong guys, on the wrong day, that could have been the end of me. I was alone at the time, was not expecting my husband home for several hours, and there was nothing I could have done about it.

If I was a man who wanted to assult a woman, I would knock on her door while wearing a pair of overalls, and tell her I need to read the gas meter or something. I could then take all the time in the world. Stranger things have happened.I just think not opening the door to strangers is smart in the same way not accepting lifts from people you know is - being alone with people you don't know is not always a good idea for women.
posted by lottie at 8:43 PM on June 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers so far, everyone! You are all so helpful.

I'm curious, where is this line of thought coming from? Has something happened in your neighborhood recently?

Not exactly. A family friend was attacked in her (suburban, safe-neighborhood) home by a man who was later arrested for several sexual assaults in the area. What happened is that she left the front door to her townhouse open -- open open, not just unlocked -- as she went back and forth to her car to unload groceries. Daylight, evening hours, lots of people home. She just turned around for another load and saw him in her foyer. (She actually rushed him and managed to get out the door and run to a neighbor's house, although he punched her in the jaw.)

Anyway, it got me thinking about presenting a narrow target -- not that I want to live in a fortress, or cower in fear when the doorbell rings, but whether answering the door to strangers is the sort of thing you just don't do, because someone who's looking for a good opportunity (like my family friend inadvertently presented) would try that. Obviously, anyone could bash my door down or whatever, but it seems that people looking to commit a crime don't actually engage in any means necessary to complete it; they look for an easy target and if someone presents difficulties, they move on.

A long-winded way of saying: I don't think the odds of something bad happening are high, just that I'm wondering whether this is one of those reasonable ways you adjust your behavior to lower risk. The intercom, chain-lock, and window-coverings sound like great ideas.

It's funny, Fiasco da Gama, I did some canvassing for the election, too, and nobody refused me entry! But I'm about a buck-thirty and was carrying a 4-month-old in a baby carrier at the time.
posted by palliser at 8:48 PM on June 23, 2009

It is outright rude to not answer the door to people, and you do owe other people the obligation of simple basic politeness. (As do they to you, of course; and they shouldn't be pestering you either.)

There's a decent chance that a stranger who knocks on your door is doing so to tell you something you would probably want to know, like "I found this dog wandering, is he yours" or "was that your car that that guy just sideswiped and drove off, here's his plate number" or "I found your wallet on the cinema floor" or "have you seen the old man next door recently? He's not answering his door." (All of which I've personally knocked on strangers' doors to tell/ask them).

No-one is an island. Most people don't hate you, they don't want to hurt you; they may be trying to sell you something, or pester you to join their silly religion (which isn't much different), but you know what happens almost every single time if you say "no"? They go away. And if they don't? Then you're entitled to be rude, and tell them again, louder, and shut your door in their faces. But not until they've established themselves as a pest.

Get a door chain, put up a "NO RELIGIOUS SOLICITING, YARD WORKERS OR DOOR-TO-DOOR SALESPEOPLE" sign on your fence; especially in the kind of neighborhood you describe, that should cut down on the pestering from those types, and not deter people who genuinely have some reason to see you.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:51 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

lottie To this day, I can't figure out what possessed me to just open the door to two men because they said there was a fire. I vowed never to do this again.

That may not be the best plan. Fires are dangerous too.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:57 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I completely disagree with aeschenkarnos. It is in no way rude not to answer your own door. If I notice someone going door-to-door and then my doorbell rings, I just ignore it. And I often don't answer my phone if I am in the middle of something or just don't want to talk. It is your house, and your time, and your level of comfort.

I might be more cautious about opening the door if I wasn't hanging on to a rabid-looking (and sounding) German Shepherd, but since I am clearly defended I don't worry about who might be standing there--they are often halfway down the driveway by the time I get to the door anyhow.
posted by lemonade at 9:06 PM on June 23, 2009 [19 favorites]

I strongly disagree with aeschenkarnos. You have no obligation to open a door to someone who just rocks up and knocks. This is not an issue of courtesy. Just like the phone, you may feel free to ignore. In my community, it's considered beyond discourteous to just lob over at someones home without them expecting you, and predictably enough, the only people who do are people who are trying to sell satelite TV or a religion.

Also: I could have heard the fire information through the door, or through a door chain and still be OK. Again, if I wanted to assult or rob someone, I think the best plan of attack would be to belt on their door and say "Quick! here's a fire!" and hope they're panicked enough like I was to open the door and let me in.
posted by lottie at 9:07 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's not stupid or rude to be cautious, nor is it stupid or rude to just feel hermit-y and not want to answer the door to talk to strangers.

I live in a not-great but basically safe...ish urban neighborhood. I peer out of my 3rd floor window when I hear the doorbell, and if I don't see the UPS or USPS mail truck, I don't always answer. I'm not climbing down three flights to tell Jehovah's Witnesses that I'm not interested, or tell the local homeless guy I know that no, I don't have any money, in order to prove I'm not an island. I already have plenty of evidence in the rest of my life to know that.
posted by rtha at 9:12 PM on June 23, 2009 [8 favorites]

It is outright rude to not answer the door to people,

When you're a woman living alone in any number of urban areas (Chicago, Baltimore, Brooklyn, etc.) you can't afford to worry about being rude to strangers.
posted by aquafortis at 9:15 PM on June 23, 2009 [22 favorites]

Strange knockers are like phone calls from numbers I don't know, they never get answered. I know everyone I want to see in person, and if they were coming over they would call. If someone knocks and I'm not expecting anyone I don't even get up out of the chair to see who it is. Why would I? There's like a zero percent chance I want to hear from the person on the other side.
posted by The Straightener at 9:17 PM on June 23, 2009 [7 favorites]

