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September 26, 2012 1:06 AM   Subscribe

Four college roommates and I moved into a new house in a sketchy neighborhood, next door neighbor welcomed us with a bottle of alcohol. And another bottle a couple weeks later. She now insists we make her a list of bottles we want. Something feels off. Are we being set up for some kind of scam?

And not just any alcohol: Gentleman's Jack, Grey Goose. Full, unopened fifths. We're all of age so that's not at issue, something just feels a little too good to be true.

We were a little reluctant to accept the first bottle, but we had just moved in that day, and we took it as a kind gesture. This last time occurred when a car was parked in our (empty) driveway. My roommate walked over to ask if it was their car, and someone went out to move the car. While he was standing there, the woman asked my roommate if he wanted a bottle of Grey Goose, and simply handed it to him. He told us she also asked him to make a list of all the alcohol we'd like. There hasn't been much interaction beyond "Hi"s in the driveway, so it seemed a little odd.

An hour later, she came by, knocked, and spoke to my other roommate, insisting our first roommate make a list of all the alcohol he'd like her to hook him up with.

Now we're a little weirded out. Is something up?
posted by Mach3avelli to Society & Culture (52 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It seems kind of weird, but if you think about it, there is a kind of older person who likes to hang out with college-aged kids. So this may be an awkward way of ingratiation.

It may be wise to just avoid answering the door when she knocks.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:31 AM on September 26, 2012

ya it could be in hopes that you ignore whatever kind of strange behavior you might see later?

unless you're in a wealthy neighborhood (which I guess you're not) where a person could afford this stuff yes i think it's sketchy.
posted by saraindc at 1:44 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's sketchy, probably. the people are not necessarily bad, but to me it could only mean one of three things:

1. They are very wealthy, friendly and/or generous (you already said that's not the case)

2. They are up to some sketchy things and are trying to butter you up so you don't complain or report them.

3. They plan on asking you for help/favors later on (related to number 2)

I mean, it might not wind up being a big deal but I think that the alcohol is probably not"free".
posted by bearette at 1:58 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would think that it "fell off the back of a truck" but would gladly accept and respond in kind by giving them presents as well. Nothing big cookies and cakes are a good idea as well as possibly having them over for dinner and cooking with their spirits (vodka sauce pasta, whisky cream dessert and the like). If it really is stolen you've got plausible deniability (IANAL but come on getting a few bottles of booze isn't anything like getting a new TV/laptop/bike where you would be pretty stupid to not think it was stolen) and can just surrender the stolen goods and plead ignorance.
posted by koolkat at 2:01 AM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've known lots of poor people, and they tend to be really into sharing. (Because they need to be -- a favour network is a kind of safety net.) My guess is that one of your neighbours has access to cheap or free alcohol -like koolkat says, it fell off a truck-, and they are just sharing their good fortune with you. I'd guess they're not setting you up on purpose, and they probably don't have a specific future request in mind, but they are just getting a favour into the favour bank.
posted by Susan PG at 2:06 AM on September 26, 2012 [24 favorites]

Politely say, "Thanks, but no thank you!"

Then make a plan amongst yourselves to actively avoid this person.


I've been mulling posting a similar post about someone who came on too strong, and now I can not avoid socially.

I wish wish wish I had been cold to them at the first, when I noticed they were "off" - now I'm stuck being nice to them and I HATE IT.


Whatever this person's agenda is, the free booze does not cover it. AVOID.
posted by jbenben at 2:17 AM on September 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

Yeah, gotta agree with jbenben: just keep repeating 'thanks, but no'. Absolutely NOT making plates of cookies and inviting her over for dinner: she's already crossing the line between friendly neighbor and intrusive pest, and if you don't draw a sharp line NOW you certainly won't be able to later. Just keep it to polite hellos in passing, nothing more.
posted by easily confused at 2:36 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

she's already crossing the line between friendly neighbor and intrusive pest

Christ, no she hasn't. Agree with the rest of what you wrote though.
posted by devnull at 4:06 AM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

You could just ask her. First, do something as a thank-you. Like, bring her a cake or mow her front lawn. Then say, "Hey, we really enjoyed the Grey Goose! You must work for a bar or a liquor store or something?" She'll say something that explains what's going on. If it turns out that it's something you aren't comfortable with, just say, "As much as we appreciated it -- and we really did! -- we can't accept any more bottles of liquor."

