January 2, 2007 11:11 AM   Subscribe

I think my neighbors are taking advantage of me. How can I grow a spine?

I moved into a new place about a month ago in Baltimore City. The building is mostly young professionals, but there are some people who are not.

So, on New Year's Eve, someone who lives in one of the three apartments on my floor and with whom I've exchanged hellos tells me this is the worst New Year's ever, and can he borrow $20.

So I know it's stupid, but if I never see it again then I haven't lost anything really damaging to me and then he's used up his one chance with me. (My boyfriend and my friends have already told me I'm dumb for even opening the metaphorical door for him, so don't tell me I'm dumb. What's done is done, and I know already.)

Then today (which is the day he said he would pay me back, so maybe he still will) his wife/girlfriend/woman he lives with asks to borrow my blender, saying, "I see you have a blender." (Uh, how does she know this?) and I can't really say no because I'm not using my blender today, and it costs me nothing for her to use my blender.

But I get a weird feeling from these people. If I never see my blender or my money again, that's not a big deal (though I would like them both back). But even if I do, I just don't want them as part of my life, and I feel like for some reason they are trying to push their way in. I know the way to stop it is to say no to everything, but it's not really in me to say no to something when it doesn't hurt me much to give it. So, how do I make it my nature (at least in this instance)?
posted by Airhen to Human Relations (67 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Say no.
posted by jerseygirl at 11:15 AM on January 2, 2007

When she borrowed the blender did you make it clear that you need it back for your regular breakfast smoothy (or other random beverage)? If not, just make it a point to pop over asap and mention that you need it back tomorrow. While you're there, casually ask your neigbor if he's had a chance to get your money.

You could also mention to the wife how happy you were to be able to help them out knowing they were short on money and how nice it was to know they will be paying you back soon. The husband/BF may not have even told the wife about the money...
posted by Octoparrot at 11:16 AM on January 2, 2007

Stop rationalizing why you have to be a kind person. You are under no obligation to give someone your blender, for example, just because you aren't using it. Just mentally substitute the word "vagina" for whatever it is they want and you'll find saying no a lot more palatable.

"Hey, neighbor, can I borrow your vagina? You aren't using it right now!"
posted by MegoSteve at 11:17 AM on January 2, 2007 [16 favorites]

As someone who has had issues with being too passive, one trick I learned was not trying to explain or apologize for not doing what someone wants. For me, doing either of those things made me feel worse and often resulted in me backpedaling into doing whatever had been asked of me. But really, in either of the situations you describe, the folks don't deserve further discussion. Try saying something like, "Oh, I can't loan that out." Then DON'T add "I'm sorry" or "...right now." Just wait with a neutral expression to see if they jump in with anything else. They'll probably be put off and not know how to respond. Take that as your opportunity to say a quick good bye and close the door. No need to be rude, but if you aren't accomodating they won't stick around.
posted by handful of rain at 11:21 AM on January 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

Jesus, you're the magic $20 and blender fairy, it might be just the odd chance, but probably that "some reason" they are trying to push their way in for is because you're a patsy, and they will probably keep hitting you up for favors as long as you keep giving them.

If you're a can't say no person I don't know how you change. I know you are asking the wrong question (is the favor I'm being asked a big deal for me to supply?)

For me it is easy, I ask "do I want to make this person interacting with me a positive experience for them?" and if the answer is no I make it a negative experience for them (this usually involves an uncomfortable moment such as refusing a modest favor for no good god-damned reason). If that reasoning doesn't work for you I don't know what to say.
posted by nanojath at 11:21 AM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yes, you can say no. Seriously, why do you think you can't say no? It's a decision you can make, and you're not the victim of some strange, uncontrollable problem that leaves you unable to utter the word "no".

I'd be worried about strangers immediately asking you for money and appliances within a few weeks of you moving in. They saw you as new, tested you with the $20, and now they're moving in to keep doing this kind of thing. Don't open the door to them anymore. Doesn't it worry you that the lady knew you had a blender? Was she able to see into your apartment? If so, that is dangerous, because they're probably checking out all the neat things they can borrow -- perhaps without your permission -- and you won't make much a fuss about it when you never get your stuff back.

Honestly, you're just protecting yourself by saying no and being firm. It has nothing to do with being nice to strangers. If you're not convinced, go ask some other neighbors what they think about the couple that now has your money and blender.
posted by smashingstars at 11:24 AM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Smells like junkies to me. Maybe upscale ones, that took longer to run outta cash.

Just say No.

The $20 was understandable, but the blender... well, I'd have said "sorry, your boyfriend/husband still owes me $20 and I have a longstanding policy of only one loan at a time."
posted by bashos_frog at 11:27 AM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

As a fairly reliable rule, people whose first interaction with a stranger is to ask them for money or other valuables are not decent people. The fact that these people apparently has no actual friends or even family who will lend them money or small appliances is a HUGE warning sign.

Any stranger who imposes upon you with these sorts of requests is, by definition, treating you like a sucker and views you as an idiot. What they are really saying is, "Hey, I think you look really, really stupid, and you don't deserve what prosperity you have. Give some money to me in exchange for this insult I am dealing you." The insulting nature of such a request is only compounded if the asker bothers to present some tale of woe to justify the imposition.