I rarely answer the door for strangers. I am a woman at home alone with small children, too. Also you should know that I'm deaf and visually impaired. So part is the danger element and I don't really want strangers to know that a deaf woman lives alone here. But the other (probably the main) aspect is that if I did not invite them or otherwise know that they are coming over (like a UPS person) then it is just a waste of my time and theirs, so why bother? I don't need the interruption. The ratio of neighbors who have come over for a favor or a social visit out of the blue to solicitors or religious missionaries that have come to my door is about 1:100 or something. So it hurts no one that I don't answer the door. As for break-ins, I don't even pretend not to be home. The TV is on (usually loud because I'm hearing impaired) the kids may be screaming, usually something like "their is someone at the door!" and I just yell, I know! But I'm not expecting anyone!" and that's that. I don't feel one bit of guilt about it. I'd just yell, "Sorry, I don't open the door for strangers!" and be done with it.
posted by Bueller at 9:24 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can't you get a storm door and keep it locked when you answer the door?
posted by MegoSteve at 9:27 PM on June 23, 2009

Go upstairs, open the window and ask "who is it". After finding out what they want if you don't want to go any further with this person you can just say you are not interested and sorry you have to go because you are putting your child down for a nap.
posted by any major dude at 9:27 PM on June 23, 2009

It is outright rude to not answer the door to people

nah, my door, my rules. I let my landline ring, too.
posted by @troy at 9:31 PM on June 23, 2009 [5 favorites]

There's a decent chance that a stranger who knocks on your door is doing so to tell you something you would probably want to know

I don't think this is true, at least not for any reasonable definition of "decent chance." Some chance, sure, but just thinking of the various people I've had knock on my door in the past year, which was probably several dozen, exactly none of them did anything but waste both their and my time. I've stopped answering the door, not because I feel threatened, but because the odds are so far against it being anything that I care about. Could it be something important? Sure. But it's not likely to be.

Of course this depends on the neighborhood, though. I lived in a place on a bad stretch of rural road for a few years, and about once or twice a season we'd get someone knocking because they'd run off the road or into a tree and needed to call for help or a tow truck. (Less common recently than it was before cellphones, though.) And there were never any peddlers or solicitors. I wouldn't think about not answering the door there: I never had anyone knock when it wasn't important.

I don't think there's any universally applicable rule for answering the door. In some places, where people's hospitality has been abused by solicitors and religion-pushers and all sorts of other impersonal calls, I wouldn't expect someone to open the door absent some good reason to. Society may be a little meaner for this, but it's a completely reasonable behavior.

To the OP: I think you should review some actual crime statistics for your community, and perhaps you'll feel a little better. The chances of actually being assaulted by a stranger in a situation like you're envisioning is very low, so low that I don't think it justifies changing your behavior. But that doesn't mean you should feel obligated to open the door for someone you know or reasonably believe is just there to waste your time.

As an alternative to modifying your door and windows, or adding a wired intercom system, you can get fairly inexpensive wireless IP cameras today. The outdoor ones are fairly pricey ($300+ or so seems to be typical), but indoor ones — which you could mount inside if you have clear glass windows near the door — are very cheap. That might provide a way for you to check out the person at the door before making it obvious that you're home.

But the decision to open or not to open ought to be based on whether you want to engage that person in conversation or listen to their sales pitch, not out of fear that they're going to attack you.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:36 PM on June 23, 2009

It is outright rude to not answer the door to people, and you do owe other people the obligation of simple basic politeness. (As do they to you, of course; and they shouldn't be pestering you either.)

This is absurd. It is not rude to not answer the door. You have no obligation to do so. It is a right, not an obligation. Basic politeness is not defined by answering the door. You owe no obligation to an unwanted, uninvited knock on your door no more than you have an obligation to answer a ringing phone.

As for the chain, they are good for show, but will not stop nor delay a determined intruder. Kicking open a chained door is easy as pie. It may lead to a 10 second delay. I would get an intercom and ask who it is. I could then open the door or tell them to leave via the intercom without opening the door.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:42 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

You do sound a bit paranoid, certainly not like an adult woman living out her life in her home in what you describe as a safe neighborhood.

Perhaps you watch too much Lifetime television? I'm not trying to be condescending (no, really, I'm not) but perhaps you should consider what programs and information you are exposing yourself to. If you hear stories of home invasion with any frequency, well, that's going to make anyone paranoid.

Your a grown up. People knock on your door. You should know how to handle this. "I'm not interested," "Get off my lawn," "I'm calling the police," etc...

I did a stint working for a major political party. Part of that job had me occasionally knocking on doors seeking support and donations. People feel into two sorts: confident folks aware of their surroundings, who would open the door, ask what I wanted and then either greet me or tell me to go piss up a pole, and unhinged paranoid types, scared of the world, confused by the intrusion and holding their phone in their hand having dialed 9, and 1, with their finger hovering over the second 1, as they asked, "Who is it?"

Don't live in fear.
posted by wfrgms at 9:49 PM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

There's been a rash of break-ins in my neighborhood lately. It's not clear whether it's the same person, but the method is always the same. Guy knocks on the door, if someone answers he asks for Random Person X, when he's turned away he goes around the corner and tries again, eventually he finds an empty house, pries the door open and he's in and out in a couple minutes.

Given that the sort of forced entry home invasion type crimes are pretty rare, you're probably better off answering the door in most situations. Door chains don't really offer much protection, as a swift kick will pull the screws out of the door jamb.
posted by electroboy at 9:54 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

It is outright rude to not answer the door to people, and you do owe other people the obligation of simple basic politeness.

As others have noted, you're simply wrong about this, at least as it pertains to North American etiquette. Miss Manners and various other etiquette mavens agree that you are not obligated to answer phones, open doors or otherwise interact with people who have invited themselves into your life at their convenience rather than yours.

I live in a not entirely legal basement apartment where opening the door means opening the door for the garage, which is very inconvenient when I'm not expecting someone, because it takes 20 seconds or so for the garage to open, all while I'm wondering who is there. Because of this, as a rule, I don't answer my doorbell unless I'm expecting someone.