You don't have to do anything dramatic. You can still be friendly, and it's generally a good idea to keep good relationships with neighbors especially if your household is four frat boys and their household is working people who get up early in the morning.
posted by Houstonian at 4:10 AM on September 26, 2012 [22 favorites]

It sounds like to me like she has access to a lot of booze, probably thru her job, or someone she's close to. Like at a liquor distributor.
Such 'gentlemen's thievery' situations were more common once. In the old days, if your neighbor worked at a packinghouse, you'd get a ham now and then. And the boss was well aware of it -- a small cost of doing business and boosting morale.
Granted, these are pretty high-priced gifts. But not to her, if they're standard take-homes from work. If she's stealing outright from a bar, that's a different situation.
I agree, just ask her in a casual way.
posted by LonnieK at 4:31 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just ask her where she's getting the liquor from? I used to work for a food brokerage and sometimes had tons of extra food to give away from trade shows, and would give it to anyone that would take it
posted by empath at 4:34 AM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

If it's truly a theft situation, do you want to know where she's stealing from in the highly unlikely chance she tells you?

I would firmly but politely refuse any gifts- you're being groomed for future favors. At the price of those liquor bottles, it's going to be a big one.
posted by winna at 4:40 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

She has access to stolen liquor, obviously. I can think of a couple of scenarios here:

1. She would like to party with/befriend younger men. Possibly purely social, possible sexual subtext. Creepy but generally harmless if you don't let any drama seep in. Though the booze is still morally questionable.

2. She saw a bunch of college-age men move in next door, and said "here are some excellent potential customers for my hot booze operation." She would like you to further inquire in the hopes that you and a network of friends will buy from her. If I were selling stolen liquor, I would wet my pants if some college guys moved into the neighborhood.

2a. She also has drugs, and she would like you to warm up to her in the hopes that she can mention drugs.

These are not mutually exclusive. It could be all of these. I believe that you are obligated to not accept the liquor for karmic reasons (someone is getting ripped off), but that is your decision.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:48 AM on September 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

I have this neighbor. She is constantly bringing us massive loads of snacks, big boxes of expensive cereal, candies you can't get in America, and pricey cars and trucks for my son. Turns out her husband is in the military and hey get huge deals on this sstuff at our local commissary, where civilians can't shop.

Honestly, it was totally off putting at first -- why in the hell is this woman bringing me a sack of $100 worth of snacks?! -- but in the end, as annoying as she is (she talks and talks!), it's a kind gesture. She's just being a good neighbor and her grasp of social boundaries is just a little different than mine. One day I flat out asked why she was doing this and that's when I was offered up the "We get this stuff so cheap it seems a shame to pass up!".

Maybe just ask your neighbor what's up? I've been pleasant to my neighbor and I abide her when she comes over, even though I find it highly annoying and slightly intrusive, but man, she only shows up once a month and if my talking to her and being friendly for an hour fills a need for companionship that she needs, I'm willing to oblige that.

Anyway, wanted to chime in and say that maybe she's just being nice? I agree with others, she's somehow getting this booze at a deep discount or free, for whatever reason, but I wouldn't be too worried she's gonna ask you not to snitch to the cops when she buries a dead body in the backyard just because she's given you a bunch of free top shelf liquor :).
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:01 AM on September 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

We used to live on a corner lot in a neighborhood with lots of kids who walked home past/through our yard to and from school. On Halloween, I used to give out full-sized candy bars in the hopes that the kids would think "hey, these people are cool/decent" and not be tempted to mess up our lawn or be too mischievous the rest of the year.

Perhaps this is like that? Maybe she wants to be on your good side, thinking that a household of young men will likely have loud parties and she wants to be the "cool neighbor" when she comes over to tell you it's too loud (instead of the cranky old lady, thus inviting retribution).

(On preview, I'm with youandiandaflame - this isn't *necessarily* sketch. She could just be proactively friendly - maybe too friendly - and have an inside line on some cheap/free booze.)
posted by agentmitten at 5:09 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Alcohol is and will remain, currency. She is giving you a loan.
posted by Kruger5 at 5:10 AM on September 26, 2012 [10 favorites]

Ok. Some of the answers really make me wonder about other people's life experiences but what I see here is: stranger giving unnecessary and expensive gifts = nefarious. I don't know how or why but seriously, yes very poor people share alcohol but you have to drink it with them.
posted by b33j at 5:11 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think Houstonian, youandiandaflame, and Kruger5 have it, so I'd combine the advice on those lines and go with what you're comfortable with.

