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The Public Debtors’ List

The college I went to had bathrooms which connected two dorm rooms. My roommate and I were best friends with our, “John Mates.” (So called because you shared a bathroom.) I went over to visit them one day when I found that my friend -had stuck a yellow medium sized post it note written in black sharpie pen a list of people who owed her money. It was your name and how much it was that you owed her stuck right above her study desk, next to her pictures, anyone who entered her room could see this.

I was horrified at this discovery, and at once paid her the five dollars I owed her. I was glad however that I was not the one (who shall remain nameless) that owed her the forty dollars. But she kept that sticky note up there with my name crossed out until the end of the year. I never borrowed any money from her after that. So do we send my friend to Ehell or was I too sensitive?   0908-11


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  • Green123 October 4, 2011, 4:52 am

    Never a borrower or a lender be…

  • semi-regular commenter remaining anon October 4, 2011, 5:28 am

    I’m unsure. On one hand, I might have done a similar thing to keep track of sums of money I had lent people. If money was particularly tight, and it usually is for students, it would be a way of managing finances. Keeping it in a diary means that as the weeks progress, my list is lost in amongst the weeks. Having a post-it note in an obvious place can be a good reminder. On the other hand, I often lend money not expecting it back. God has been good to me in many material ways and if a friend needs money, then I don’t expect that they need the worry of finding ways to repay me.

    It could have been a slightly passive aggressive way to prompt people to repay her. Maybe she doesn’t like confrontation, or following people up sometimes continually. So having a sticky note there for people to see puts the burden of repayment back on the other’s shoulders.

    I see how it made you uncomfortable. But after repaying her, maybe you could have treated her to a coffee and slice of cake if you still felt bad about it.

  • Kathryn October 4, 2011, 5:29 am

    I’m unsure. On one hand, I might have done a similar thing to keep track of sums of money I had lent people. If money was particularly tight, and it usually is for students, it would be a way of managing finances. Keeping it in a diary means that as the weeks progress, my list is lost in amongst the weeks. Having a post-it note in an obvious place can be a good reminder. On the other hand, I often lend money not expecting it back. God has been good to me in many material ways and if a friend needs money, then I don’t expect that they need the worry of finding ways to repay me.

    It could have been a slightly passive aggressive way to prompt people to repay her. Maybe she doesn’t like confrontation, or following people up sometimes continually. So having a sticky note there for people to see puts the burden of repayment back on the other’s shoulders.

    I see how it made you uncomfortable. But after repaying her, maybe you could have treated her to a coffee and slice of cake if you still felt bad about it.

    (admin, can you please delete the previous comment I made with different details?)

  • Enna October 4, 2011, 5:30 am

    There is a chance that she put it there as a reminder to herself as she has used a post it note. If it was a big like an A4 size piece of paper with big angery letters on it then I would say that would be rude. However since it is a post-it note I think she is just writing a reminder to herself and has put it up there without thinking. Or unless she was trying to drop a “subtle” hint which went a bit wrong since you were embrassed to pay up and that could’ve been the not so “subtle” point. Yes she kept the stickey note there, with your name crossed out but maybe that’s because she other people listed there who still owed her money. It could be her way of making sure that she keeps tabs on those who have borrowed money so she can work out those firends who “sponge” off her compared to those who she loans the odd 5 dollars too.

    Why don’t you have a quiet word with her? She might give you a reasonable explationation that she didn’t meant to “broadcast” her firends’ loans but that kind of information might be better stored in a draw or stuck to the side of the desk so it’s out of sight of people who come into the room.

  • Vicky October 4, 2011, 5:55 am

    I for one would send your friend to Ehell. The lending/borrowing of money or anything for that matter is between the 2 parties involved and should not be displayed for public consumption. To post those names for all who enter the room to see is petty and childish.

    It is possible that she did this practice to discourage people from borrowing from her. If that was her goal, she did succeed but took the cowards way out. If you don’t want to loan money, say no.