Can you frost or curtain the window that's near your door in order to give yourself more privacy within your home? That, in combination with a peephole and one of those hotel-style locking bars (which always seem a lot more secure to me than a simple chain, but may not be) might give you the confidence to open the door where someone seems legitimate. It also gives you the opportunity to ask for ID from gas company employees, etc. A screendoor that locks can also work wonders on that front, since you have to open the main door, then unlock the screendoor to let someone in, but you can talk to them through the screendoor long enough to find out that you're not buying what they're selling.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:55 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

You do sound a bit paranoid, certainly not like an adult woman living out her life in her home in what you describe as a safe neighborhood.

Ridiculous, not to mention condescending as hell.

Your a grown up. People knock on your door. You should know how to handle this.

One of the "ways to handle this" is to not answer the damn door for any reason you choose. Crying baby? Don't answer. Pot boiling over? Don't answer. Don't feel like it? Don't answer. Got a hinky feeling? Don't answer.
posted by rtha at 10:00 PM on June 23, 2009 [16 favorites]

Kadin makes a good point about location. I used to live in rural England, worked with a woman who lived at the bottom of a hill at a T junction. She said a slew of people over the years had not made the stop, crashed, crashed pretty badly a time or two, there was usually at least some blood, she and her husband always helped them, provided blankets and towels. (She had a good attitude about it, said it was life's way of keeping her in new-ish towels and blankets).

Nthing the thought that it is in no way rude to not answer. I know a bunch of my neighbors and they know I have jumper cables, a good car jack, tools, etc. Once in a while someone will knock, I'll ask who it is and the person will say, "It's ___ in ___. Could I trouble you for a jump/help with a flat/getting a battery out of a car?" Barring unusual circumstances, I'll open the door and help them or at least tell 'em I'm busy for a bit, can we do it in a few minutes?

If it's not a neighbor, I won't answer.

If it's a random person, they're the rude ones, short of rare situations when someone is in distress.

For all the knocker knows, I (and anyone) might be engrossed in a book or a movie, might be in the middle of a conversation I don't care to have interrupted, might be making out with someone, might be focused on writing something, might have a rubber sheet spread out in the living room and be writhing around naked in a pile of jello and margarine.

They're the ones who are interrupting, being rude.

Anyway, yeah, feels wise and reasonable to not open the door to all and sundry.
posted by ambient2 at 10:03 PM on June 23, 2009

Response by poster: Perhaps you watch too much Lifetime television?

Is that a question I'd have to own a television to understand? I'm not trying to be condescending (no, really, I'm not).

Dude, I remember you. You're the "creepy aggro jerk" referenced here. You can keep peddling your little theory that women who are concerned about assault are quivering nail-biters who ought to just get over it and stop watching so much Oprah, but I won't be answering my door to listen to it.
posted by palliser at 10:04 PM on June 23, 2009 [45 favorites]

Strange knockers are like phone calls from numbers I don't know...

Exactly. Whenever someone "buzzes" me -- and I'm not expecting them -- I ignore them.

For those I expect (e.g. FedEx, UPS, family, friends). They get a response on the intercom and a "buzz-up."
posted by ericb at 10:07 PM on June 23, 2009

I encourage you not to pay any mind to responses that say you're paranoid and need to look up crime statistics. If you have a bad feeling and don't want to answer the door, don't let anyone attempt to convince you that you should not listen to your own intuition about danger. Unfortunately, in this culture, women are charged with the burden of keeping themselves safe from potential attackers (see also: "you were drunk at a bar and a guy raped you? you obviously shouldn't have been drinking"), and you are not crazy or out of line for being concerned for your and your kids' safety.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:13 PM on June 23, 2009

Best answer: The many references above to door chains made me realise that when I see front doors on US television there is rarely an additional fly-screen or security screen door as well between the front door and front porch or hallway. And I've yet to see a door chain which would withstand a decent direct kick.

I do have a door chain on my front door, but it's most useful purpose was to stop my children being able to slip out of the house un-noticed when they were little. If security is your concern, then you might want to consider installing a security screen door. These can be both latched and locked with a key and they open outwards. I guess they're common here because long before security became a concern every house had fly-screen doors anyway - until a few years ago air-conditioning was fairly uncommon here and it would have been unthinkable to have closed main doors during an Australian summer.

You might also want to install a wireless intercom so you can talk to people outside without having to answer the door. They're cheap here and probably even less expensive in the US.
posted by Lolie at 10:35 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, this is really simple. Just add a sturdy storm door and keep it locked when you open the main door. Better yet, get a safety door made of steel bars. When you open your main door, what looks like a jail door separates you from the knocker. You keep it locked, and nobody is going to get in.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:11 PM on June 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I live about six blocks away from you- it is absolutely one of the safest neighborhoods in the city- and no, I don't open my door unless I recognize the face through the peephole. There's no logical reason for me to do so unless it's very obvious that the person on the other side is having some sort of emergency, and plenty of perfectly logical albeit thankfully improbable reasons not to. Reasons that incidentally have jack shit to do with daytime television and everything to do with the simple reality of being female.
posted by notquitemaryann at 11:24 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fucking never.

(FYI my personal policy on opening doors is not out of fear - it is out of seeing a recurring detail where others 'went wrong' and not finding harm in removing that as a possibility for myself.
Even though I really do think it would be cool to be mentioned in the Wikipedia, which incidentally is how my interest in whack jobs and how to sidestep them came to be seeded; after some musing and realizing that in all likelihood it might prove to be my most viable option... *sigh* Counterproductive.. but I'm ok with that.)

Yes anyway - you could look at it this way: If you're not the type to pick up hitch-hikers how is opening your home to random strangers not the same - if not worse!
(Especially with crimes involving that first little visit as being what marked them for what was to come!!) Fuck that.