This would be weird even if you were in a wealthy neighbourhood.
posted by batmonkey at 5:13 AM on September 26, 2012

So, dropping off a random bottle of hooch now and again wouldn't me too suspicious to me. As people have said, they could be extras from an event or from a job or whatever. The multiple requests to make a list is what pings my sketchiness radar. I'd go with "No thanks" from here on out.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:36 AM on September 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

I agree with the folks who are saying that the booze fell off the back of a truck. I once gave a former frat boy the contents of my entire bar when I moved from Nashville to Atlanta. I had been moving the liquor from place to place and it just seemed stupid. He did me the favor of taking it.

If I had access to free bottles, and four nice young men moved next door to me, I'd be pretty free with it too. Especially since liquor just isn't my thing.

For sure, ask your new neighbor where it comes from. If you're comfortable with the answer, there's no harm in taking it.

If in the future, she comes over in the middle of the night to have you get rid of a spider in the bathtub, do be gracious and help out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:52 AM on September 26, 2012

nthing find out where it's coming from, proceed from there. Even a simple "wow, this is really nice of you, but why are you giving us all this free booze" can give you an insight- you'll probably be able to tell if she's trying to lie/hide something sketchy with her answer.
posted by windykites at 5:55 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

She has her reasons, whatever they are. No one insistently hands expensive bottles of alcohol out to strangers for nothing.

Sex and fun was my first guess. Maybe she's lonely. Then some handsome, wholesome young men (you are men? or maybe she likes women?) move into the area. Liquor them up and lure them in. Party time.

But maybe she wants you on her side for something, and you don't want to be on any random person's side in any random conflict. You don't want to feel obliged to be her witness or alibi. You don't want to feel obliged to watch her back in a fight. You don't want to feel obliged to this stranger for anything related to what she's handing out. And even though she might truly need it -- does she have a mean husband? -- you probably don't want to feel obliged by the gifts to be her refuge when things turn crazy. So watch what you get into.

But keep what I just said in mind. She might need you out of some sort of desperation or loneliness. See if you can figure out what's up with her before you shun her. She might just be really nice and giving college boys what they like best.
posted by pracowity at 6:02 AM on September 26, 2012

I'm with those suggesting a direct approach. "Thanks. Why are you giving us all of this free booze?" Proceed from there.
posted by uncannyslacks at 6:06 AM on September 26, 2012

It's fine to accept gifts from older people but you always have to give something in return even that something is just conversation. Talk to your neighbor, that's what neighbors typically do. Most likely you will find the answers to all your questions.
posted by JJ86 at 6:07 AM on September 26, 2012

Do you know what she does for a living? My partner used to work for an alcohol distributor, and she was always bringing home free booze.
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:09 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I work for a wine distributor and I have tons of free wine sitting around basically at all times. I'm known as the go-to person to provide alcohol for parties in my group of friends because, well, it's free.

However! I don't wander over and hand it out all over the neighborhood to people I barely know. I think most likely this is a combination of your neighbor having access to liquor, for whatever reason, and social awkwardness. She wants to be your friend and she doesn't really know how. I would probably just say, "thank you, but we don't really drink that much liquor. I appreciate the gesture, though." and leave it at that.
posted by something something at 6:16 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Surf the "free booze" wave!

Odd and awkward does not mean dangerous. I'd be more worried about the people who aren't introducing themselves.
posted by roboton666 at 6:36 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

She has access to stolen liquor, obviously.

This is not at all obvious. The fact that she brazenly gives it out to strangers suggests she's either very stupid or that liquor isn't stolen.

My brother used to live with a guy who was a distributor rep for a beer company, and when they were having people over, his roommate would come home with trunk loads of beer at a time. It wasn't stolen. Reps were freely given massive quantities of the stuff to take home.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:37 AM on September 26, 2012

We make a lot of mistakes when we ignore our intuition. This situation didn't feel right from the get-go and you continue to feel that way. That should tell you all you need to know.

There's no harm in not continuing to participate in whatever this person is attempting to do to/for you. A polite, yet firm "no thanks" at the doorway should suffice.
posted by tommasz at 6:37 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some people are just really bad at making friends, so they try to buy them, under the rudimentary idea that "doing nice things for people will make them like me." Does she seem socially awkward to you? Does she seem to miss social cues? If so, this could be her.

Otherwise, I second the idea that she is simply putting favors into the favor bank. It's going to be pretty awkward turning her down for a loan at some unspecified point when she's given you hundreds of dollars in liquors, you know what I mean?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:47 AM on September 26, 2012

It's called Mutual Aid. Giving gifts is a good way of creating networks of interdependence and fostering a sense of common purpose. Especially in contexts where official institutions are weak, these sorts of social ties do a lot of the work of conflict avoidance, crisis management and resource distribution. Establishing them is a good way to manage uncertainty and mitigate risk.

