Laying Out the Unwelcome Mat
April 12, 2012 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Are there good reasons to answer the door to strangers?

I am uncomfortable interacting with strangers. I do not, in general, "like people." Much of my life I have ignored knocks & doorbell rings from strangers. Usually I can see if the person at the door is someone I know or not, and if I don't know them I assume they want something from me (usually my soul and/or my money) and don't answer the door. Obviously I don't apply this to the UPS delivery person or people I know or if I was somehow expecting a visit from a stranger (although I can't think of an example of the later). I don't bother entering sweepstakes so I'm pretty sure I'm not going to miss the Prize Patrol.

Are there any good reasons to ever open your door to strangers? I personally doubt that they are compelling enough to overcome the potential downsides, but I'd be interested to hear what you folks think about the matter.
posted by Edogy to Human Relations (73 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe they're knocking to tell you that they've found your dog running loose, or your car headlights are on, or your vehicle is rolling down the hill
posted by Pomo at 11:39 AM on April 12, 2012 [9 favorites]

It has never made my life any better.
posted by codswallop at 11:41 AM on April 12, 2012 [14 favorites]

In general, no. I wish I could resist because strangers always want to sell me magazines or something.

If I were coming over to tell someone that, Pomo, I'd also leave a note when they didn't answer. This has come up multiple times (I try to be nice) and I usually get a thank you note back the next day.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:42 AM on April 12, 2012

In a house - I'd open the door for someone if 01) they looked relatively harmless (small child, female person alone) and/or 02) if they looked like they needed help in some way. Otherwise, as a relatively small single female you better believe I'm not opening my door for random strangers.

In an apartment building - kind of the same thing, but on the other hand, I get really pissed off when my idiot neighbors are overflowing their tubs into my bathroom ceiling and don't fucking open their doors when I am standing in the hallway knocking with a look of extreme panic on my face.
posted by elizardbits at 11:42 AM on April 12, 2012

I'm with you - I do a quick headcount of pets, then ignore the stranger.
posted by tatiana131 at 11:43 AM on April 12, 2012

There's a million hypotheticals that point towards a good reason to open your door to a stranger.

There's also one really good way to make it so that any stranger who knocks on your door isn't someone vying for your soul and/or money: Posting a "No Solicitations" sign on or near your door. Strangers not soliciting won't hesitate to let you know about your loosely running dog, or your cartastophe, and everyone else can fuck off.
posted by carsonb at 11:43 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I always answer the door, just like I always answer the phone. Some sort of weird guilt about ignoring it, or maybe it is part of being a stereotypical overly polite Canadian.

In almost every circumstance that I've answered the door to strangers that weren't on delivery, it has been someone trying to sell me crap or get me to give them money.

The exception is Halloween, when they want candy.

So, expected deliveries and etc. aside, only answering the door to the seasonal ghosts and goblins has ever given me joy.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:43 AM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I once knocked on a stranger's door to ask them if they could call 911 because a car had hit a tree in front of their house. This may be less of an issue now that everyone has a cell phone. Also, you are under no obligation to help people in need unless that is your job.

I also saw someone warn a stranger that black smoke was pouring out of their chimney, potentially saving that person's house from a fire. So yes, there are upsides. It's also just nice if humans are kind to each other and generally less suspicious, though that I suppose is a matter of personal preference.

There are, of course, may reasons not to open the door and if you prefer not to you're certainly in your right. You might want to put up a little "no solicitations" sign on your door so that when someone does knock they might be more likely to go away or at least to give you a reason to act annoyed if you do decide to answer.
posted by bondcliff at 11:46 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I knocked on my across the street [but still a stranger] neighbor's door last week during the night to tell him that someone in his building left the garage door open and it was going to be really easy for someone to steal all their bikes, etc..

He was pretty happy that I did.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:46 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are there any good reasons to ever open your door to strangers?

Generally to ensure you don't become known as "that creppy, unfriendly neighbor who doesn't answer his door."

I'm not into many things referred to as "community" or "group activities", but there are bare minimums of social etiquette we are generally expected to engage in, and for me, answering the door crosses that threshold.