(Of course this rule does not apply to actual organized charity solicitations.)

Keep the above thought foremost in your mind in your future dealings with these and other panhandlers, and hopefully the perspective will add some steel to your spine.

Also, go NOW and get your blender back. If you are refused, find a large friend or two and return with them to ask again. That will be the surest way to prevent being hassled for future "loans" by these miscreants.

On preview, I have to vehemently disagree with the idea that "borrowing" any amount of money from a stranger/new neighbor is "understandable." If you haven't (ferinstance)been invited into their house, and don't know anything about them, then it's absurdly presumptious to ask for a loan.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 11:34 AM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

There was a review on Bitch, Ph.D. a bit ago on The Book of No, in which the author actually was in the comments section of the post and answered people's questions about how to say no in various situations. The entry and comments might be a helpful read.
posted by occhiblu at 11:40 AM on January 2, 2007

Also... If there's any possible way they can see into your apartment, end it. Be it a window through a shared balcony or whatever. Blinds and curtains are your friends. If you can install a peephole, do so.
posted by jerseygirl at 11:41 AM on January 2, 2007

If they say it's foolish to lend money to friends, then why on earth would you lend it to strangers.

No really, that should be your answer if this ever comes up again.
posted by furtive at 11:41 AM on January 2, 2007

Smells like junkies to me. Maybe upscale ones, that took longer to run outta cash.

Oh, I don't have any reason to believe they are upscale, if they are junkies, which may be the case.

As for her seeing in, this took place on the first floor (not the floor I live on), so she couldn't have been seeing in. Good advice all. If you have more, keep it coming.
posted by Airhen at 11:44 AM on January 2, 2007

It seems from your question as if the boyfriend saw the blender and then the girlfriend came and asked for it, which suggests that at the very least they were casually talking about the stuff the bf saw in your apartment. If that's true, you might want to think about security a bit more. I don't really invite anyone I don't already know fairly well into my apartment, in part because I value my privacy, and in part because I don't want people to case the place at my invitation.
posted by OmieWise at 11:48 AM on January 2, 2007

Hmm. Let me expresse a contrarian view to what's been stated so far.

You leant someone twenty dollars and a blender. So what? They give it back, and all will be dandy. They don't, then they've squandered your trust.

I would make a point of asking them how they knew about your blender, though. Casually. I would consider it impolite and a little creepy to peer through a neighbour's window and mentally index their kitchen appliances.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:49 AM on January 2, 2007

The way I see it is that you're going to have to say no eventually (they've already hit you up for a $20 loan and the loan of a blender, so they're more then likely going to ask you for more 'loans') so why not say no now and save yourself a load of time and trouble. It can be very hard saying no, and it's something that I had to learn, but actually saying no is empowering.
posted by ob at 11:50 AM on January 2, 2007

I wonder if your neighbor's worst New Year's Ever was caused by a broken blender. Maybe he borrowed the $20 from you to buy a new one, and when that one broke, he dispatched his woman to borrow your blender instead of returning the newly broken one.
posted by phatkitten at 11:53 AM on January 2, 2007

you leant someone twenty dollars and a blender. So what?

If the poster wants to have no relationship with these people, which is indicated by "I just don't want them as part of my life", then lending them stuff is counterindicated. 1. The poster will have to interact to get her blender back, 2. They'll continue to drop by to borrow stuff. Airhen - just say no.
posted by muddgirl at 11:53 AM on January 2, 2007

I understand where you're coming from; I probably would have done the exact same thing. That said, if they should come back today with 20$ and the blender, well. Maybe they just had a rough few days. But until that happens and unless it happens in a timely manner, even the meekest push over would be able to rationalize never loaning something to these two again. You gave them a chance and they took advantage of you.
posted by GilloD at 11:57 AM on January 2, 2007

You give them things because you are a good person, but they think you are funny and pathetic. Not only are they getting things out of you, they are also laughing at you.

Remember this the next time they ask for something.
posted by oflinkey at 11:57 AM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

My thinking is that if people think that there's a good chance that you'll say no, they're less likely to ask for frivolous or outrageous 'favors'. Therefore by saying no, if they're trying to take advantage of you, they'll more that likely stop doing so. If they genuinely need something they still might ask for it, but in the future they might explain why they need something so badly.
posted by ob at 11:59 AM on January 2, 2007

If he doesn't in fact pay you back the $20 today as he said he would, there's your excuse to say no every time (not that you need one). Also, if you're annoying, even politely annoying, about the return of the blender, that might discourage them from asking again.
posted by lampoil at 12:04 PM on January 2, 2007

So two times now you may have been a patsy. Well, there's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says: "Fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again." Yeah, I heard that somewhere... anyhow, moral of the story? Just say no.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:11 PM on January 2, 2007

It seems a bit odd to ask someone whom you barely know if you can borrow $20. From that alone it would seem like these people are trying to take advantage of you, so that in itself would make me feel uneasy. Then asking to borrow a blender a couple of days later is pretty cheeky, seeing as the original loan hasn't been paid back. If the woman knows about the loan then it's even more likely that they're trying to play you, if she doesn't then I guess she gets the benefit of the doubt although the way she phrased it sounds fishy to me.
posted by ob at 12:12 PM on January 2, 2007

I smell 'junkies,' too. In this case, 'rational fear' might be the way to go about encouraging spinal growth.