Look at it from your neighbor's perspective: you're new to the neighborhood and thus an unknown element. Can you be trusted? Are you dangerous? She has a line on some good booze and hence leverages that to sound you out. If you accept it, you're probably not a cop. If she can create a stable pattern of exchange, then over time your measure can be taken and your impact on her social environment can be predicted. If you reject the offer, then a lot can be inferred from how you reject it.

Several possibilities present themselves:

1) She's applying her own surplus resources to create goodwill and a sense of obligation. Down the road, she may need a favor (legal or illegal), and having you "in her debt" will make it easier to gain your assistance. And if that need never arises, she at least has the benefit of knowing that you're well disposed toward her since you keep accepting her gifts.

2) She has a business venture (legal or illegal) that she would like to involve you in. Exchanges of legal, though dubious commodities help her to assess whether or not you're a good prospect for future business.

3) She has something going on (legal or illegal) that requires discretion from her immediate neighbors. Exchanges of luxury goods help to create a sense of mutual goodwill that can help smooth over the awkwardness of late-night deliveries, odd visitors, fights, etc. And in a pinch, you might be able to be relied upon to help out with something.

She's handled the exchange awkwardly from your perspective, but that's only because you're new to the neighborhood and thus don't know how to read the signs. From her perspective, she's signaling something loud and clear and she's watching you for your reaction to it. So the question isn't "Is she a good person and can she be trusted?" It's "Now that I'm living in close proximity to this person, how do I want our future interactions to proceed?" If you want to project benign disinterest, then accept the gift, make clear that no further deliveries are wanted or expected, and demonstrate that you're cool in other ways.
posted by R. Schlock at 7:04 AM on September 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

I would ask him or her where these free bottles of booze are coming from, out of curiosity, because it does seem a bit off. However if its the case of this person has free access and it makes them happy sharing, then I'd say its safe to partake. I knew a guy who worked at a beer distrib who'd give us free dented mishapen cans.

However, the worst case scenario is that you're a house full of girls, they are dudes, and they're trying to get in pants either by buttering you up w/ alcohol and being friendly (not that dangerous), or gaining your trust to take advantage of you, or one day deliver a spiked bottle and they come over 2 hours later to find you and your girlfriends passed out on the floor. Like I said, thats WORST case scenario.

But if I were in your shoes, I'd accept the gifts but never feel indebted to them. If thats the case, and they ask things of you and say "but what about all the free booze!" just say you never asked for free booze, it was given to you. It would be the end of the free booze but you're not forming any obligation just by accepting it. Gotta be sure you have the balls to shoot them down though. Its also fairly easy for guys to make girls feel they are obligated / indebted to do things, you ladies tend to be people pleasers and not as able to slam the door in someone's face or say no. Thats a bad generalization I know but hey I thought it was worth mentioning in this situation.
posted by el_yucateco at 7:21 AM on September 26, 2012

I think if you had known this person for a while before she started offering free booze, maybe it would be appropriate to just accept and move on... but since it's from square one, and you are feeling weird, do not accept any more.

You could also offer her some return favours now, so that you guys will be square... mow her lawn, rake her leaves, shovel her driveway when it starts to snow, ask if she has anything she needs done around her yard--and specify that you're offering as a thank-you for the booze. And then decline future offerings in a polite way. If she really insists, then explain that it's because you've all agreed not to keep hard liquor in the house between midterms and finals, or something plausible like that.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:22 AM on September 26, 2012

Oh, its girls giving you booze. And you're not all girls. Disregard my whole post, I'd just happily accept the booze and their friendship. You're in college, if they are also students then they just want you to be their drinking buddies.

They might be sitting around asking themselves why you guys get so awkward when they give you free booze.
posted by el_yucateco at 7:23 AM on September 26, 2012

Sounds like she wants a free parking spot i exchange for the booze...
posted by hamandcheese at 7:28 AM on September 26, 2012

*in exchange*
posted by hamandcheese at 7:28 AM on September 26, 2012

She now insists we make her a list of bottles we want.