  • lkb October 4, 2011, 6:15 am

    I see what the OP means, but perhaps the student just thoughtlessly put it there to remind herself of who owes what (and to whom she should not loan any more money to). She may not have thought about those who read everything on someone else’s bulletin board or refrigerator. FWIW, I don’t happen to be one of those people but know many who are.

    If it bothered the OP, perhaps a quiet word with the list poster would have done the trick.

  • Laurita October 4, 2011, 6:23 am

    I don’t know if it was polite or not, but it sure worked in getting her money back.

  • josie October 4, 2011, 6:33 am

    I think she could of been a little more discreet with the list. It wasn’t that long ago that grocery stores and beauty shops would have have signs beside the cash registers “Do not accept checks from —–“.
    I’m sure those people felt like dirt everytime they frequented those places.

  • QueenofAllThings October 4, 2011, 6:39 am

    The problem with dorm living is that your private space (your bedroom) is also your public space (your living room). The note was posted on her desk as, I’m sure, a reminder to her, not as a public outing of your debt. She could, I suppose, have kept it in a drawer, but most of us put reminders where we can see them. I doubt she was actively trying to embarrass you – if that had been her intent, she would have put the list on her front door.

    And there is no shame in borrowing $5 from a friend!

  • Typo Tat October 4, 2011, 7:00 am

    OP, I think your friend’s idea was wonderful and ingenious. Money is known to ruin many friendships, and there’s no delicate way to ask for your money back . People also tend to forget about owed money. That list both prompted her friends to return debts and served as a reminder to herself.

  • sv October 4, 2011, 7:24 am

    EHell! Money is private- discussing it publicly is vulgar. If you want to talk about the great sale price on a pair of boots, fine. If you want to talk about people who owe you money, whether currently or in the past- definitely not fine!! She agreed to loan you the five dollars. Did she tell you beforehand that the price of this was advertising that fact? Very insensitive and crass of her. EHell for sure.

  • LaurenP October 4, 2011, 7:25 am

    Keeping a list of who owes you money and who you owe money to is a good idea. Keeping that list out in the open is not.

  • Rabbit October 4, 2011, 7:36 am

    I fail to see the problem. The woman kept a list at her desk of those who owed her money. It is not as if whe was going around the campus telling everyone who owed what.

  • delislice October 4, 2011, 7:50 am

    If I felt that strongly about having debts repaid, especially among fellow college students with slim wallets, I would seriously consider not lending anyone any more money.

    A loan is generally considered private business. It’s not the public’s business that Kiki owes Karen $5 and Melanie owes Karen $40.

  • Harley Granny October 4, 2011, 8:06 am

    Too sensitive.

    It was her room therefor her space and you just happened to be in it.
    Maybe it was her way of keeping track. I am an “out of sight out of mind” person so I need notes to remind me of some things. And if I’m in my own space, I shouldn’t have to worry about who might be offended by it.

    So now I have to ask…why didn’t you pay her back before you saw the note?
    Why didn’t you take the crossing off of the name as a badge of honor..something like “look everyone, I have proof I pay things back” instead of expecting her to re-do the entire list just because you happened to pay her back?

  • Lucy October 4, 2011, 8:20 am

    Toss up. Your friend was a jerk, and she should have had sense enough to stop loaning people money when she wasn’t getting paid back. On the other hand, people who borrow money and don’t pay it back promptly are also jerks.

  • essie October 4, 2011, 8:23 am

    OP: My immediate impression is that you – to answer the question – were too sensitive. I don’t think debts are a matter of etiquette, they’re a matter of finance or economics, so there’s no faux pas here. It was HER list, kept at HER desk in HER room. Surely you’ll grant her the right to display whatever she wants (as long as it’s not offensive to her roommate, immoral, or illegal) in her own room, right? You may have considered it offensive, but then, how did your name get there in the first place? And it’s not as though she posted it in front of the dining hall or in the newspaper or mentioned it every time you got together with other friends; she didn’t deliberately try to embarass you in front of others. The truth is, your own actions caused you embarassment.