Even if they're not junkies -- I've had neighbours a bit like this, and if you don't say no, firmly, quickly, it tends to end up a big problem. Say no!

And, go over and ask for your blender back, now. You don't really need to have any reason for needing it back, but feel free to claim to be in the middle of a recipe. That might make it easier if there's some hesitation about handing it over -- but the berries are thawing now, etc.

If I borrowed a kitchen appliance from a neighbour, I'd return it the moment I was finished with using it for the one thing I'd borrowed it for. Within the hour. That they didn't is a bit weird. It'd also be from a neighbour I was reasonably well-acquainted with, and... Yeah, that whole thing is weird.

The money's a lot weird.

Again: possible junkies. The $20 thing isn't much different from panhandling. You might even think about mentioning your brother, the cop, being the one coming over for smoothies. Or -- where's your boyfriend? Can he be pressed into service, perhaps to go after the $20? Those sorts of neighbours tend to scurry away from 'mean' boyfriends, I find.
posted by kmennie at 12:21 PM on January 2, 2007

Just for reference, $20 is way above the generally-accepted bummable amount of money, even among aquaintances. I'd maybe loan that to a good friend, and accept that I might not see it again, but I'd never ever "loan" more than a couple bucks to strangers, co-workers, etc. You totally got ripped off. Get angry, and don't let it happen again.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:23 PM on January 2, 2007

The want does not give them the right.

Say "NO" the next time they ask. You should hope you never get the $20 back. If they give it back and ask for a loan again and you say "no", they will ask, "why, I paid you back last time?" Your response at that point should be, "I am not a fucking bank."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:25 PM on January 2, 2007

I think it's fine to start with an "I'm sorry," as long as the next words out of your mouth are ". . . but I just can't." Then do not feel the need to explain any further. An "I can't" is the response that there is no polite response to, and if the would-be borrower would presume to actually ask you for your reasons---well, then, that person has forfeited all privileges appertaining to membership in the human race. Kidding. But only slightly.

Just remember these words: "I'm sorry, but I just can't." If pressed, then change the subject. I believe this advice comes from Miss Manners, who can be remarkably levelheaded and helpful on problems of everyday social interactions.

Oh, and go get your $20 and blender back! Just make sure you run that blender in your dishwasher on the "Xtreme Sanitize" cycle before using it again.
posted by chinston at 12:29 PM on January 2, 2007

I'm with octoparrot. When people ask to borrow stuff, set a time to get it back and stick to it: "sure, you can borrow my blender. When will you be done with it?...okay, so I'll stop by tomorrow afternoon to pick it up." Or, if the borrower-imposed deadline seems unwise: "okay, but I'll need it back in the morning. What time should I stop by this evening to get it?"

There's nothing wrong with lending things to neighbors, but I agree that if this behavior is common for them, your neighbors sound kind of shady. Don't feel bad about not lending stuff to them in the future.
posted by AV at 12:30 PM on January 2, 2007

If you prefer subterfuge to confrontation, try asking them for some "loans."

They'll likely say "no" - in which case, the lack of reciprocity is "out in the open" in your relationship with these people (they know that you know, and they know that you know that they know) and will serve as an obstacle to future requests from them.

If they do happen to say yes, you can delay paying back the "loan" until the blender comes home.

I had a "friend" who would "borrow" DVD's like this (it was like pulling teeth to get them back), until I asked for one of his - rather than lend out any of his property, he returned mine (essentially on the spot) and has not only not borrowed from me, he has not spoken to me since.

Some people only define your worth by what they can soak you for. Call them what they are: parasites.
posted by Crosius at 12:30 PM on January 2, 2007

I can't believe everyone is being so negative and suspicious! We haven't even learned whether the guy really will pay the debt, because today's not even over!

In a building of young professionals, $20 would not be seen as a lot of money. With no explanation offered, we don't know what he needed it for or why he didn't happen to have $20 on hand.

As for the blender, this seems like the most common urban situation imaginable. In a relatively easygoing environment, you should be able to borrow a cup of sugar, use someone's blender, ask if someone will be around to sign for your package tomorrow, etc. You should at least be able to ASK. These people don't know you, but often this is how people wind up getting to know each other. Rather than just shove your blender out into the hallway, you missed an opportunity to ask the lady in for a cup of coffee, talk for 15 minutes, and actually decide whether you think she is bood/bad/trustworthy or not. It might save you a lot of time speculating whether people are digging through your garbage or smoking crack next door or stealing your wireless internet. Did you get a weird feeling from these people because they were weird, or because you were miffed that you didn't say no? Just because you feel taken advantage of doesn't mean they did anything wrong.

