Monday, June 9, 2014


Ask a Fancy Person: Entry-Level Expensive, Unwanted Guests and the Gratefulness Feedback Loop

IM SO FANCYAsk a Fancy Person is the Hairpin’s latest advice column, in which Kirsten Schofield takes your questions about deluxe behavior.

Dear Fancy,

I live in San Francisco with my boyfriend. We have an apartment with 2 bedrooms. As we all know, San Francisco is a fun place to visit and the hotels are so expensive, so friends, acquaintances, and relatives are constantly asking to stay with me. They frequently say things like, "Since we are friends and you have the space anyway….” or "You let me stay once before, why can't I stay this time?"

It is hard to turn down people you love asking to stay over or people saying they don't have the money or a friend who offered to pay me $75 a week while she rents out her own apartment room for much more! I know I can just say no to any of them and don't need a reason. Butttttttt I'm often worried about offending them, or it just doesn't seem worth the strain on the friendship, or I guess I should always let my cousins stay because they are related?

Overbooked on the Bay


Dear OOTB,

Isn't living somewhere nice kind of the worst? I live in a similar Nice Place to Visit with Expensive Hotels, and yeah, it's totally great to have a beach and awesome restaurants and gorgeous architecture, but I had guests every single weekend from the first of January to Easter this year, all of them singing the same song. Don't get me wrong: I love hostessing, but Christ on a cracker, I was beat. People I barely knew came out of the woodwork asking to stay with me for a weekend, and I said yes to some stuff I wasn't altogether comfortable with.

I feel you: it's exhausting to keep your house Company Ready (TM), create itineraries for myriad interests, ages, and budgets, and to never have a minute to go grocery shopping or pick up your dry cleaning. You've got stuff to do, and they're on vacation.

That said, San Francisco is going to keep being a place that people want to visit, so you've gotta either learn your limits and know when to say no or learn how to lie convincingly. Let's start with the moral high ground, shall we? If it's your mom, you have to let her stay with you. She gave birth to you, so shut up and scrub the grout in the bathroom because you KNOW she's going to check. Other family members and friends get preference on a sliding scale based on how closely related they are or how long you've known them, how much you like them generally speaking, and their particular situation (e.g., you can't turn out your friend who is totally broke and came for one night for a job interview). Since family and close friends are more or less required to keep speaking to you, this is a group you can be honest with. "Katie, you know Peter and I would love to have you, but Aunt Carol and Uncle Mike were here last weekend and you KNOW how she is. I'm just exhausted, but I'd love to meet you for the Emperor Norton tour and get ice cream Friday night!”: Hold your ground and don't leave the door open even a smidge. They’ll get over it.

If telling the truth isn't your thing, I've got some convenient white lies for you that are all extremely workable. Remember, for a lie to be convincing, it must be slightly embarrassing for you to tell, it has to be plausible, and it has to be something that makes the hearer of the lie feel a little bad for you. A great example goes something like, "I would love to have you, but they're spraying our building this week for termites, so we're not going to be there ourselves!" If that's too brazen, you can say, "You know we'd love to have you, but Peter's fraternity brothers are coming in on the 3rd and I know it's going to be a massive headache." You're also welcome to tell them that your boyfriend came down with a summer cold and you don't want to expose them to all his phlegm. Again, make sure that you've not left wiggle room for them to exploit. Tent your lie well, let them know about some reasonable place to stay you know about, and offer to meet them out somewhere for a drink or a hike or whatever you feel up for. At the end of the day, if they really want to spend time with you, they're going to make the effort, and if they’re only calling to exploit your cool house, feel free to just magically stop getting their texts.




Dear Fancy,

If someone gives me a thank-you gift, do I write them a note? Do they write me a note for the thank-you note? Where does this end?

Gratefulness Feedback Loop


Dear Loopy,

This is an easy one: the interaction terminates after a thank-you note is written, but not before. If you get a present of any kind for any reason, you should write a thank-you note. After that, you're pretty much finished. Say you help your friend move, and she sends you a massage gift card as a token of her gratitude. You then dash off a quick note, and you're finished. Of course not everybody believes that written thank-you notes are essential, but the Fancy Rule of Thumb is this: if a personal note is arguably required, a personal note is required.