    You say you never borrowed money from her again, but a larger lesson to be learned here is:: the best way to keep people from finding out you’re doing something you don’t want people to know about (borrowing money/beating your child/using illegal drugs/washing your sheets every day/smoking in the boys’ room/whatever) is to not do it.

  • Stephenie October 4, 2011, 8:25 am

    She had a list in her *own* room above the location where she spends the majority of her time and where she can see it. It seems to be the appropriate location to me to keep a list with items on it that you need to remember. As a college student, getting paid the money back is fairly important since finances are often tight at that age so having the list where she can see it makes sense. Is not like she posted the list on outside of her dorm room door.

  • DAH October 4, 2011, 8:53 am

    You were too sensitive.

  • Jenn50 October 4, 2011, 8:55 am

    I think you’re being too sensitive. She had it posted in HER room, over her work space, not on the outside of the door. And it achieved what she needed. You paid her back and never borrowed from her again. If she had several people who owed her money in an ongoing way, some as much as $40, I’m assuming she used it as a way of both keeping track and reminding people without nagging. I think to some extent, you lose the right to complain about how discreet people are or aren’t when you borrow something and don’t return it promptly.

  • Kovitlac October 4, 2011, 9:03 am

    Your ‘john mate’ was terribly rude for what she pulled. It’s obvious that you were completely committed to paying her back, since you felt so horrified and returned the money immediately. There was no need for her to make that kind of information basically public when a simple, “Oh, do you happen to have that $5?” would have sufficed.

  • TychaBrahe October 4, 2011, 9:05 am

    The friend was rude and passive aggressive, but if it took a post-it to make you pay up the money you owed her, it was probably necessary.

  • Alkira6 October 4, 2011, 9:13 am

    Actually, I think that the list might have had that very intent – you never borrowed money again. Some college students don’t have the best skills in telling people no or setting boundaries. It sound like a very PA way of 1. getting her money back adn 2. keeping people from asking to borrow money.

    Now, was it a good idea or polite? I would have to say no. If you don’t want to lend money, say no. If you want your money repaid, say so to the person one on one.

  • Twik October 4, 2011, 9:18 am

    Why were you embarrassed to have people know that you had borrowed five dollars from her? This was not a list of delinquent debtors put up to humiliate people by calling them welchers. It was a reminder to herself of who owed what, posted *in her own room*. I don’t think she was obligated to hide this information under her mattress.

  • LovleAnjel October 4, 2011, 9:19 am

    It was her study desk, so it was her space. It was written on a post-it on her tackboard, not a poster in the hallway. She crossed your name off when you paid her. I don’t see much wrong with keeping a ledger in one’s personal space.

    And it worked, didn’t it? You paid her back and never asked for money again.

  • Shannon October 4, 2011, 9:19 am

    Please tell me I’m not the only one who laughed. It just sounds so collegiate petty drama. Personally, I would have asked her why she was keeping the list up, as it portrayed her friends in a poor light. Or why she was loaning out money in the first place if her circumstances were so dire that she had to use such a passive-aggressive debt collection method.

  • Kathy October 4, 2011, 9:34 am

    Neither a lender or a borrower be…

  • jeneria October 4, 2011, 9:39 am

    In a way, it’s funny in a totally passive aggressive way. I mean, if she had a list then clearly she’d been generous to the point that she was feeling put upon. And in my experience, if you ask people to pay you money that they owe you, they immediately give you the shame face and a series of heart breaking excuses. A little public humiliation can be a good thing.

  • Clair Seulement October 4, 2011, 9:39 am

    The fact that you were walking around with the $5 and yet didn’t pay your friend until you felt embarrassed in front of your suite mates only points to the efficacy of your friend’s system. If it was posted at her desk in her personal space, then I’d say it’s not all that rude IMO.