Also, many years ago (pre-cell phone), my family was going to dinner at the house of a family friend off in a very expensive neighborhood we were unfamiliar with. We weren't sure we found the right house, and my mom went to the door to see if we had gotten to the right place or to see if we could get directions to the right house, because we were lost. The people were home and they just left my mom standing there, awkwardly, at the door, not opening the door when she rang the bell. Thinking about that still makes me a bit angry over how they treated my mother.
posted by deanc at 11:49 AM on April 12, 2012 [20 favorites]

I live in a nice neighborhood (not expensive, just friendly). If I'm dressed, I answer the door. If it's 11 a.m. and I'm in my jammies, I don't.
posted by theora55 at 11:53 AM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, because it might be me, aged 8, accidentally locked out of my house during a terrible thunderstorm, and if you don't answer the door and let me huddle in your foyer I might get killed by the bolt of lightning that takes out the streetlight across the street like five seconds after you let me in.
posted by saladin at 11:54 AM on April 12, 2012 [14 favorites]

I can't think of any. If they're knocking for a legit reason they'll leave a note if you don't answer, and if they're knocking for an emergency reason, like your house in on fire, they'll also yell.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:54 AM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

The thing about positive outcomes is this: the fact that I don't know about them doesn't mean they don't exist. Unknown unknowns, if you will. If a stranger knocks on my door I'll answer it and maybe it'll be something worthwhile.

It usually isn't, but stepping onto someone's property and interrupting their day when you have no reason to think they want to talk to you - to sell them stuff or tell them about God or whatever - is a fundamentally rude act and I feel no need to spare them any rudeness of my own. Once I get the sense they're soliciting, I just say "No thanks," and close the door and that's that. I'm out maybe ten seconds of my time.

Ten seconds vs. the belief that I am not aware of all possible good reasons a stranger might have for being at my door seems like a reasonable wager to me. Your mileage may vary.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:55 AM on April 12, 2012 [12 favorites]

Last month the doorbell rang. I peeked, it was a stranger. I abhor answering the door or the phone but for some reason I did. The stranger was a middle-aged man and he kind of looked like a creep so I have no idea what possessed me to open the door. I know a look of annoyance passed over my face as I asked him what he wanted. He told me my wallet had dropped out of my coat pocket as I was getting into my car at a store 20 miles away, and he had followed me back home to return it to me. He held out my wallet to me. He had driven somewhere behind me in rush hour traffic for forty minutes to give me back my wallet. I actually was in shock for several seconds and know my brain wasn't working properly but when I regained my composure I thanked him and offered him money for gas and he refused. He did take a piece of the carrot cake I had made earlier in the day though.

Q: Are there good reasons to answer the door to strangers
A: Of course there are. Sometimes.
posted by iconomy at 11:58 AM on April 12, 2012 [72 favorites]

I once had an off-duty (no uniform) police officer bang on the door to ask if he could borrow a pair of scissors, because a guy had hit the tree in front of my house and needed to be cut out of his seatbelt so he could be extricated from his upside-down car. So, my vote is yes, because you might save someone's life.

the guy lived, and a few weeks later my housemates and I watched from the living room window as he brought his friend to the scene of the accident to re-enact with hand gestures what had happened to him. Sadly, I no longer have those scissors.
posted by janepanic at 11:58 AM on April 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

I answer the door but I have started being ruthless with anyone who's not a neighbor or person in need. If the person doesn't immediately introduce themselves with something like "I'm your neighbor," or "I need someone to call 911," and they start rambling, I cut them off to ask if they're selling something. If they say yes, I say "no thank you, have a good day," and close the door (and am working on not feeling guilty about that.) If they keep rambling, I ask them to tell me what they want in one sentence or less. If they start equivocating, being unclear, can't do that, or if what they want is for me to buy something or join their cult, I say no thank you, wish them a good day, and close the door.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:58 AM on April 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

I was once in a bad accident in a canoe that went over some rapids, when I was 12, with my two uncles. I swam to shore after we capsized, scrambled out on some logs, and couldn't see them anywhere. I had no cell phone and nothing else to do, so I walked until I found the nearest houses and started knocking on people's doors. Some old, nice couple came out and gave me a towel and gathered enough through my hysterics to call 911, which probably saved one of my uncles' lives.

But you know, I was a helpless child, alone, soaking wet and obviously in distress.