Yes, you should get better at saying no in situations where you feel you're being taken advantage of. And sure, you should be careful about boundaries when it comes to neighbors, and set precedents you can live comfortably with. But this is going to be a lot easier if you remember that even though living in close quarters means taking the bad with the good, there is good there if you look for it or actually give it room to show itself.

You may not like this advice, but one day when you are locked out or can't find a pair of needle-nosed pliers or something, you'll feel better knowing someone on your floor may be able to help you out.
posted by hermitosis at 12:31 PM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

"bood" is the new "good".
posted by hermitosis at 12:34 PM on January 2, 2007

Airhen - All the fine folks who beat me to this thread have given you all the advice you'll need. From the sound of your post, you already know that these folks are merrily using you. And why you? Because they've run out of folks that they actually know to bleed.

I used to be a pushover myself, letting people live with me rent free because they knew I wouldn't just kick them out over some petty thing like the constant consumption of resources with no compensation ever. In the end, what it took to stand up for myself was a massive backlog of anger and frustration.

So the advice in this thread is right on. Delay not a moment longer in reclaiming your blender. The longer it sits in their kitchen - either unused or unwashed, I'd wager - the longer your neighbors will consider it "theirs" - bat away all excuses. If it's dirty, then you'll wash it yourself. If they still need it, then you need it more - if you insist on being polite, then politely share with them where you purchased yours.

The twenty dollars is likely gone for good. Without having ever met these people, I can say with confidence that three quarters of all their stories are about how the whole world is against them and life is especially unfair to their poor souls. These folks are a dime a dozen, and you'll encounter many more in your time. Folks like this make all type of promises, because they can do so for free. They latch onto better people than themselves, and drain them until their victims get sick of their shit and boot them out. Then they move on, with one more story about how people are "not fair."

But if there's one matter on which most vampire lore agrees, it is that the victim must first invite the bloodsucker in.
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:35 PM on January 2, 2007

We once moved in to a new place, and the neighbor started asking to borrow things. First it was the vacuum. Then he needed $5. Then he needed to come over and use our washer and dryer because his broke. The he needed a ride to work. Then his friend had an emergency with his baby and needed money and could my husband give him a ride somewhere in the middle of the night. Well, those "emergencies" happened a few times, and started to seem an awful lot like drug deals. But we were already so involved with this neighbor that a sudden withdrawal would have led to bad blood. Lucky for us, he went to jail soon after that. Of course, he wrote us letters from jail, demanding to know why we never wrote him back.

Not all situations will end up like this. But if you get a bad vibe from a neighbor, put an end to this kind of thing as soon as possible.
posted by gokart4xmas at 12:42 PM on January 2, 2007

about her somehow knowing you had a movied in a month ago, is it possible they saw you carrying it into your apt?
posted by freudianslipper at 12:46 PM on January 2, 2007

M.C. Lo-Carb! writes "Just for reference, $20 is way above the generally-accepted bummable amount of money, even among aquaintances."

Twenties are what ATMs give out, so to me it's the standard denomination for lending; smaller denomination you're less likely to have, necessitating breaking a $20.
posted by orthogonality at 12:56 PM on January 2, 2007

Yeah, as someone who grew up in Baltimore, the absolute first thing that pops into my head is junkie.

The best way to deal with these people is to be blunt and forceful. Say no and don't hesitate. Even if they're not junkies, it sounds like they're trying to take advantage of your kindness. Give 'em hell. Seriously.
posted by dhammond at 1:04 PM on January 2, 2007

Why are you dumb for lending a neighbor $20 and a blender? Unless your boyfriend and friends have a good reason for saying that, they're just wrong. You did something to help someone else out - which I don't think is per se dumb.

If they don't give you back the $20 and the blender, then fine, you'll know to steer clear, and you'll definitely know to say no if they ask for anything else. Just because you lent them $20 and a blender doesn't mean you're obligated to lend/give anything else, whether they return the money and blender or not -- you can always just politely say no and still remain personable.

I have no problem with saying "No, I'm sorry, I can't {lend you money, a blender, whatever}" with no additional explanation -- yeah, you don't need to apologize for saying no, but I don't think it matters if you do.

I do think it's weird that she said "I see you have a blender", if you can't think of when she would have seen that, but maybe she saw it when you were moving in, or her boyfriend saw it, or whatever.

Did you think they were sketchy on your own, or because your boyfriend and friends said you shouldn't have lent them those things?

If you think they are sketch, then respect that feeling - at all times, period. I'm not saying to be paranoid, but observe general good personal safety practices - don't let them in your apartment, don't give them too many details, etc - you can be polite and personable while still maintaining some distance.
posted by KAS at 1:05 PM on January 2, 2007

I used to live in Baltimore city. These people are trying to figure out how easy of a mark you are and if you don't put a stop to it right now it will escalate and get worse. Seriously. There is a mindset which believes that you're the gentrifying yuppie: not quite human and obviously rich, so ripping you off is totally fair. I ran into it in Baltimore and in the east village, long ago; there are neighborhoods where trying it on is just de rigueur. You'll probably never see either the $20 or the blender again.