  • livvy October 4, 2011, 9:44 am

    I’m torn on this – I’m personally horrible about remembering to whom I’ve lent books, movies or money, and I’m either pleasantly surprised when they pay up or return the goods, or disappointed and uncomfortable when I eventually remember that someone hasn’t returned things – so I can see the value of the list. Not sure I agree with embarrasing people by hanging out the dirty laundry like that – it seems like a sort of a passive-aggressive way of reminding folks. I would say that once paid, she should have re-written the list, to eliminate those who’d paid her back. I wouldn’t send her to Ehell, but I would have known that borrowing money from her would involve a little embarrasment on my part, and probably would have avoided it in the future. But maybe that was the point.

  • Virg October 4, 2011, 9:58 am

    Firstly, why would you be embarrassed about owing someone five dollars? That’s not the kind of debt that’s likely to convince anyone that you’re a hanger-on. Secondly, why do you consider her desk public? Sure, it’s visible to guests in her room, but that’s a far cry from the bulletin board in the hallway or at the library. I’d say that you’re being too sensitive, and if having anyone find out that you owe pocket change to another person is such a source of embarassment, then you should avoid borrowing.

    I can’t fathom why anyone would consider a post-it attached to her desk to be passive-aggressive at all. It seems entirely reasonable to assume that she’s keeping the list as a personal reminder, not a public shaming method.


  • Nadine October 4, 2011, 9:59 am

    Why did you not pay her back as soon as you could?

    The list was in her own space. The only people who could see it were other snoops.

  • LonelyHound October 4, 2011, 10:07 am

    OP I would have to say if you were hurt you were being too sensitive, but that it was a good thing you never borrowed money from her again. Though the friend could have been more discreet in her placement of the list, you did have the funds to pay her back. I guess I do not see how the friend was rude.

  • lipli October 4, 2011, 10:11 am

    When I was in college, a girl was busted selling pot. Unfortunately, she had kept a list of who owed her money for her product and all those people were subsequently busted. I was away the semester that it happened so I don’t know all the details. But several people didn’t walk at graduation.

    I don’t see what she did as passive aggressive. In college dorms, you have no privacy. She kept the list solely in her area and only people who were invited into her (and her roommate’s) room and looking at things on her desk would see it. Sure, it would have been better if she stuck it in a drawer. But she wasn’t publicly displaying it.

  • AS October 4, 2011, 10:15 am

    I have had a hard time asking money back from people who owe me. One can ask only so many times, and I have often gotten snapped at or dirty look when I asked someone for money. Or they go red in the face, even if I ask in private and I am made to feel guilty for asking my money. I don’t know if you are being sensitive, but don’t think your “john mate”, though passive aggressive, is totally at fault (that is assuming that people did actually owe her that amount). Her technique for getting her money back apparently did work. Also, it is possible that she had it up there so that she remembers who to ask.

    BTW, you are not the one who owed her $40, because you did not borrow $40 from her. I’d be pretty irritated if someone owes me $40 and didn’t pay back, especially when I am living on a limited college budget.

  • Lurker October 4, 2011, 10:29 am

    I have absolutely no problem with that. My sister is 37 and as I type this, she has a note on her fridge with $60 that I owe her. It’s how it’s done in our family and there’s nothing wrong with it.

  • Hemi Halliwell October 4, 2011, 10:32 am

    This one is a bit hard. You had the money and did not repay her until you felt a little shame for being “on the list”… maybe that was the point of the the list? Trying to subtly remind people who owed her.
    Even though it was her space, it was *also* public space so I think she should have asked to be repaid before posting her list. But as other commentors have said, it was really a passive-agressive way of getting her money back. Money & friendship rarely mix.

  • Jane October 4, 2011, 10:32 am

    Wow, lots of mixed responses here. I’m going to take the side of the friend – she had the list up in her private space, so I don’t think it was terrible. I think it was meant as a reminder to herself only.

  • Yvaine October 4, 2011, 10:36 am

    OK, I just have to address the fact that every time there is a thread about borrowing, people will quote “neither a borrower nor a lender be” as though it’s Holy Writ. It’s a Shakespeare quote, and it’s actually said by a character who is kind of a pompous git. You’re free to still agree with the sentiment, of course, but it’s not religious scripture or even a “real” proverb.