That being said - once in a blue moon I will answer. But by answer I mean come to the window. Day, night, alone or otherwise opening the window rather than the door puts me at no disadvantage.
Also a locked door (chain, security screen, ect.) suggests I'm afraid (and a victim). A window and the manner with which I open it suggests I'm busy and/or this is most convenient for me (a confident assertiveness that is possibly not what my potential predator instinctively looks for in a 'victim').

Plus the obvious point of not being able to force to just force it in on me (I'm female, it happens). Scrambling in a window is awkward at best but if they're really that keen I guess they could see how they go with that? Or better yet giving me a clear heads up should they fish for some reason that I open the door...

So in conclusion: Do not even answer. But should you ever feel inclined show no signs of fear and Do not open the door. Not a great plan if you have aspirations for being in the Wikipedia but other than that there is not one single downside. Plus not having to deal with those run-of-the-mill type chuckleheads :) Nobody likes those.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 11:29 PM on June 23, 2009

Perhaps you watch too much Lifetime television?

Or perhaps she watched someone she personally knew talk about the time that a freaking sexual predator broke into her home? Did you even read the comments before posting your bullcrap?

I should note that personally I think that the world is a lot safer than it's made out to be in the media. At the same time, you have to be more cautious, because you don't know. Statistically, 99 of the 100 people who knock on your door over your lifetime are decent people who are trying to help you. The problem is, so long as they are all strangers there's no way to determine which of them is actually that other one, the one who is going to rob you or hurt you.

Women are inherently more at risk than men are, so it's a bit disingenous for a guy to tell a woman "Aren't you overreacting?" In all honesty though I find myself arguing this point with my fiancee all the time. She is more risk averse than I am; I am sort of risk illiterate, I guess you'd say. I grew up in a rural area and things like always locking the door, even when at home (which I finally do now) were strange habits to pick up.

Finally, was there a reason other than blatant sexism to single out Lifetime as the most responsible agent for danger misinformation? Surely the twaddle that passes itself off as the local TV news has a better claim on shock-and-awe news. "Something in your kitchen, right now, could be deadly to your children...find out what it is, at eleven."
posted by Deathalicious at 12:18 AM on June 24, 2009

do you know karate?
posted by edtut at 12:28 AM on June 24, 2009

A question for the "never open the door" people. Do you seriously keep your front and back doors closed at all times when you're at home? I know that air conditioning takes care of the climate control problems, but I'd honestly feel imprisoned if I didn't have my doors and windows open for most of the time when I'm at home (female, live alone, high crime area but few random crimes of violence).

Is it especially expensive to get an alarm system that has back to base monitoring where you live? Here, they always come with a personal panic button which will send an alarm back to base when it's pressed and which will be followed up on - usually by police turning up at your door to check on your welfare.

You don't have to open the door to anyone, but if I was living in the kind of neighbourhood you've described I don't think I'd want to be shutting myself in to the extent that I was unable to enjoy its full benefits. I don't answer my door or my phone at certain times because I'm anti-social and don't particular welcome intrusions into my space, but your reasons are based in fear and distrust of strangers. Gavin de Becker has excellent advice on dealing with this particular issue in The Gift of Fear and especially on how to prepare our children for interacting with strangers in the real world. If you haven't read his book, I thoroughly recommend it, because how you handle your fear is how you'll teach your children to handle theirs.
posted by Lolie at 12:30 AM on June 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have caller ID on my phone, because it's my phone. I pay for the phone for my convenience. If I don't want to talk to someone, I don't answer. The door on my house is the same thing. Answering it or not my choice. I don't fear strangers, but I work at home. Strangers are interrupting my business day. If they were interrupting my nap, favorite TV show or morning cup of coffee, they'd get the same response. No.

My suggestion is that you get a security door. I have one on my house and I leave the wood door open during the day, but the security door is always locked. (Security doors don't have to be ugly. There are plenty of fancy pants ones available. Stop by Lowe's and check out the catalog.)

A security door gives you a nice compromise. You can talk to the person, but you don't need to actually go outside or be within grabbing distance. The other thing is you can get a door with an internal key lock your kids so that your kids won't be able to open the door to strangers either. There's no need to teach children unreasonable fear; however, you want kids to have a proportionate sense of caution.

Bottom line - you've got 2 kids to worry about and you don't feel comfortable answering the door to strangers. Don't go against your instincts.
posted by 26.2 at 1:09 AM on June 24, 2009

I love my apartment's intercom buzzer. The artifical, technological buffer makes me feel more at ease with controlling and handling an unexpected want of my attention.

I'm going to have something like that everywhere I ever live, even when camping in a tent.

Bzzzzt "Yes who is it??"
Crackle Crackle Mr Killer Rabies Bear Wants To Devour You For Dinner ROOOAAARRR
Bzzzt "Sorry not interested" Click
posted by gmm at 3:58 AM on June 24, 2009 [10 favorites]

when i've been uncertain about someone knocking on my door, i sometimes answer the door with a phone in hand.

real-life-example: someone pounding on my door and ringing my doorbell, which turned out to be a friend of the guy who lived downstairs -- the friend had been visiting and had gone out and the guy wouldn't let him back in because he was passed out on the floor of his apartment. at which point the phone came in handy to call 911 for EMS rather than police reasons.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:11 AM on June 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

It is outright rude to not answer the door to people, and you do owe other people the obligation of simple basic politeness. (As do they to you, of course; and they shouldn't be pestering you either.)

I'm not quite sure where you're getting that answering the door to anybody is an obligation of 'simple basic politeness'. I mean, I guess they could send a servant with a visiting card, and that servant could bring it to your door, and one of your servants could announce that Miss So And So Is Not In To Visitors. But in the absence of all of that, no, you don't _have_ to answer the door to anybody if you don't feel like it. Sometimes people take advantage of other people's politeness (see the Gift of Fear and the previous Metafilter discussion on those Israeli students who hawk the nail care products in the mall). That's pretty unfortunate.

For what it's worth, one year I lived in a pretty awful neighborhood, and the old guy across the street told my housemate:

"It's a fine neighborhood ... just don't open the door after dark, to anybody."