The next time they ask for something - and they will - say NO. Firmly. Smile. Say, gee, sorry, I can't and then walk away. Also, make sure you have good locks and listen to everyone who's saying bring a big "boyfriend" around a few times. I'm not kidding - and keep in mind that you particularly will want to be careful when you move out; that's when I got ripped off the most. I used to respond to the loan requests with lengthy poverty sob stories of my own and that worked fairly well but then I also wasn't exaggerating much, which helped.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:12 PM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

An upstairs neighbor asked to borrow my vacuum once, after hearing me use it. I figured "What the hell could he possibly do to it? He lives upstairs! He'll see me all the time! He wouldn't destroy it."

Long story short....he returned it full of wet glass, plaster and nails (this was a household vac, not a shopvac), and it was, unbelievably, destroyed. He met queries as to why with a vacant stare and "Oh, really? Wow, I didn't know I couldn't use a regular vacuum for that."

I'm a longtime city dweller, and I understand the value of a neighbor-in-need to sign for a package or whatnot, but I agree with whatever %-age of this thread who said to just say no. Better to nip it in the bud before it costs you more than $20+whatever a blender goes for these days.
posted by nevercalm at 1:17 PM on January 2, 2007

Oh, and go get your $20 and blender back! Just make sure you run that blender in your dishwasher on the "Xtreme Sanitize" cycle before using it again.

No dishwasher, though I appreciate the point.

you missed an opportunity to ask the lady in for a cup of coffee, talk for 15 minutes, and actually decide whether you think she is bood/bad/trustworthy or not.

I really appreciate this sentiment as a human being, but I am not asking people into my home before I know whether they're trustworthy, especially not in this town. I get a weird feeling from them because over the years of living in this city my "weird feeling" meter has been fine tuned.

is it possible they saw you carrying it into your apt?

Yes, which is why I'm only like 50 percent freaked out about that part. Also, I thought she could have just been assuming I had one since it's common.
posted by Airhen at 2:17 PM on January 2, 2007

Who the heck randomly asks to borrow a blender? Uh, shady people who are assessing your status as 'easy mark', that's who.

but it's not really in me to say no to something when it doesn't hurt me much to give it. So, how do I make it my nature (at least in this instance)?

You can't make yourself change if you don't want to. But you do have to decide what is more important -- risking robbery or worse, or risking strangers thinking that you're standoffish. I find it surprising that you get a bad vibe from these people yet fall back on it not being 'in your nature' to say no -- your nature is telling you to say no, isn't it?

And maybe look into doing some volunteer work. Go work at a soup kitchen or tutor kids after school -- there are plenty of people who will be legitimately grateful for you and your big heart.
posted by desuetude at 2:22 PM on January 2, 2007

But I get a weird feeling from these people. If I never see my blender or my money again, that's not a big deal (though I would like them both back). But even if I do, I just don't want them as part of my life, and I feel like for some reason they are trying to push their way in. I know the way to stop it is to say no to everything, but it's not really in me to say no to something when it doesn't hurt me much to give it. So, how do I make it my nature (at least in this instance)?
Listen to that weird feeling. That's your lizard brain telling you that someone's taking advantage advantage of you, crowding in on you, trying to see what he or she can get away with. You're right. They are trying to push their way in. So say no.

I'm afraid you're going to have to get used to saying no, to doing things that might strike you as a little rude. Urban America is filled with assholes who try to get over on you, who might read your civility, open-ness and friendliness as gullibility and weakness. You can make it part of your nature the same way you made walking and talking or any other behavior part of your nature: practice.
posted by jason's_planet at 2:26 PM on January 2, 2007

In a building of young professionals, $20 would not be seen as a lot of money. ...

... one day when you are locked out or can't find a pair of needle-nosed pliers or something, you'll feel better knowing someone on your floor may be able to help you out.

Hermitosis misses the point. You wouldn't need to have lent somebody $20 to be able to ask for needle-nose pliers.

$20 is a lot of money to bum off of somebody you don't know. For the neighbors to even ask to borrow $20 shows they don't understand boundaries, that they are desperate in ways that young professionals never are (how many "young professionals" do you know who don't have a circle of good friends that they could ask for $20 from?), and these are all warning signs of people who will take advantage of the poster.

I've got neighbors and colleagues whom I see every day, very nice people that I get along with famously, but I would never ask them for $20, unless it was a massive health emergency ... and I damned sure would tell them why I needed it --- I wouldn't go up to a stranger and ask them for the money, explaining vaguely that it's the "worst new year ever." That sounds like something a twelve-year old would say.
posted by jayder at 3:08 PM on January 2, 2007

I just want to jump in and second M.C. Lo-Carb!, $20 is a crack-head loan, way above and beyond the reasonable expectations of any normal person. Next time they ask for something, laugh in their face an' tell 'em "Hell naw."

Just remember, if you hit 'em, you shouldn't expect your money (blender) back, unless you can take it from their pockets yourself.
posted by BeerFilter at 3:21 PM on January 2, 2007

This doesn't really help in the grow-a-spine department, but I think you make want to consider the $20 and blender as lost causes (especially after reading nevercalm's story about the vacuum cleaner - they may have done something awful to your blender). It's easy to think "they're neighbours, I'll see them, they'll have to return this stuff", but the reality is that they will probably avoid you at all costs unless they want something, at which point you won't be able to get rid of them.