So yeah. But you asked, and I guess it technically counts.
posted by quincunx at 12:00 PM on April 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Personally, I think it's worth suffering 1,000 salesman if it mans that I'll answer the door when someone really needs me to.
posted by DWRoelands at 12:01 PM on April 12, 2012 [37 favorites]

That's what peepholes and windows are for. I have a window and can look out and see who's there. If I don't know the person, and they're carrying a clipboard or pamphlets, it's "I'm not interested. Goodbye." (I'm not going to waste my time or theirs.)

If they don't have a clipboard, I can find out if they're a new neighbor or someone in need (I've had the former, but never the latter - I live at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac so I'm very unlikely to have strangers in need ringing my doorbell) and deal accordingly. I did have a neighbor I didn't know come knock on my door to tell me my (elderly, disabled, uses a walker) dad had sat down to rest in front of his house and he was worried. That was kind and considerate. But HE had the consideration to say, "I'm X, your neighbor at the end of the block" first.

I'm a woman and I live by myself, so I'm a lot more cautious about opening the door to strangers than a man or couple might be.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:11 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Personally, I think it's worth suffering 1,000 salesman if it mans that I'll answer the door when someone really needs me to.

I guess if the worst thing I could imagine happening when I opened the door to a stranger was someone trying to sell me something, I might agree with you.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:16 PM on April 12, 2012 [16 favorites]

I put up a snarky No Soliciting sign that made it obvious that I was serious, since I put the effort into writing a whole paragraph. It seems to be 100% effective against door to door solicitors, not so much for politicians. So in my case, anybody knocking is a delivery person, neighbor, or politician. So we usually answer.
posted by COD at 12:17 PM on April 12, 2012

I answer the door because I find it so so satisfying seeing their expression when I firmly shut the door in their face as soon as they start to sell me something or hand me their watchtower or whatever. It's pretty easy to figure out who's soliciting, the clip board, the name tag, the religious material. Plus I generally start with a neutral "what?" followed quickly by a curt "what do you want" if they start asking me how my day is going (always a sales person trying to engage me, always), so there's never any small talk to deal with.

Plus I've had a few really nice conversations with people not selling anything. Like the genuinely friendly and efficient census taker who came to my door just after I arrived in Ireland (I wasn't here for the actual census but we got to make small talk about what a mess the census back in NZ turned into this year) or the really nice neighbor who had signed for a package for me earlier in the day (unexpected Christmas present, bonus!). So it's kind of a win either way really.

Of course you might be a lot nicer than I am.
posted by shelleycat at 12:18 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Hey neighbor. We've got a couple extra steaks and beers at our cookout, and we were wondering if you wanted to swing by?"
posted by Rock Steady at 12:18 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

On the more sinister side, I've been told that sometimes burglars will knock, posing as salespeople or petition gatherers, in order to see if anyone's home. You can decide if you think this is in the category of "pirates and villains everywhere" scare stuff or if it might have merit where you are.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:21 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I always answer buzzes at the door but I am unlikely to open it for a stranger until after I've established who they are and what they want. I'm pretty surprised that people do that.
posted by grouse at 12:23 PM on April 12, 2012

If I'm dressed, I answer the door. If it's 11 a.m. and I'm in my jammies, I don't.

This is me except I will also answer the door in my pajamas. I am not saying that you need to do this, I am only answering your as-stated question which is why I do it. I live in a rural area, up 28 steps so you only even get to the "knocking on my door" stage of this whole thing if you're motivated. We do not have door to door salesmen of any kind and only the occasional Mormon [who I'm happy to tell "no thanks"]. I've had people come to my house asking if I knew how they could buy the truck in the field across the street, some women who had been in a car accident and needed to call 911 and some people who used to live in my house a very long time ago and wanted to walk around in the backyard but wanted to ask me beforehand. And yeah I think I've had the "your lights are on" warning and a few "have you seen this dog" random things. My opinion is roughly that of DWRoelands'
posted by jessamyn at 12:23 PM on April 12, 2012

Q: Are there good reasons to answer the door to strangers
A: Of course there are. Sometimes.

Just go ahead and mark iconomy's with a best answer.