Turns out it was good advice.

Now that I live in a nicer area, I'm a little less leery of opening the door to strangers.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:48 AM on June 24, 2009

I'm not afraid of random crime in my exurban neighborhood, but we do have occasional roving bands of solicitors who are brought into our community in a van, telling stories about how they are in college and they are selling [magazines|cleaning products|meat|artwork|etc] to win a trip to Europe, lying about living in the neighborhood, and being very pushy. I do not answer the door for these people, especially since I have 10-month-old twins. People are good about posting warnings on our community message board when these solicitors are spotted. As others have mentioned, you are under no obligation to go to the door.
posted by candyland at 4:58 AM on June 24, 2009

I feel like I have a right not to be disturbed in my own home by anyone to whom I do not wish to speak. This means I don't answer the phone to a number that I don't recognize or that is "unavailable" and I also pretty much do not answer the door for Jehovah's Witnesses or solicitors or anyone else unexpected. If it seems like it's a political canvasser, I'll be nice and answer the door, but generally I will let the person see that I am ignoring them (walking through the living room within sight of the door, with laundry, as it usually happens) and I will go on about my business. I do not feel badly about it. You don't have to feel badly about it either.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:42 AM on June 24, 2009

Just because someone knocks on your door, you're not required to answer it and speak to them. I'd put up a "No Soliciting" sign and wouldn't worry about answering the door to anyone who looks like they're selling something.

I don't think it's unusual to be wary of opening the door to a stranger when you're a woman home alone.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:54 AM on June 24, 2009

Don't open it if you don't want to. Period.

It's not rude. It's your house.

I have been known to call the police when people unknown to me are loitering in my neighborhood. We have a posted "no soliciting" policy on my street. I want that enforced. How do I know if they are trying to sell me something, are a Jehovah's Witness or if they are casing the neighborhood? I let the police deal with that.

This isn't just a private home thing, either. At my place of business, we have a clear "NO SOLICITING" sign on the door. At least once a week we get sales people, usually in teams of two, who walk the office park to "talk with us about their product." When I point out the "NO SOLICITING" sign, they say, "We don't want to sell you anything." Yeaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh right. Again, it's my place of business; I will allow in who I want.
posted by FergieBelle at 5:56 AM on June 24, 2009

I'm a very tall, large man and I ignore the door all the time for the exact same reasons The Straightener detailed above. I think it's absolutely reasonable for you to also do so - and with better reasons than I, too.
posted by empyrean at 6:12 AM on June 24, 2009

You can keep peddling your little theory that women who are concerned about assault are quivering nail-biters who ought to just get over it and stop watching so much Oprah, but I won't be answering my door to listen to it.

It's true, I've made generalizations in the past, but I've tried not to apply them to the individual. This is why I phrased my comment as a question, rather than statement.

Your dismissal of my post if fine and dandy, but it doesn't change the fact that there is an entire media industry built around trying to convince women that they are all rape-victims in waiting. Exposure to this media has created a growing population of women who are afraid to answer their door, or get on an elevator alone with a man, or respond when a passing stranger on the street says, "How ya do'n?"

Furthermore, there is a vast collection of fearmongers here in the green, who themselves support this fictionalized view of reality. It's my opinion that this is an unhealthy view that results in the alienation of women from not just their environments, but from their own volition in day-to-day life, and I will continue to say so when given the opportunity. Thank you very much.
posted by wfrgms at 7:02 AM on June 24, 2009 [5 favorites]

Personally, I will open my door unless I'm in bed. (Smallish woman living in urban neighborhood here.) But in order to aid in the inevitable disengagement from someone selling something, I only open the door halfway and peer out (as if I had a long chain on the door, kinda.)

I don't think you have the slightest bit of obligation to open your door, but I think it would be a shame for you to feel that you shouldn't. A chain lock is a good cheap way to give you peace of mind so that you may answer your door comfortably if you wish to do so.
posted by desuetude at 7:02 AM on June 24, 2009

When you are home alone with small children, you can take a few steps, though outwardly they look a little paranoid, to be sure that you don't make a catastrophic decision. Not opening the door to unknown people is a fine one. It's also, in my mind, the right example to set for your kids. When they are old enough to be home alone, how would you like them to handle a knock at the door?

And I'm not talking about being fearful--just practical. There is no down side to a calm and pleasant "no thanks, not interested" from the other side of a locked door.
posted by agentwills at 7:23 AM on June 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the clarification, wfrgms. That's a valid point, and the kind of thing I was looking for, in response to the question of whether this is a reasonable change in behavior. You and a couple of others have made the point that there is some loss in contact with the world at large when you don't answer the door to strangers, even if it seems like all they're offering is magazines and salvation.

Also, note that it would be a change. My current practice, in the nice weather, is to leave both the front and back doors open, with unlockable screen doors on both, while I'm here, and to open the door to people who knock unless I'm doing something else.

My hesitation actually arises from empathy for men's problem of being treated as suspicious when they have perfectly decent intentions. It would be discouraging to me to be ignored when I knocked on doors. That's not a problem I have to worry about, as a smallish woman; people always open their doors when I knock (drop-ins to neighbors I haven't met yet, canvassing for the election). I'd appreciate if you, too, would think about problems you don't have to think about, in the interest of empathy and understanding.
posted by palliser at 7:31 AM on June 24, 2009

Actually, I think a Mom is a good role model if she DOESN'T open her door to every stranger. She doesn't want her kids to think that just because someone is outside the house, they are okay to talk to and play around with. I answer for packages, but I either don't answer or am very curt to Jehovah's Witnesses and Salespeople as we have a No Solicitation policy, too.

I would recommend having a chain put on your door, as well. It serves as a slight deterrant (someone very determined could still break the chain, but why go to the trouble when there are other houses with no chains?).