To actually help with the grow-a-spine stuff, I would follow the Miss Manners approach; however I would generally try to avoid them at all costs. Perhaps this is growing a small spine, but things happen in baby steps. I know I really want to think the best of people and it's hard sometimes to be wary. Even if someone appears sketchy, they may have a legitimate need and it's good karma if nothing else to help others in need.

I've been through a similar situation, and it was a real eye-opener for me. I really want to think the best of people, but some people really do just take advantage of others for their own gain. It really bummed me out, and made me wonder about my choice in home location (we had just moved in too), my bullshit meter and worst of all, my faith in humanity.

Also, even though $20 is what ATMs spit out, I think that is a lot of money to ask for from someone you don't really know at all. I know I would never ask someone I barely knew for that much money, but I suppose it depends on the situation I was in, although I would most certainly explain myself and why I needed it. See, there's that faith in humanity again! He probably planned to hit up multiple people for small amounts, and was thrilled when you saved him a few steps.
posted by melissa at 3:26 PM on January 2, 2007

I get the sense, for some reason, that there also might be some white guilt involved - you're white and these two are black, maybe? This can really affect how we (whiteys) relate to others of different colors because we so often have that kind of overcompensatory "I better be extra nice so I don't look like a racist" thing happening.

I could be entirely wrong, of course, but that was my impression. If this is the case, that a bit of white guilt has got you, then it really is a matter of letting your gut - which is telling you these people are sketch, no matter what color they are - lead you in the right direction. Follow it.
posted by tristeza at 3:35 PM on January 2, 2007

"I see you have a blender." (Uh, how does she know this?) and I can't really say no because I'm not using my blender today

Sure, you can! Even better, you could have asked her how she knew that. Someone on the up and up will be ready with a quick and sensible explanation. If these people are scammers, it should be pretty easy to suss out. Ask questions and wait for them to give lame half-answers.
posted by dhammond at 3:52 PM on January 2, 2007

Exactly what I was going to say, dhammond. If someone came to my door and said, "I see you have a blender," I'd say, actually, no I don't. Then if they wanted to call me a liar, they'd have to explain how they knew I had one. If she said she saw you carrying it in, you could either say, "oh that was my mom's and I gave it back to her," or else you could just be firm and say sorry, I don't loan out appliances. A blender is cheap - it's not hard to afford one for yourself... but I wouldn't loan out my toothbrush, and I won't lend things I use to make my food, at least not to people I don't know.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:43 PM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, as someone who grew up in Baltimore, the absolute first thing that pops into my head is junkie.

Possibly, but I've never known any junkies who had the need of a blender because they just happen to have the makings of a smoothy or a cocktail ready to go and theirs is on the fritz.

Of course, if the next time you see your blender is in the local pawn shop window, all bets are off.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:17 PM on January 2, 2007

I get the sense, for some reason, that there also might be some white guilt involved - you're white and these two are black, maybe?

That's not the racial makeup, but, yeah, there's the I-have-a-steady-paycheck-and-not-everyone-does guilt.

If anyone wanted to know the longish end (at least for now) of the story:

Taking the advice to not let them think I wouldn't come asking, I went over there with my boyfriend (so I had someone there to make me not wuss out and also to show that I had other people around), and I asked for my blender and my boyfriend asked for the money. He looked surprised to see me at his door when he opened it. I got the blender, but the guy kept saying he didn't have the money because "the banks are closed and it's a holiday" (not true). Then there was lots of back-pedaling. I was surprised at how just being a little firm had him scrambling. His story Sunday was that he needed to cash a check to pay me back, which set my bull shit meter off already.

Although I'm willing to believe that someone might have thought that because the financial markets are closed today that the banks were also closed, I find it hard to believe that someone desperate enough to ask a neighbor for money wouldn't at least try to to go to a bank instead of assuming they were all closed.

Thanks to all -- your insights/ideas/experiences got me riled up enough to show my stern side.
posted by Airhen at 5:39 PM on January 2, 2007

Airhen, you need to practice. Decide to make cream of spinach soup. Or strawberry margaritas, whatever. You need your blender. Go to the neighbor and say "Hi, I need my blender." Don't explain why. You have a perfectly good reason, but you don't need to explain wanting your own stuff. They'll likely give you the blender. Yay!!

Now, you just say, I could really use that $20. Again, no explanation, and No Apology. Just politely ask for it. You may or may not get it. ever.

Practice allowing the salesclerk to get that top in another size (well, if you find a salesclerk who will offer, it'll be amazing, but that's the ides). Don't be rude and inconvenience people just to practice, but practice asking for what you want calmly and cheerfully. When you have opportunities to practice saying no, give it a try.
posted by theora55 at 5:40 PM on January 2, 2007

I don't agree with hermitosis. I believe they are con-artists at least and quite possibly criminals.