I live on the third floor. The door opens directly into our flat, so no, I'm not buzzing you in if I don't know who you are, and I'm probably not going to go all the way downstairs if I don't see the UPS/Fedex/etc. delivery truck parked out front. If I look out the window and see two or three nicely dressed Women of a Certain Age, I'm not going down because they're Jehovah's Witnesses. Likewise if it's two young men in black trousers and white shirts.

These types (delivery, religious) make up 99.9% of the people who knock on my door. They have taught me the lesson well.
posted by rtha at 12:27 PM on April 12, 2012

Last time I knocked on a stranger's door was when a package I was expecting was delivered to me, I opened it, realized it wasn't what I had ordered, and then double checked the address on the package only to find out it was for a person down the street. Nobody was home or at least didn't get the door, so I left the opened package on the stoop, hoping it wouldn't rain.
posted by Dragonness at 12:30 PM on April 12, 2012

I live in a questionable neighborhood and I nearly always open the door (unless it's one of those 1am attempts to sell me something stolen from my neighbor.)

Being a participant in the neighborhood is something I think is a civic duty for most of us.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:31 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have a No Soliciting sign, which helps some (a lot of people think they are excepted, and then younger people don't know what "soliciting" means). I also have a peephole and windows and ears (and in SoCal no air conditioning, so frequently open windows) and can tell if there is a car upside-down anywhere in my yard or someone bleeding or whatever.

When I was 13ish, my mom and best friend and I had gone to visit my grandparents in Fort Worth. All the adults had gone to bed, it was late, my friend and I were up watching MTV, and I got up and went to the bathroom. While I was enthroned, I heard a male voice outside, whispering "Go, go!". And then there was a knock on the front door. I stayed where I was, my Mom heard it and got up.

Mom asked who it was, and a young woman said her car had broken down and could she use the phone. Mom said she would be happy to call someone for her. But she only needed to use it for a minute. Sorry, just tell me the number. But I need a drink of water, I don't feel good. There's a hose right there next to you, help yourself. I just want to use the phone. Happy to call for you. Water. Hose. It went around in circles several times, until my mother finally said, "We went ahead and called the police for you, they'll be here in a minute and can help you."

Now, I was a dumb slow kid, and it was not until it was all over that I realized I was the only one who'd heard the man or men who were with the girl. My mom had to stop my grandmother from opening the door several times.

I dislike opening the door to strangers and have ever since. There are almost always people and car traffic outside in my neighborhood who could be approached for help, and I will go outside and check if it seems like someone is hurt or distressed (inevitably it is a child who enjoys screaming like a murder victim for no reason) or lost their dog/child. If I was having a crisis of my own, I'd make my noise out in the street rather than going to a door if I could at all help it.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:34 PM on April 12, 2012 [10 favorites]

See, I guess I don't think that opening the door to people who don't live in my neighborhood - or at least on my street - counts as participating in the 'hood. If Barry from next door needs me to move my car so he can load his van, then sure. Or if the guy from two doors down needs to borrow the pet carrier (again, because he still lets his dog out without a leash even though it runs in the street and has had to go to the vet twice now because of that), then yes, I'll answer. But random people I don't recognize, especially if they're holding clipboards or pamphlets - well, they're not trying to participate in my neighborhood.
posted by rtha at 12:39 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are there any good reasons to ever open your door to strangers?

I was walking to work and an elderly woman got out of a car nearby and promptly fainted and fell face-down on the sidewalk. Another passer-by and I helped her up; her face was bleeding profusely. Another elderly woman got out of the car and started shrieking something about blood thinners and heart medication. I went to the first door I saw, knocked loudly, and the person answered. I said "that woman fainted - she's bleeding - please call 911" and they did.

I walk by that spot on 16th street in San Francisco every day on my way to work and I have often thought about this whole situation. I'm very glad (and I'm sure the fainting woman is, too) that this person opened the door to a stranger. At 7:30 in the morning on a sketchy block, I might add.
posted by gyusan at 12:41 PM on April 12, 2012

In most "normal" interactions, there isn't usually a compelling reason to open the door. You mentioned that you're okay with deliveries and people you know or are expecting, so when we exclude those situations we're typically left with solicitors. If you're not interested in buying anything or listening to their opinions or providing your own, you're under no moral or civic obligation to answer the door nor open it.