But I also like the chain lock for another reason: kids grow up, and they are escape artists. Four-year-olds who cannot be trusted yet to remember to look both ways before crossing the street can easily unlock the lock on a door and run outside. A chain, high up on the door frame, helped me immeasurably when I had a two-year-old, a four-year-old and a husband away overseas in Malaysia for two weeks. By the time he came old, my oldest had *almost* figured out how to climb up on a rocking horse to unlock the chain, too (engineer's son; he was curious about how things worked).

I enjoyed taking the kids outside, of course, but in Florida we have houses with pools and I didn't want my kids running out and stumbling into one before I even knew what had happened, so we also have alarms on our doors that beep when they open. Another simple solution.
posted by misha at 8:00 AM on June 24, 2009

Oh, I don't think I finished my thought upthread. Since it's pretty common for burglars to test houses to see if anyone's home by knocking on the door, I think it'd be wise to make your presence known, even if you don't answer the door. Especially if you're home during the day, which is when most home burglaries occur. How best to do that depends on a lot of factors, but there's a lot of good suggestions here.
posted by electroboy at 8:01 AM on June 24, 2009

It's not rude to ignore a stranger on your doorstep. I do it all the time because I'm busy cooking or giving the kids a bath or anything else I value more than spending time with an uninvited stranger and I don't want Comcast, thank you for asking for the third time this month, and I don't need 10lbs of frozen steaks. I also don't answer the phone if I don't recognize the caller's number. It's there for my convenience and if someone has legitimate business with me they can leave a message and I will call them back at my convenience.
posted by ellenaim at 9:32 AM on June 24, 2009

Door chains provide a false sense of security. One kick and a person can easily get inside.

I used to think the media made everyone scared without cause. Then, I saw horrible things happen to friends and family.

Taking the precaution of not opening the door to strangers does not seem paranoid to me. I have an intercom system in my house, so I can ask who is there without having to open the door. I feel slightly rude doing this because the person is probably harmless, but I don't want to take the chance.

If you don't have an intercom system, I recommend saying, "No. Thank you," through the door.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:59 AM on June 24, 2009

As for the perception of safety and threat from unknown door-knockers, I think it makes a difference whether we're talking about a house that fronts onto a street populated with plenty of eyeballs or an apartment that opens onto a deserted hallway or landing with bad lighting and absolutely no one watching. The house situation seems like too much risk for the burglar. The apartment situation, on the other hand, sounds perfect for a push-in assault.

When I was a kid, I did a lot of door to door selling for school fundraisers in the low-rise apartments behind my house. I'd actually be startled when someone opened the door right away without first asking "Who is it?" from behind the door.

Even as a 10 or 15-year old, I used to think about how easy it would be to push into the apartment once the door opened without anyone else (beside the apartment-dweller) seeing me. Of course, what I didn't realize then was how easy it would have been for someone to snatch me off that apartment landing and into their apartment, too.
posted by hhc5 at 12:03 PM on June 24, 2009

If you're that worried about it, get a security door like this -- Home Depot has them for $70-300. Installation is about another $70.

Door chains are a joke.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:12 PM on June 24, 2009

In my happily limited experience I've found that most burglars will take off like a bat out of hell once they know you're around. Unfortunately that same experience informs me that door chains don't work very well against a determined intruder, as the intruder will generally shoulder the door right off the jam if they're serious about getting in. A security door is a much better option if burglary is your concern, but a medium-to-big dog is just as good a deterrent; better, in fact, if you're more concerned about sexual or other assaults.

Concerning the issue of politeness - There is nothing rude about not answering knocks on your door by people you don't know or want to speak with. It could be argued that they are being rude by disturbing your day with nonsense, in fact (anyway, that's how I feel).

As a woman home alone you have only the obligation to keep yourself, your babies and your home safe and whole. Get a dog, a security door, a 'NO SOLICITORS' sign and keep your front door lit and free from obstruction (no fences or bushes near the door). Allow the person at the door to know that you are home but otherwise occupied with your phone call/friend/making your fireman husband lunch, and leave it at that.
posted by Pecinpah at 1:25 PM on June 24, 2009

Get a chain lock, a recording of a big dog barking and a peephole. Spend some time analyzing how to break into your home. Fix anything you find. Make friends with your neighbors. Elderly, mildly nosy neighbors are a great security feature. Neighbors who know who should and should not be at your house are great. You're home; keep an eye on your neighbors' houses when you can.

You don't have to answer the door. It helps to be able to see who it is. If you don't like their looks, just yell that it's not a convenient time. You can sign for a package through the chain. Bad things do happen, and you should prevent the bad things you can prevent; then you should live in peace.
posted by theora55 at 3:18 PM on June 24, 2009

I have a different living situation than you do (courtyard apartment building in a decent but very lively neighborhood in a major US city) but I don't open the door if I don't feel comfortable doing so. There's a locked gate and a locked outer building door between my apartment door and the public. so usually if somebody knocks directly on my apartment door, it's a neighbor or the maintenance guy, which I can ascertain through the peephole. If I don't recognize the person? Hell no I'm not opening the door. And damned if I'll buzz anybody in if I don't know who they are or expect them. Anybody who thinks I'm rude/overreacting/living in fear/being a silly woman can fuck right off, as you're probably not somebody whose approval is particularly important to me anyway.

I basically cosign on all the commenters who are telling you that it is 100% cool to go with your gut about answering the door, and that if you don't want to answer the door, for whatever reason (and there's no external judge that is going to determine the validity of your reasons, either), that is totally okay.
posted by jennyb at 3:36 PM on June 24, 2009

I'm a single mom. I'm not particularly worried about crime in my neighborhood, but I also don't want to discuss religious conversion with strangers or fend off sketchy contractors who want to seal my driveway, and I don't want to buy any trunk cookies. For years I dutifully responded to every knock and answered every ringing telephone. Way too often, the interruption was a sales person who did not want to take no for an answer, actually putting me in a position where I had to be rude just to get rid of them. I'm perfectly capable of doing this, but I hate it.