I'm a regular guy. If I *had* to borrow $20 from a stranger, I'd do it, but I'd be embarrassed -- I'd be back the next morning to repay it.

I certainly wouldn't borrow ANOTHER item -- I'd never even think of asking until I got the first item back.

And it's not like they forgot about you. In fact, they were clearly discussing you. The fact that the *male* partner remembered that you had a blender is singularly disturbing. It makes me think he was casing the joint, how often do guys notice kitchen tools?

The "this is my worst [...]" is a classic con line too.

They have given you every reason to distrust them. Honest people bend over backwards to give people every reason to trust them.

Go over, get back your blender (which I predict you will get) and your $20 (which is probably gone forever) and then take the opportunity validate that your house is reasonably theft-proof (ideally, get a good, skeptical friend to help you).

In fact, if you have a big friend, I'd bring him (in practice it must be a "him") over when you do so. Just to let them know you have a big friend.

It's not like I'm some sort of hard-hearted bastard -- in fact, my neighbor is in to me for quite a bit of bread right now :-) though he's not a rip-off artist. But this story has all the marks of a criminal activity.

It's up to them to prove that they are honest. They haven't done so. In fact, you have a weird feeling. Trust these feelings, they are almost always right.

They are almost certainly dishonest and since they have been successful with you up until now they are going to keep escalating. Put an end to it now!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:40 PM on January 2, 2007

Eh, I don't think there's anything wrong with what you've done. I can't speak to whatever unnameable quality is raising your hackles, but generally speaking, it's nice to treat people as equals unless you have a reason not to, and not assume the worst unless you have a reason to.

I think there's lots of overthinking going on in this thread -- she could've said "I see you have a blender" because she is socially awkward and she chose the wrong words when she spoke to you. I've said totally stupid shit to people just from feeling anxious. And since when does asking to borrow 20 bucks mean a person is a junkie?! Holy crow. Does anyone else find that conclusion a little extreme?

Be wise, listen to your instincts, and don't give yourself over unquestioningly; but don't close yourself off to people so much that you begin to make wild assumptions about their motives or character.
posted by loiseau at 5:51 PM on January 2, 2007

Another vote is cast for one loan at a time. I loan money to friends all the time (as in like, $300+ or whatnot) and they know well the one at a time rule. No peeps even chirped at the thought of asking to borrow more.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 5:54 PM on January 2, 2007

loiseau, where I'm from, strangers asking for $20 most assuredly means they're junkies/crackheads/methheads. I mean, you can make up any kind of story. If it's one of the colder days of the year, it's good to say you need it to turn the heat on for the kids at home, and follow it with a good, strong prayer-blessing to whatever deity you think your mark follows. Just saying. I've been "beat in the head" (a figure of speech for getting taken by con artists) enough times. Trust me. This situation, as described, is ill.
posted by BeerFilter at 6:41 PM on January 2, 2007

I have the same "nice" problem as you - if someone asks, I'll help them out if it's easy for me.

On the other hand, I'd be hoping they kept the $20, so that when they asked for anything else, I could reply "What? You still owe me twenty bucks, chump." Or even if they paid it back, "Again? What am I, a rent-a-center? Am I going to have to come looking for it again like the blender, or will you bring it back right away?"

I find with the only-half-joking remarks like that, they don't ask again. YMMV. Maybe I'm too passive-agressive.
posted by ctmf at 6:46 PM on January 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's the quantity of money that makes it suspicious. $20 is just too much to ask for from a stranger.

Let's put it another way: would even one poster on this thread ever offer to borrow $20 from a total stranger *without explaining in detail exactly why such a large loan was required?*

And then the request for the blender, WITHOUT the $20 being returned, is the clincher.

Only, pardon me, a sucker would EVER say yes to this request. "One loan at a time". The fact they even think to ask indicates that they think the poster is a sucker. (Don't worry -- I've been a sucker for significant amounts before. Profit by my mistakes!)

Would anyone reading this post behave that way under any honest circumstances?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:48 PM on January 2, 2007

Which is not to say that they are out-and-out criminals!

Most likely just common mooches who'll borrow all your stuff and never return it -- but still well worth avoiding and making sure they're never left alone in your house.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:51 PM on January 2, 2007

Some of the comments here are overly harsh in their tone and the judgements they are putting on the neighbors. That said, the harsh people are giving the good advice.

Congratulations on getting your blender back.

"...I just don't want them as part of my life, and I feel like for some reason they are trying to push their way in."

This is the most important part of your post. I'm not the kind of person to think that your intuition is always right and you must trust it in all situations, but listening to it is important. It's a good idea to follow your gut feelings and then afterwards review the situation and see if your instincts were appropriate.

It can be difficult to separate warnings from your gut from your other feelings. Up thread BigLankyBastard wrote that what they are saying is, "Give some money to me in exchange for this insult I am dealing you.". I generally don't like translating what someone says into 'what they really meant'. But it might be useful to think of your interaction with them as they're allowing you to loan them stuff, hopefully indefinitely, in exchange for you not having to experience various feelings: guilt at possibly being uncaring at someone else's need, unease at being viewed as stand offish to neighbors, uncomfortable saying 'no', or the like. You can feel those feelings and still maintain your boundaries. The uncomfortable feelings will eventually pass and after you review and agree or disagree with your decision your feelings will change or not. Be willing to act against these feelings that accompany the notion that you are supposed to be accomodating in this particular instance. If you haven't yet read Gavin DeBecker's The Gift of Fear, check it out.