However, as many have already indicated, there are a number of extra-ordinary circumstances when a stranger knocks on your door and doesn't want to sell you something. When those situations arise, you have to consider the extent of your ability to assist, even if it's just calling 911 yourself. You're still not obligated to open the door, nor interact with the person.

On preview, what Lyn Never's mom said above is a good example of how you can provide assistance without physically opening the door.

In regards to your question, I sense there needs to be a distinction between "opening your door" and "interacting with whomever happens to be there," because you indicate that you generally dislike people and won't even bother answering the door. So if you're asking whether or not there are good reasons for opening your door, the answer is that there aren't many. But if you're asking whether there are good reasons for interacting with the person who knocked or rang, then yes. Yes, there are.
posted by CancerMan at 12:49 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I live on the second floor of a two family house and I am not going to walk down two flights of stairs to say no, I do not wish to buy anything and/or no, I am not interested in your god. So when the doorbell rings, I stick my head out the front window and ask who it is. Usually it's people trying to convince me to change my utility service or find Jesus or some other nonsense, and so I cheerfully yell NO THANKS! and close the window. Sometimes it's my neighbors or people that I haven't seen in ages that were just driving by and then I go down and get the door.
posted by crankylex at 12:49 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I see no reason to, myself. My personal safety is of great importance to me, and if someone needs help, I can call for it on my side of the door. If I don't know you? Nope.
posted by agregoli at 12:49 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not particularly neighborly, and am anxious about interacting with strangers or even unexpected social interactions So while, yes, I think that sometimes there are may be a good reason to answer the door, I'm pretty okay with not knowing one way or the other.
posted by sm1tten at 12:53 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Girl Guide cookies.
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:11 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I answered my front door, which opens directly onto the street, to a young guy yesterday, who was knocking loudly and urgently. And I'm very glad I did; he was warning me that I'd left my keys in the lock, in full view of anyone walking past.
posted by TristanPK at 1:13 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the "No Soliciting" signs are a good first step in the right direction, I can assure you, as a former Jehovah's Witness, they will not be deterred. They see what they are doing not as solicitation but as their Christian responsibility to share the good news of Jehovah's kingdom. (Jeez, that cult speak comes back to me far too quickly!)
posted by BrianJ at 1:15 PM on April 12, 2012

I used to canvass, back in the day. Man-oh-man, would I ever get hungry and/or have to do the pee dance. So I tend to open the door, politely tell whoever that I'm not interested in whatever they're offering, then offer them the bathroom, and if there's a snack handy, I'll offer 'em that, too.
posted by aniola at 1:20 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

That should have read, "While I think the..."

*smacks self in the forehead*
posted by BrianJ at 1:29 PM on April 12, 2012

I don't answer my door unless I'm expecting someone/something or they identify themselves unprompted.

It's hard for me to imagine an emergency where someone politely knocks and then walks away. Most likely they will bang and yell "Fire" or whatever.

I've had the police come twice late at night (to ask questions about something going on nearby, not to investigate me or anything) and they clearly announce themselves, for example.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:30 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

If I were feeling vulnerable, I wouldn't open the door. I'm large, healthy, and in full view of the neighbors. If I were physically unable, frail, or something else, I'm sure I would be more hesitant. And I'd likely own a dog and have 911 on speed dial.

However, in all my years I've never had someone come to the door that I couldn't get rid of.

Also, since I got a cell phone, I've actually become MORE bold in most areas of my life.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:32 PM on April 12, 2012

We never answer the door unless we're expecting someone (and then we're usually looking out the window for them) or we can tell by the knocking that it's an emergency or the police. Cops knock hard.

We live on the second floor of a duplex, so by the time we dither, hide things we want hidden, put pants on and get downstairs, they're usually gone anyway, to our relief.

I won't buy anything anyway, and I don't want religion, and I've pretty much signed up for or donated already.
posted by Occula at 1:40 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would have missed out on some excellent Mexican food if I didn't open the door, so there's that angle to consider, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:44 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

It depends on the knock. Is it a panic-y "ZOMG YOUR HOUSE IS IN FLAMES!" knock? Then yes, I do. I have a friend who, as a kid, his father went off the deep end and was beating his mother with a broom. It took him 3 houses to get someone to open the door and get help. I can't imagine that she would have lived if no one had answered their door.