I don't think I'm anti-social and don't believe I'm missing out on much by ignoring solicitors. I know my neighbors. I give directions to people who stop and ask. I buy fund raising items from the kids who come around with Mom or Dad, and I sit on my front porch every Halloween and hand out candy to all takers. But if the Witnesses show up, I don't think I'm under any obligation to open the door just so that I can tell them that I'm not interested. The lack of response conveys the same message in the format of my choosing, and I don't think there's a single thing wrong with that.
posted by contrariwise at 4:33 PM on June 24, 2009

It's about the value of other people. If you choose not to answer the door from fear, well, that's understandable (if no less pitiable for it), but you can address that with sturdy locks, a barred gate, an intercom, etc. If you choose not to do it because you're a selfish person who is contemptuous of others, that's fine, but don't kid yourself about your motivations or congratulate yourself for protecting your oh-so-precious "personal time". I don't see anything in any of the "screw 'em, let 'em knock" side of the argument that doesn't come down to a basic selfish contempt for the knockers. Whoever they are, no matter what reason they have for needing something from you ... it just could not be good enough to press the pause button on the remote.

Maybe it's a cultural thing. Maybe I take too much for granted living in a society where people seem, on the average, to give a damn about each other, and on the other hand, don't bother each other much without a good reason to do so. Maybe I was just raised wrong, and the proper response of decent humanity to attempts by others to communicate really is to look away, to pull away, to step over and silently walk on.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:42 PM on June 24, 2009

or congratulate yourself for protecting your oh-so-precious "personal time".

She's got two kids under the age of three. I'm guessing personal time can be counted in seconds.

I don't feel contemptuous of the strangers who knock on my door. I'm just not interested.

And you? When someone knocks on the door while you're in the middle of cooking dinner/stepping out of or into the shower/sitting on the john/composing a difficult email to someone/practicing your instrument/sitting in silence because your job involves talking to people all day/praying....You stop whatever you're doing in order to answer the door?

and on the other hand, don't bother each other much without a good reason to do so.

My experience is 99.9% of door knocks are for no good reason, so there you go. We're working from different samples. Like other posters, when I lived in a rural area, if someone knocked on my door, I answered, because I knew it was Something (breakdown, lost, etc.). This was also in New England, where neighbors never just "drop by."
posted by rtha at 7:55 PM on June 24, 2009 [5 favorites]

You know what, it probably is a cultural thing.

On one hand, I know a guy who lives in the country. (And I do mean country). He was telling us a story about how one morning, a guy in a pickup truck was coming down the driveway to his house, and he wasn't expecting anybody, so he came around the back with a shotgun.

Now most of the rest of us thought that was a little extreme. The way he explained it is, look, if you live in the suburbs, a stranger who knocks on your door, maybe he's there to sell you magazines. A guy comes to your house in the country, you don't know _what_ he's there for. And if he's there for something bad, help's a long way away.

On the other hand, I grew up in a nice part of town, and my first instinct was, indeed, to have a chat with anybody who addressed me. Then I moved to a big city for a while, and I got _fleeced_. Every day, some guy needed a few dollars for a Metro ticket to get home (but funny how he didn't come with me into the Metro station, and was there an hour later ... and the next day), or a few bucks to help him get something to eat. Eventually, I had to learn that hey, most of the people who are approaching me randomly around these parts want money from me. A lot of them are liars. I can't talk to them.

It sucks, yeah, that I can't give people who need a hand a hand, but too many people took advantage.

You can get on your high horse telling us all we're uncaring selfish bastards, just because you live in Pleasantville. I'm glad you get to live there. Not all of us do.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:04 PM on June 24, 2009 [5 favorites]

As mentioned before, those metal screen security doors are great. Security aside, you can keep the dogs and toddlers inside and STILL have light and a nice breeze. You can also chat through them and feel secure. Really, they're wonderful. I had to go to a crappy neighborhood in SoCal to discover them- no one used them where I grew up.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:20 PM on June 24, 2009

Now, I realize Portland isn't exactly a "big city", but I'm still asserting that you getting fleeced had more to do with being naive and gullible than the fact you decided to talk to strangers.

Oh, sure, yeah, not disputing that. But I still don't talk to random strangers who approach me on the street. They're not all jolly fellows looking to make a human connection is my point.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:44 PM on June 24, 2009

I never answered our door when I lived in Baltimore unless I was expecting someone. The UPS guy would just leave packages on the porch. We always kept the doors locked because one spring there was a guy who went around the neighborhood going through peoples unlocked backdoors. He never hurt anyone badly, but he would rob them and sometimes walk them at gunpoint to an ATM to withdraw the daily limit. We did have a screened door and I would open the glass part to let a breeze in in the summer, but I usually closed everything up once it got dark. For me, it was partly paranoia and partly just not wanting to be bothered by people selling things. If I needed to talk to a neighbor and they didn't answer the door, I would be prepared to leave a note.
posted by betsybetsy at 9:11 PM on June 24, 2009

If you choose not to do it because you're a selfish person who is contemptuous of others

No I'm not. I'm also not going to be bullied into buying frozen steaks, magazines or candy bars. I'm not giving money to door to door panhandlers. I'm not converting to whatever religious community has come a-knocking today.

Why waste their time or mine? They aren't going to get what they want from me. Why encourage them to hang around outside my door? They should move along to some more lucrative prospect.

It may horrify you to know that when they shove fliers in my door I call out to ask them to remove them. I don't litter at their house; I don't want them leaving rubbish at mine.

If you show up at my door to call me names such as selfish and contemptuous, then I simply call out that I'm just not interested in your offering.
posted by 26.2 at 10:37 PM on June 24, 2009

Get to know your neighbors. They are better protection than a door chain.