Since I've got you here, I'm also going to address another thank you-related question I got in my mailbag, which is something to the effect of the correctness of an emailed note of thanks and a written one. With my personal commitment to the Fancy Way, I do not advocate emailing your thanks pretty much ever, but I understand that it is a necessity when time is of the essence. If you interviewed for a job, for example, go ahead and send an email; you don't have four or five days to burn hoping the post office gets everything to the right place. But otherwise, default to the written note. People get a charge out of it, and it takes roughly two minutes of your time, inclusive of the minute you spend looking for a stamp. If you're feeling anxious, you could send an email to the effect of, "Sarah, I got the flowers, and they're gorgeous!" and then follow up with a note of thanks later.

When in doubt, write it out.





Dear Fancy,

When I have disposable income, I tend to spend it all on non-material goods (travel, nights out, etc) and I never really take the plunge to buy Nice Things. Partly this is because I usually don’t have an excess of disposable income, partly this is because I am sort of an impatient/infrequent shopper and don't have the patience to figure out which Nice Things will be worth it and partly it is because I rarely think that Nice Things will provide me more life enjoyment than a weekend somewhere fun. But then, on the rare occasions I do buy Nice Things (like Frye boots) I always get briefly very aware that top-quality possessions are actually really fucking delightful and also you don't have to replace them or like, go on business trips with all your stuff in a nylon duffel bag from JV track. For people who want to start getting entry-level Fancy, what are some good places to start? If you had, like, a spare $500 and wanted to treat yourself, what would you buy?


No One's Ever Called Me Fancy In My Life


Dear Fancy in Training,

OMG Frye boots, right? My mom has been wearing hers since the autumn of 1978, and I’ve had the same pair for a decade, and… okay, I’ll stop there, but good choice on that one. Since you’ve knocked out the quality footwear thing, I’ll not harp on that, but I wanted to congratulate you out of the gate; you’re well on the way to being a swell.

I applaud your desire to spend your shekels on experiences rather than material goods and I’d never advise you to buy a white leather moto jacket instead of a taking the money and running away to Asheville for a weekend (they have really nice hiking AND great beer! Spread the word. Not too much. There aren’t lines there and I like that.). I agree that it’s more beneficial in the long run to spend time with people you care about and do neat things than to have lots of scarves. That said, having a couple nice things can really improve your quality of life because the upgrade makes you feel either better about yourself or less anxious or (ideally) both!

The things to consider above all others is cost per use and longevity of your purchase. Yeah, I also love a good, hideously expensive statement necklace, but the thing about statements is you can only make them so many times. I would NEVER call this investing because investments by definition appreciate in value, but this kind of purchasing should be of classic items that stand the test of time.

I’m always somewhat broke as well (the check is coming, Nelnet!), but recently came into the exact amount of money you mention, so I have some good, gender-neutral advice for you, dear heart. In this instance, I turned $500 into luggage. I recommend Hartmann above all others because they have a lifetime guarantee and, anecdotally, a close friend’s mom was gifted a set in 1950 for her high school graduation and it is still functional and attractive. I just picked a color that was on sale and decided that was going to be what I got (it’s really pricey!), but Hartmann and the other great brands have been using the same palettes for decades.

Another investment I can’t recommend enough is quality kitchen knives. My entire kitchen was full of hand-me-downs from deceased relatives and recently divorced friends until recently, and the early-80s Chicago Cutlery block wasn’t, forgive me, cutting it anymore. I bought myself the essential three kitchen basics (a paring knife, a serated blade, and a chef’s knife) from Wusthof at the advice of the knife expert at this nice cooking store here. You use your knives daily, and they make cooking so much easier and more pleasant. You can sharpen them, in some cases, for ten years or more, so your cost per use is in the quarter of a cent range. The best knife companies have more or less one basic design over their hundreds of choices, so you can later buy steak knives or a fish boning knife or a cleaver and it’ll both go with your set and be of a familiar, excellent quality.