Also- there is nothing wrong with not opening the door and asking the person on the other side what the knock is regarding. If they are selling, you can always say, "Not interested! Thanks!"
posted by haplesschild at 1:46 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I answer my window, myself; I open it and stick my head out and see what they want; that way I don't have to put myself at the same risk, and being addressed from the window (when expecting the door to open) usually puts salesmen etc. off their guard for a moment.

And so, in the eight or so years I've lived where I live, I've probably opened the window for three dozen people, and perhaps twice it has been to my benefit. So yes, sometimes it is. Usually it is not.
posted by davejay at 1:49 PM on April 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I know of a woman some years back that is very happy SHE answered the door to a stranger ... (me) ... I was holding her 18 month old child who apparently had just learned how to get out of the house and was over a block away.

I answer the door according to my mood. Not neccessarily the best way but works for me.
posted by batikrose at 1:52 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Categories of strangers who've knocked on my door:

1. neighbor kids selling stuff. I always buy something, because this is a cheap and effective way for an introvert to get a reputation in the neighborhood as a nice person, and that's a valuable thing to have.

2. a politically active neighbor trying to get enough signatures on a petition to get someone on the ballot. I usually sign, because the more people on the ballot, the better. This kind of bottom-up democracy can't work if no one will answer their door.

3. Jehovah's Witnesses and other missionaries and proselytizers. I cut this down to almost zero by putting up a little sign, "No religious solicitation, please."

4. Candidates running for local political offices, introducing themselves and asking me to vote for them. They're always polite, and I really appreciate meeting them.

5. A neighbor checking to make sure I was OK when I hadn't left the house at all for a week because of the flu. If I hadn't answered the door, they would have thought I was in extremis and either broken in or called the police. I almost ignored that one, but I'm SO glad I didn't.

6. Some bedraggled kids who'd gotten lost on a hike in a freezing drizzle, didn't know what town they were in and had no idea where their car was parked (this was before cell phones or GPS). I gave them hot tea, dry towels and cookies, and drove them to their car. I was happy to be able to help them, and the only annoying thing about the encounter was that it took them a long time to stop saying "THANK YOU!!!"

7. Guys in beat-up pickup trucks trying to sell me some leftover asphalt or gravel for my pathetic driveway. I love telling them, "no thanks, I read about that scam in the newspaper and the neighbors and I had a good laugh about it."

I hate hearing the doorbell when I'm not expecting it, and I generally prefer to be left alone. As a woman living alone without a big scary dog, I always feel a twinge of "maybe I shouldn't do this" when I open the door, which I usually do. That twinge is always overcome by "but someone might need heed help" or "maybe it's someone I want to be friendly to." So far, opening the door has been a good bet.
posted by Corvid at 2:01 PM on April 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

Personally, my answer is no, because I have been put in very dangerous situations by roommates who have done this, and because I think door to door salespeople should be banned.

Once you've been assaulted by a stranger and had your apartment cased, it's hard to feel generous about answering the door to others once that cause for concern is established.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:12 PM on April 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Also, someone above pointed out that cops knock hard. This is very true -- but not fail safe. The men who tried to force their way into my home a few years back also knocked hard --- and they were anything but officers.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:15 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consider buying a chain lock. It gives you a chance to talk to the stranger without granting them access to the house.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:31 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

The problem with chain locks is that one good kick usually tears them right off the wall. Better than nothing, but not as good as a locked door, for security.

If you're worried, I'd get a security door. They're actually pretty awesome- you can leave your door open all summer long without worrying about people breaking in, and you can talk to people through it and feel safe. They're standard in our neighborhood, though for reasons I don't understand, we don't have one.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:38 PM on April 12, 2012

I always answer the door for political canvassers. That's a damn hard job and the least I can do is politely listen even if they are not of my particular persuasion. I usually offer water or a bathroom too. I live in an increasingly less sketchy part of Washington, DC and I don't think twice about opening the door to someone in broad daylight. You people are making me think that maybe I'm not paranoid enough.
posted by fancypants at 2:41 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Talk through the door. Make your presents known and find out what they are doing. Thieves knock on doors to case joints, no one answers is a busted out bathroom window or a rock through your slider.
posted by couchdive at 3:09 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've never not answered the door. Still alive to tell the story.