Insists? No no no no no. Something is wrong, very wrong. Trust your gut. Never get into a car where they offer you free candy.
posted by uans at 8:09 AM on September 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

Oh, and please tell us how this pans out - I'm dying to know the ending.
posted by aqsakal at 8:49 AM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

FWIW, I used to have a co-worker whose husband worked for a liquor distributor, and she had literally a basement full of assorted (mostly top-shelf) liquor that the companies would give the distributors as freebies. Way more than they could ever drink. And she would give it to folks as gifts, etc, whenever the opportunity struck. This could be something similar. And she might be asking what you like in case she gets a freebie from one of those companies.
posted by jferg at 8:58 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Heh. If you were in Chicago and she was a chubby Dominican, I'd say you'd moved in next door to my Uncle Mickey. He's an alcoholic and his wife is constantly finding caches of alcohol hidden all over the house. She gives them away to neighbors. He buys while he's bingeing and doesn't even remember having the booze — if she doesn't give it away, he'll just slowly fill the whole house with fifths. Likewise, my alcoholic grandfather (on the other side, so they didn't get it from each other) used to lead to my gramma giving away handles of Southern Comfort all the time.
posted by klangklangston at 9:23 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

wolfdreams01 posted: Some people are just really bad at making friends, so they try to buy them, under the rudimentary idea that "doing nice things for people will make them like me." Does she seem socially awkward to you? Does she seem to miss social cues? If so, this could be her.

Wow, is this the belief system we have degenerated into? In almost all civilized cultures, gifts are given, not to "buy friends" but as the start of a mutually beneficial relationship. It isn't a one-way street but if supposed to be reciprocal. Unless you are trolling, "socially awkward" people are the ones who don't engage in this type of behavior.
posted by JJ86 at 9:27 AM on September 26, 2012

It isn't a one-way street but is supposed to be reciprocal. fixed!
posted by JJ86 at 9:30 AM on September 26, 2012

It isn't a one-way street but is supposed to be reciprocal.

That sure sounds like buying friends to me. If every gift carries the hope of a return but the neighbor isn't being forthright about the expected return, how is the OP supposed to gauge if the booze is worth the cost?

I would be wary of someone giving me gifts for no reason. Cookies or something like that to break the ice with neighbors, sure. But relatively expensive gifts with the whole 'give me a list of your favorites' for future gifts is just weird and sketchy.

How many of the people who are talking about giving free liquor to people started out their relationship with those people by giving them liquor with no explanation of the source of the largesse?
posted by winna at 9:46 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow, is this the belief system we have degenerated into? In almost all civilized cultures, gifts are given, not to "buy friends" but as the start of a mutually beneficial relationship. It isn't a one-way street but if supposed to be reciprocal. Unless you are trolling, "socially awkward" people are the ones who don't engage in this type of behavior.

This would not have been an AskMe post if the neighbor had greeted the new residents with a nice bottle of liquor and a cake and left it at that. Unsolicited requests/insistence to "make a list of all the alcohol we'd like" comes across as red-flag behavior, as if our attention must be given to such a person because of their supposed generosity.
posted by deanc at 9:48 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tell her you're in AA and need to stay clean.
posted by discopolo at 10:00 AM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Or tell her you're Mormon or have recently converted to Islam and are an observant Muslim who doesn't drink.
posted by discopolo at 10:03 AM on September 26, 2012

Or tell her you're Mormon or have recently converted to Islam and are an observant Muslim who doesn't drink.

... and then look like d-bags the next time you have a party.

Seriously, there's no reason to lie about your religion if you don't want the booze. Just say you don't want it because you can't repay her. Everyone above who has suggestions about ways to ask where it came from and how to respond is giving good advice. There's no reason to up the drama and weirdness by lying to your neighbor about all five of you being Mormons or alcoholics.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:24 AM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please please please come back and let us know how this all turns out (we'll wait years if need be).
posted by Xhris at 3:15 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

What an interesting situation. I'm not sure if this makes a ton of sense, but I used to live in a country where counterfeiting of top-shelf imported liquors was a real problem (I don't know exactly how they do it, but I think it involves some kinds of alcohol you shouldn't be drinking). Any chance something like that is going on? You guys drank the booze and no one got sick, right?
posted by silvergoat at 3:53 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Folks, just answer the question, don't lecture other people on etiquette.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:27 PM on September 26, 2012

Is she offering to give it to you, or does she want you to place an order and repay her after she gets it (presumably through some cheaper-than-retail source)?
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:36 PM on September 27, 2012

Yeah, she may work at a liquor store or bar, or know someone who does. I have relatives that own a bar, and alcohol companies go insane with freebies.

Just ask her about it.
posted by cnc at 10:29 AM on November 14, 2012

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