The last recommendation I’ll make for today isn’t exactly a single thing but a small lifestyle upgrade that makes a huge difference, and that’s finding a good tailor and cobbler in your town. I know this is totally boring, but hear me out: a good tailor can make a dress from Goodwill look like couture, and will also be able to tell you what’s not salvageable at all. Cobblers are universally cheap, and they can resole your boots, recap heels, shine toe boxes, and stretch out leather that got wet. You drop your stuff off with these people and come back a few days or weeks later and you feel like you have new stuff. Going to the same people over and over again is important, because they’ll learn your style and what matters to you. For the price of a Forever 21 blazer, you can give new life to stuff you really love and stop wasting cash you could be spending on your Oregon Trail-themed road trip.


Kirsten Schofield is an editor living in Charleston, South Carolina. She's taking questions for Ask a Fancy Person here and she can’t believe you wore seersucker before Memorial Day.

27 Comments / Post A Comment


Dang! I wish I had the problem of the first letter writer. I live in a really awesome place but I have friends visit maybe once a year and usually they don't want to do more than a day trip. I WANT PEOPLE TO VISIT ME FOR A WEEKEND SO I CAN SHOW OFF THIS AWESOME PLACE!


is always so perfect. @l

Rookie (not the magazine) (not that there's anything wrong with that)

I love this! Sound advice answering questions that some people actually have = one of the best things about The Hairpin.


first answer makes some of my guilt abide from earlier this year and the third answer makes all the guilt come back because in the rush of moving I gave away a great pair of boots because the heels were all messed up and they were hurting my feet but I should have probably just taken them to the cobbler.

superfluous consonants

re: thank-you notes:

So, soon after I had my son, I lost my job without warning, had to immediately get a new, crappy job (I'm the one who makes the money), and then as soon as possible after that find an actually decent job. All while learning how to keep a tiny proto-person alive and--oh right--prep for an out-of-state move we're making this fall.

Long story short, we're coming up on BabySC's first birthday and there are people who STILL have not received thank-you notes for gifts we received when he was born. It is unconscionable but this year has also been unconscionable.

QUESTION: Do we write notes now? Or just throw ourselves into the sea?

lasso tabasco

@superfluous consonants Write them! I get into this bad loop with returning phone calls and answering emails from friends and family I don't see very often, where I don't do it immediately, and then some time passes, and I feel weird about how long its taken me to get back to them, so I wait longer, etc.etc. cue Avoidance Spiral of Shame.

Lily Rowan

@superfluous consonants Yeah, it is literally never too late to send a thank-you note. Especially since between Those Kids Today not ever sending them, and the fact that people who gave you gifts probably know about the pile of crap in your life, I'm willing to bet not one person has been sitting around waiting for it. So it's just a nice surprise if you do send them, even now!


@superfluous consonants I am laughing SO HARD at "or just throw ourselves into the sea?".
I just yell-read this to my partner in the other room!

Okay, so here is my advice, as someone very into sending thank you notes, but also very familiar with getting into shame at not getting back to people etc.

If it has been "too long", send another note and include a thank you. Like... what is coming up? hmmm... nothing.
Okay just send a thank you. It will be nice!

But for me, what I did was use this past Valentine's Day as a chance to reach out to a bunch of people I felt I should have been in contact with over the past year or so. Sort of like Christmas cards, but a less busy time.
It has had great results. Reconnecting with old friends and stuff.

My big advice: set up a desk, or at least a shelf or box with thank you cards, envelope, your address book (or, old envelopes from mail they sent you), forever stamps, stickers, nice pen...
this way you can dash these things off quickly when needed.


@superfluous consonants

"Dear X,

Thank you for the adorable activity mat, and please accept our apology for taking this long to say so. Timmy really enjoys playing on the mat, and we think of you every time he uses it. During this particularly challenging and hectic year, having such wonderful friends and family has been a stabilizing force for us, and we have felt so grateful to have you even when we have not been able to express it when or how we would have preferred. Thank you again, and we hope you enjoy the picture of Timmy on the mat!

Love, Us

Gef the Talking Mongoose

@bureaucrab : Holy God, that was elegant as -hell-. I'd compare that to some incredible double-fake basketball move if I watched basketball. I mean, after receiving that, I can imagine the recipient apologizing to -you- and sending you a cash-filled birthday card even if it's not your birthday.

Can you just follow me around and apologize for everything I do? I will split my earnings with you.

superfluous consonants

@bureaucrab I'm going to have this stitched onto a throw pillow.