You can just say "no thanks" and close the door on sales people.
posted by trialex at 3:13 PM on April 12, 2012

I'm with you - I do a quick headcount of pets, then ignore the stranger.
posted by tatiana131 at 11:43 AM on April 12 [+] [!]

This is so funny. I do the exact same thing. The pet headcount.

I just shout through the door "who is it?" (I mean, I shout through the closed wood door.) It is impossible for someone to manipulate you or shove a gun in your face or force their way in if you're shouting through a locked door. And it's quite easy to say "not interested" after they've shouted back their reason for bothering you.
posted by jayder at 3:18 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

First, I do not open the door to anyone unless it's the police/delivery/someone I recognize/etc.

My address was selected several years ago to participate in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. I received a letter about it but it looked like junk mail so I didn't pay much attention and forgot about it. The lady scared the ever-living shit out of me because it was around 9:30pm and pitch black out, I was in my living room and all of a sudden someone started banging on the door saying that she "just had a few questions for me" and when I looked through the peep hole it looked like she was covering it. WTF. So I yelled that I didn't want whatever she was selling and to go away. Finally after a little more pleading she left.

Later I remembered the letter and luckily hadn't thrown it away so I called and confirmed that it was someone from the survey who came by that night, and I set up a time for her to come again. When she came by she said that she had been holding her ID up to the peep hole so that I could see it, but on my side it looked like she was just covering it.

Anyway, if your address is selected for something like that, they will keep coming back even if you refuse or don't answer the door. The lady told me that they would have kept sending different people until they got someone to do the survey - apparently they had already been by my apartment a few times but I wasn't home. She also told me that she had a friend in a different state who sometimes went out to do her surveys as late as 10pm.
posted by fromageball at 3:38 PM on April 12, 2012

The way my entry is set up, since I don't ever close my curtains, anyone walking to my door can see right into my living room. And since that's where I am most of the time, well, I am not capable of the kind of steely resolve that would allow me to ignore them if they knocked and could see me. But if they're strangers, I don't open the outer door; I have to raise my voice to be heard and so do they, but the barrier makes it much simpler to refuse whatever they're pushing - I don't get a lot of Jehovah's Witnesses, but local churches seem to think my street is prime picking for finding new attendees, for some reason.

I had one person push in anyways - he was a slightly drunk and over-entitled local firefighter (or so he claimed), whose kids had heard my son having a tantrum as we got out of the car and translated it to a woman being beaten up, and he was pretty intent on saving the day. Still wish I'd called the cops; his intentions are good, but he was out of line - slightly drunk, barefoot, and wouldn't leave when I repeatedly told him to get out of my house. It scared me and my son both pretty good.

And then there was the elderly gentleman whose car had gotten stuck at the graveyard across the road and walked over to ask to use my phone; he'd been visiting his wife's grave. I offered to let him wait there in the living room (it was winter, and he got stuck thanks to snow) but his dog was still in the car so he went back to wait there for whoever he'd called. A couple of months later his daughter came by with a dozen cookies to thank me. It was very unexpected and really quite nice.
posted by lemniskate at 3:48 PM on April 12, 2012

Mod note: Folks, question is not "how to deter salesmen/religious people" please stick to the topic, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:24 PM on April 12, 2012

In case I didn't actually answer the question, I think the answer is NO, there's no good reason to open the door to strangers. Ask them who they are without opening it. You keep them on the defensive by not opening it, you avoid any risk of someone pushing in or using their wiles to "ask you just one question!" or playing upon your natural human politeness that will prevent you from shutting the door on someone who is still talking.

But I do think -- depending on the crime rate in your town -- it is important to at least let the knocker know you are at home. In my city some people knocking are checking to see if you're home and if they think you are not, they break in to burglarize your house. You don't want to surprise them as they are entering your house.
posted by jayder at 5:30 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

It probably depends on your local audience. In my case, it's almost always 16-20-ish year old really pushy salespeople (without clipboards about half the time, oddly) who knock at my door. Unless I'm in pajamas/going to the gym/otherwise skimpily dressed, then it'll be the religious people. Never fails.