I'm not like Nanojath, I generally want to make every experience with someone else a positive experience for them. I suspect that you are the same way. If so then make an addition to that sentence, "a positive experience for them, as long as it is possible to do so after taking everything into consideration". Pushovers don't take themselves into consideration or at least don't put a high enough value on their security, privacy and belongings.

You are not wildly out of line making the $20 loan. Yes, it's too much and you are better off saying no, still it's your neighbor and I understand erring on the side of friendliness. The request for the blender though is way too much. Even if you had turned it down it should be enough to completely distance yourself and to refuse any entanglements with them. It is enough to consider them hostile.
posted by BigSky at 7:54 PM on January 2, 2007

Aha, I didn't see that the blender came back! Very much like what I expected really. Congrats on handling a delicate situation very well!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:15 PM on January 2, 2007

The blender didn't come back - she rescued it before it could be pawned.
posted by bashos_frog at 9:16 PM on January 2, 2007

Airhen - Well done! I'm quite pleased to learn that you retrieved your blender! ctmf's idea regarding your $20 is a good one. Having a hedge against further loans will be to your benefit.

And since I've already fallen on the "doubt-your-fellow-man" side of this debate, the final step is to double-check all your theft protection. Good locks on the doors? The windows? Maybe even a safe? You're good to go!

Again, well done! Assertiveness is one the toughest things for a person to develop. You've made some real progress today!
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:24 AM on January 3, 2007

(airhen - some banks may have been closed on Jan 2, since it was a Federal Day of Rememberance for President Ford. Bank of America was open but smaller banks closed due to the Fed closure).
posted by muddgirl at 8:06 AM on January 3, 2007

You did the right thing Airhen! Not only got the blender back, but you showed them you aren't the pushover they might have thought you to be.

This reminds me of in college people used to ask to borrow my car all the time. Like you, I felt bad for people who weren't as "fortunate" as me or whatever, so I let them. Until one of them got into an accident with it and never paid off the $300 insurance deductible it cost to get it repaired. I didn't fault her, she wasn't a bad person, and the accident could have just as easily happened to me. But it still sucked and almost damaged our friendship.

After that, my parents gave me the best excuse ever- I was not allowed to loan my car out. So anytime someone asked after that, it was easy to say "I'm not allowed to." It was amazing too how people totally accepted that and almost never asked for an explanation.

Of course you're on your own and may have to invent some excuse as to why you're not "allowed" to, but the point is having a set excuse ahead of time really helped me say no and not feel bad about it. Maybe yours could be "I've made a New Years resolution not to loan things out" or something. Anything will do.

Anyway sounds like you've already solved the problem and are growing that spine, but you never know when you might encounter a similar situation in the future. :)

Another thing to help you steel your resolve is when someone asks you for something try to imagine if you would ever ask for such a thing in their position. Even if you were having the worst New Year's ever and needed $20 for god knows what, would you ever ask your new neighbor for that? Totally ridiculous!! :)
posted by thejrae at 4:45 PM on January 3, 2007

Next time they ask to borrow something (cash, blender, vacuum etc.), just be polite and say NO. You don't want to make the situation any worse than it could (possibly) get. The more you let these little things pass, the more they will realize that they can take advantage of you.
posted by Master Baiter at 7:49 PM on January 3, 2007

it's not really in me to say no to something when it doesn't hurt me much to give it. So, how do I make it my nature

This is a fair place to start, wouldn't you say? If these two people ask for anything else you have plenty of reason to say no (especially if they don't return what they borrowed), but remember that you are not obligated to provide a reason. In fact, offering explanations, especially to people who have taken advantage and know it, leaves you in a weakened state, subject to discussion, cajoling and argument.

More generally, your question recognizes that your upbringing or nature has its deficiencies. Don't stop being a mensch and don't stop helping people when you want to, but allow yourself to become more comfortable with asserting your perogative, be it negative, affirmative or indifferent.

How? Like everyting else, do it by starting to do it.
posted by skywhite at 9:37 AM on January 4, 2007

I know this is long after the main thread finished, but:

You don't need to make any excuses.

I live in DC and once got taken by some guy living in the construction site next door (said he was "taking care of it" or some crap) and asked me for a $20 loan. Then he asked me for another $20, and then another, finally I wised up and stopped giving him any money, even after he got fairly desperate. He started pulling the "Come on, man, I just got out of the joint" card.

In retrospect, I was being incredibly stupid. But it was my first apartment and I was a senior in college and didn't really know any better. That $60 could've gone to a night of fun at bars, but instead I consider $60 well spent on an effective education in urban con artists. It's regrettably made me rather callous to strangers asking for favors or money (especially on the street), but so it goes.
posted by kdar at 1:39 PM on January 18, 2007

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