2nding Brandon's suggestion of looking at actual crime rates. Talk to your local police station and see how often the "home invasion fantasy" actually happens versus other forms of crime.
posted by benzenedream at 12:20 AM on June 25, 2009

We have these grand old vintage steel and ornamental wrought iron doors with hinged frosted glass windows that open and close in our rented house, and it's so perfect. I'm now spoiled for any other option. You can have your doors essentially "open" all the time, yet be perfectly safe. I had reason to be very thankful about this just a couple of days ago, when somebody broke into the locked front gate entrance and came wandering onto the property in my safe neighborhood when I was home alone. I didn't have to cower invisible behind a closed door, and could stand safely behind my locked-yet-"open" door and boldly stare him down and order him off the premises (and show off my dog, who is actually a sweetheart who will let you come in and steal anything, probably, but will surely bite you if you try to hurt me... so don't do that, mr. bad guy).

I've lived here for two years and felt perfectly safe; doubly so because would-be intruders have to first get through the locked front gate - but there you go. Someone did this statistically improbable thing, and I was extremely grateful for my excellent doors. If you own your house, I would wholeheartedly recommend a good solid security door option.

PS: I hardly watch TV at all, and don't get the Lifetime channel in my country anyway.
posted by taz at 12:45 AM on June 25, 2009

I don't see anything in any of the "screw 'em, let 'em knock" side of the argument that doesn't come down to a basic selfish contempt for the knockers. Whoever they are, no matter what reason they have for needing something from you ... it just could not be good enough to press the pause button on the remote.

It's more polite to let someone spend their time doing their spiel so that I can reject them to their face?
posted by desuetude at 6:20 AM on June 25, 2009

Just wanted to throw my vote in with the "not rude to not answer crowd," although as a data-point, in re burglars scoping the joint:

I lived in a building for a little while where the super was stealing from the tenants. Part of how I found this out was that I was home at midday one day, just chilling and drawing some stuff, and someone knocked on my door. I figured it wasn't likely to be any of my friends, so I didn't answer it -- just kept sitting where I was, drawing quietly. The knock came again, and again, I ignored it. So then the super (presumably having been assured that I wasn't home) unlocked the door, and walked in, to see me sitting on my couch in my underwear, staring at him. I've never seen anyone look so surprised. "You're home!" he said. "Yep," I said.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:35 AM on June 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

as a woman who usually has babysitting duties of my nephew, i NEVER open the door unless it is a delivery guy. i not only consider my life and the possibility of home invasion and theft, i also consider the young lives i am responsible for. if it was important, the people knocking on the door would find a way to contact me. remember that, if you knew them and if it was important, you would be contacted another way. i say keep your fort safe and don't open the door to strangers.
posted by penguingrl at 12:55 PM on June 25, 2009

aeschenkarnos- "There's a decent chance that a stranger who knocks on your door is doing so to tell you something you would probably want to know"

I guess it all comes down to what your definition of 'decent chance' is? I live in a suburban neighborhood where I'm not at all afraid to open the door. But I honestly can't think of a time where someone knocked on my door to ask if a lost dog was mine, or anything that could be considered useful. I would say that when a stranger knocks on my door, they're selling something 60-70% of the time, and are bible thumpers about 30% of the time. Do either of those groups of people really deserve one's time, especially when those are two groups prone to rude pushy behavior anyway? Their sales pitch is an imposition, and I don't feel bad for ignoring it.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 8:34 PM on June 25, 2009

desuetude It's more polite to let someone spend their time doing their spiel so that I can reject them to their face?

Very much so - even though you rejected them, you did so after you took enough interest to discover what they wanted. (Although often very little of their spiel, or even just a look at their nametag, or even their body language, is necessary to establish what it is they want - and equally, I would argue that it is impolite to let them go on about it at length and so perhaps form the incorrect impression that you are actually interested in what they have to say.)

I think there's another cultural factor wrapped up in this too: the stereotypical American relative unwillingness (or Australian relative willingness) to give and take "bad news" - the obvious example here being "I don't want to buy that, go away". Americans, for all their vaunted belief in freedom of speech, will go a long way out of their way, and as in this case will often avoid conversation entirely, just to avoid telling someone something that they think the hearer will not like.

Now there probably are good reasons for this. There are ten times as many of you, so there's about ten times as many brittle kooks who, if told the wrong thing, will fly into a frothing rage. You live in far more dense conditions and have less socioeconomic and geographic mobility, so you're often stuck near your brittle kooks in a small place for a long time. So you develop the defense of not overtly offending anyone if you can, and being much more tolerant to passive offensive behavior. Thus it makes sense for you to avoid conversation with the door-to-door salesperson, who being a member of the same society with the same cultural values, will not take much offense at your ignoring him, and move on.

However reasons aside, and politeness aside, ignoring all unexpected knocks at your door really does put you at greater risk of ignoring something unexpected and important. That's a risk you're entitled to take, obviously. If you wanted to address that, signs warning off door-to-door salespeople, and some means to allow you to safely see to your door, would be desirable. Also good smoke detectors.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:15 AM on June 26, 2009

Mod note: this is getting pretty far afield regarding politelness, please take this to email or metatalk
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:19 AM on June 26, 2009

Remember that people knocking (or chapping) your door may have something interesting to tell you that you want to know. I.e. there may be a political campaign going on; there could be a highway or an unpleasant new business coming to your street and they want to talk to you about it; it could be a child raising money for his or her school; or anything else. Even knocking doors to preach doesn't piss me off.

Remember the social and cultural context, too. Our society is making the public spaces smaller and smaller, and it is harder and harder to get a message to people that they haven't already chosen to receive. Are you so confident that you know everything you want already - or, perhaps, are you so not confident that you are afraid a huckster will trick you?

Don't be afraid. Be safe, but consider opening the door to strangers and be polite. Remember that stranger is probably knocking hundreds of doors that day, and they are doing so for something they believe in or so they can have the basic human comforts of home, food and security that you have.

I'm a small woman and I knock doors every week, for politics, often in very dangerous neighbourhoods.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:04 AM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

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