My entry level fancy is this coat! which I had a small heart-attack about buying but intend on looking super cool in for the next 20 years. So maybe outwear if you live in a place where that makes sense?

lasso tabasco

YAYYYYYYYYYYYY Advice columns back at the Hairpin! I love it!


YES! Hairpin advice again! I love the fancy person approach too, very good call, guys.


Hey, @superfluous consonants! I'm Fancy, and I say write em! Now, you can give them updates on how much your baby loves having The Very Hungry Caterpillar read to him or send a pic of him wearing the romper. And @Dizzy, SO agree. I found a Burberry trench at a thrift store for $30 years ago and it has served me faithfully ever since. I anticipate wearing it into my eighties. Thanks for reading! I'm so glad you liked it!


@ennuigo my grandmother is still wearing her Burberry trench at 90 (and so is my grandfather!). So you can up your anticipation by another decade!

Jenny Wells@facebook

Ceramic knives are the way to go -- razor sharp and lightning fast -- Kyocera brand is best and will sharpen for free.

Also -- buy art you like -- not for investment purposes. Go to art shows and coffee shops, and see what there is out there. You'll have it forever and it will enrich your entire life.

Gef the Talking Mongoose

The last recommendation I’ll make for today ... (is) finding a good tailor and cobbler in your town.

I am totally 100% in agreement with this, and would like to amplify an excellent piece of advice :

Tailors : The person who does hems and cuffs at your dry cleaners is probably not the tailor you want. Look for someone with a standalone shop. Better yet, drop by your local Nordstrom or other higher-price-point clothing store and ask for a recommendation.

Cobblers : Look for the guy with the shop full of old scraps and pieces of leather; old-looking machinery in the back room is a plus, as the old machines last forever and do a better job (and a good cobbler knows this).


This relates to both TY notes and buying fancy things: social stationery. Owning a supply of engraved (and yes, they really ought to be engraved) note cards with your monogram is a small luxury that you'll enjoy, as will every recipient of your notes. And frankly, it makes writing thank you notes a treat in and of itself, as you think to yourself, "Well, I may live in a rent-controlled, slum-adjacent apartment and buy all my wine at Trader Joe's, but I also have fancy paper with my initials on it!"

Oh, and make sure the envelopes are lined. Seriously, no skimping.


@ejcsanfran: Similarly, I am SUPER BAD at sending cards to people at important times, but sometimes I invest in a collection of super classy pressed cards from an Etsy vendor: things that just say "YAAAAY" or "You're the Best" or "THANKS" or something massively simple and understated that can be transformed into a most-any-event card. I feel super good about sending them, and I actually 1) send them 2) in a reasonable amount of time because I have them on hand.


LW1, I am not sure of the context of all of these visits, but there are three approaches that can be employed for this situation:

Is the person is in town for the purpose of seeing you, a person they love, and spending a weekend with you? Did they call weeks in advance to get a weekend that specifically works for YOU, with the intenetion of coming to your home and spending time WITH YOU? Do you also want to spend a weekend with this person? This is honestly the only type of visit where it is on you to legitimately host for a weekend and spend time with this person.

Is this person just a basically-a-friend, coming SF for the weekend, on their own schedule, clearly not actually in town to see you? Just say you are busy and it's not gonna work (but maybe if you want to grab a beer at some point...?). DON'T explain why, DON'T lie, just tell the truth: you are busy, it is not going to work (but maybe if you want to grab a beer at some point...?). It doesn't matter if "busy" is you laying in bed reading all weekend, going out to wild parties that you don't want to have to babysit a guest at. Don't tell them what your plan is. Whatever you're doing that weekend, all they need to know is: you will be busy, it isn't going to work (but maybe if you want to grab a beer at some point...?). If they are true cretins and try to push back/impose, then you can just say "hey I gotta run, but call me when you're here if you wanna grab that beer!", or if it's an email conversation, wait 3-4 days, reiterate one more time that it won't work for you but, maybe beer?, then stop responding if they decide to be a dumbass about it.