I don't open the door unless I am expecting someone (note that the salespeople/JW's got in because they knocked right before my someone was to come over), because I am not in the mood to deal with pushy people who keep yakking even after I said no. I'm not overly comfortable answering the door late-ish at night, especially since due to the apartment setup it's very obvious that someone is home, and I don't have a screen door or chain lock or any of that stuff.

Yes, there might be the occasional good reason to open the door, but I don't want to deal with the creepy salespeople 9 times out of 10 because the 10th person might be worth answering for. Especially being female and home alone and it's dark outside, if you get my drift.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:24 PM on April 12, 2012

Our neighbor came around to tell us that a tree in our back yard was smoldering (lightning strike--it must have been smoldering for a couple of hours without anyone in the house noticing). We knew these particular neighbors, but it could just as easily have been neighbors that we don't know. If we hadn't answered they probably would have skipped "bang louder" and gone straight to 911. As it was, it was easy enough to put out with a bucket.
posted by anaelith at 8:07 PM on April 12, 2012

In my neighborhood in Seattle, I was in the unfortunate position of having no choice but to answer, as you could see my couch from the door.

95% of the time it was absolute garbage -- religious people, people who wanted money for a random cause, and more often than not people who I'm pretty sure were casing the joint (and got a door slammed in their face for their trouble).

Once it was a previous tenant who had a package misdelivered.

I still answer the door, but I'm pretty annoyed every time. On the plus side I now have a second floor window I can yell from -- and in NYC a lot less people knock on the door.
posted by zvs at 8:45 PM on April 12, 2012

Always answer the door. Don't necessarily open it, but respond. It helps have a door chain or peephole. Even when solicitors knock, I just open the peephole and say "not interested, thanks."

In addition to the many stories above, thieves will usually knock for an answer to see if anyone is home before breaking in to your house.
posted by gnutron at 9:06 PM on April 12, 2012

If you answer the door enough, you will start to become comfortable with strangers and may even find that you now "like people".
posted by anildash at 5:34 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I vote answer the door, but that's just because I was doing some survey research in high crime areas DC that required me to go knocking on stranger's doors. They got $15 out of the deal, which I suppose was good for them, and scientific knowledge was slightly elaborated, which was good for science. I'd suggest at least letting people give you their 30 second door speech, even if you don't open the door.
posted by _cave at 6:33 AM on April 13, 2012

We once had a radiator leak in our apartment and let the apartment downstairs know to look for leaks in the ceiling and move any valuables out of the way. We hadn't been there very long and had not seen them before. We'd had ceiling leaks from sloppy neighbors twice and I would have welcomed the intrusion.

When we bought and moved into our house, we introduced ourselves to all our immediate neighbors. I'm glad everyone answered their doors; we plan to be here for a long time and it would have left a bad taste in my mouth to be ignored. That tiny amount of kindness means we're much more likely to do them kindnesses in the future--cookies around the holidays or lending a snow shovel or whatever.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:38 AM on April 13, 2012

A lesson I learned from my grandmother was to put a prominent and visible NRA sticker in the front door. It cuts down on random knocking, without the need to go to the trouble of actually purchasing a gun.

I find the moralizing about why people should open their doors a touch obnoxious. Woman living with a child. If my fiancee isn't here? I don't open the door unless I'm expecting someone. If it's someone who knows me? They have my cellphone number. If it's a stranger? That's what police/fireboxes are there for.

That said, someone did return my lost cat to me once, so good things do happen. But it's perfectly legit to protect yourself.
posted by corb at 11:39 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't answer the door, I'll admit - but had to add this to the discussion.
posted by analog at 8:22 AM on April 17, 2012

A lesson I learned from my grandmother was to put a prominent and visible NRA sticker in the front door.

A good alternative that I've seen in the South is "This house protected by Smith & Wesson." I think that sticker really shouts "there's a big, burly, tobacco-chewing redneck in here who will shoot your ass in a heartbeat if you give him half a chance," which I think it a great message to send to strangers who would presume to knock on your front door.
posted by jayder at 1:52 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

People could be casing the neighborhood and the fact that you don't open the door is a sign that at that time of day you are not home.
posted by eq21 at 8:44 AM on November 26, 2012

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