For cousins and the like, who aren't really around to see you but who you feel a certain amount of responsibility toward, I honestly think it is totally fair to say "I'm not really available that weekend, but I have a spare key if you want to host yourself?" Then tell them where the key is, leave a set of sheets folded on the bed, and behave in a friendly and welcoming manner when you see them, without going out of your way to make any actual preparations. If you want to, definitely do allow them to buy you a beer, dinner, or equivalent at some point. But if you would rather just lay in bed and read all weekend, do that. I have an aunt with a spare room in SF who employs a very similar technique, and I've never felt anything but grateful to her when I show up, get a hug, and she immediately runs out the door to whatever plans she had for the weekend, or we catch up for 20 minutes and then she starts doing chores/research/whatever. It often makes me feel BETTER, knowing that I'm not putting the person out.

People who aren't there to spend time with you, then get miffed that you don't go out of your way for them? They can pretty much just suck it up and/or get a hotel next time. Anyone who tries to be more demanding than you can accommodate will have bought themselves a future of "I'm gonna be busy that weekend, I don't think it's gonna work. But maybe if you want to get a beer at some point...?"


@Bird_: This, exactly. A lot of Fancy's lies/excuses are last-minute. I cn see myself bumbling through, "Oh, you want to crash at my place 7 weeks from now? My boyfriend...is gonna be sick...and have termites...eventually and probably that weekend." I prefer your simpler, less defensive approach.

or Elsa!

LW 1, your friends are being rude to you. Even as someone who rarely hesitates to ask a friend if it's convenient to stay with them because I'm almost always making the trip to see them: we're likely to stay up late on the sofa or the front steps, drinking wine and telling old stories and laughing ourselves sick. Their home, if they're comfortable opening it up to me, seems like the obvious place to do that, and if they do me the honor of letting me stay, I'm going to do everything in my power and budget to make it easy for them: doing small chores while they're on their way home from work, bringing in breakfast or cooking dinner, babysitting, walking the dog, buying groceries and wine and flowers and a little gift, being grateful for a room or a bed or sofa or an air mattress because the company, not the accommodation, is the point of the visit.

And if they say "Nope," I say "Thanks anyway!" and get on with planning the visit; when a friend of mine asks to stay with us, I feel similarly free to say "Sorry, this time doesn't work for us," and anyone who questions that is probably not going to get invited another time.

Even with my oldest, closest friends, I would never couch (ha!) my request as your friends are couching theirs: "you have the space" and "you let me once, why can't I now?" is presumptuous and pushy and putting you on the spot, and you never have to feel guilty for just repeating "That doesn't work for us."

In your shoes, I wouldn't make an excuse; in my experience, people who are willing to presume like that will also think that your excuse is an opening point for negotiating you out of your "no."


On the topic of thank-you notes, maybe Ms. Fancy or other 'Pinners can weigh in: I'm confused about what to do in terms of gifting a close cousin. I was in her wedding several years ago, and gave a gift a few months after the wedding (I just graduated college, was poor, was in her *very* pricey wedding party that involved lots of travel), yet never received a thank you note/text/email/acknowledgement. I've also sent gifts and cards for subsequent birthdays (I live far away) and Christmas, and rarely receive a thank you. I'm thinking of resorting to only giving her new baby gifts instead, because Xmas/her bday is anxiety-inducing. Too Scrooge-esque? :(


I have advice regarding sending thank you notes! There is an app called Touchnote (which is based in the UK but I'm pretty sure you can use it anywhere?) where you can upload a photo, write a note, hit send and it sends a physical postcard to someone.

IT IS THE BEST. And it actually costs about the same or less than buying a physical postcard + a stamp. Personally, I cannot remember the last time I sent an actual thing to an actual person in the mail, because buying stamps and then remembering to put something in the mail is impossible. I know it's not quite as nice as something handwritten, but a physical item with a picture you took is better than an email, right?


yes to #3 and the Kitchen Knives, I am always berating people for having terrible knives ( a sharper knife is not more dangerous people!, it just makes you feel like a super ninja when you cook!)


also #1 lady, if you are already regularily hosting guests, might as well fire up Air B&B,people who don't know you are not going to expect you to spend time with them in the same way, you could make some extra money if you wanted, but also have an excuse "sorry aunt Bertha, I have a paying guest that weekend. "....

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