    On to the post: I don’t think she goes to eHell, since it was on her own desk, in her own space. If she’d put it on the message board on her door (where people could see it while walking down the hall) she would be in eHell.

  • KMC October 4, 2011, 10:37 am

    I agree with others that the list was not displayed in a public place. It was in her own room, you (presumably) had to be invited in, it’s not like anyone could just walk in to her room and see the list. It’s unfortunate that college dorms are not quite as private as bedrooms at home, but that doesn’t make it any less her own space.

  • Twik October 4, 2011, 10:49 am

    If you’re terribly embarrassed to have people know that you have – *gasp! horror!* – borrowed $5 from a friend, then you shouldn’t borrow money.

    Myself, I really wouldn’t care. Not paying the money back? *That’s* embarrassing. Having people know that I borrowed a relatively trivial amount an unspecified time ago, with no indication that the lender is in any rush to be repaid? Not that big of a deal.

  • Emmy October 4, 2011, 10:53 am

    I think the OP was oversensitive. As somebody else pointed out, a dorm room is your living room and your bedroom so her personal space is on display when somebody enters the room. I also don’t see the problem with having the note in a place where she could see it and be reminded who owes her money. If she tucked it away in a drawer, she may have forgotten it. I agree that she may not feel comfortable asking for money back, especially if the person keeps ‘forgetting’ and she has to do it several times so the note in her work space could serve as a subtle reminder that she hasn’t forgotten about the debt, even if she hasn’t asked about it in a while. I think her intent was more of a reminder to herself (and maybe a hint to those who owed her) rather than the public shaming the OP seemed to think it was.

  • Chocobo October 4, 2011, 10:58 am

    Hmm… this is a tough one. Dorm rooms, at most colleges, are an unusual type of space. They serve double duty: they are the most private types of rooms, the bedroom and study, as well as entertaining areas, like the living room or parlor. As a result, private things can be leak into “public” spaces.

    But it’s not as though the note was in the stairwell. The note was in her private space her desk, and while it might have been more discreet to put the note inside the desk or elsewhere, I don’t have any problem with her putting it there. As a commenter said above, it’s a very efficient system of getting the debtors to pay her back. My guess is it was really more of an innocent note left as a reminder to herself than a public shaming system, though.

    As a side note, next time when you borrow something, pay it back right away.

  • A October 4, 2011, 10:59 am

    I think the OP was too sensitive. If she wasn’t dorm mates with this person, she wouldn’t have been seeing the note everyday and it probably wouldn’t have bothered her. She probably would have seen the note for what it was: a reminder to the note-writer of people who owed her money.

    If it bothers a person to know they owe someone money either pay it back quickly or don’t borrow the money at all.

  • Xtina October 4, 2011, 11:00 am

    Living in a dorm situation means that you don’t have the best privacy. However, as boundaries in that sort of living situation go, I think the fact that the suitemate/johnmate had the note written on a small piece of paper and it was posted at her desk, that would constitute a fairly inconspicuous place in this situation. Maybe it’s not the best etiquette to note debts owed you where people can see them, but it’s not as if she had them posted on a banner over the front door of the cafeteria. As others had mentioned, it was probably also a silent reminder to those guests when they came over to remember to pay her back (it worked on the OP!), even if it meant displaying it to other (probably mutual) friends.

    So it’s a wash, in my opinion. Not great etiquette but not awful, either. I think the OP is being a bit oversensitive given the dorm living situation.

  • Ponytail October 4, 2011, 11:01 am

    I agree with Clair Seulement – if you had the money to return, why didn’t you give it to her before you saw the reminder note ? I don’t think she did anything wrong – it she wants to put up a reminder, where else is she supposed to put it ? This was in HER room, was it not ? On HER notice board ? If she left the list up until the end of the year, presumably there were still people who hadn’t repaid their loans, so I don’t blame her for keeping track in whatever way worked for her.
    I’m afraid I come down on YOU going to eHell, for not repaying a loan as soon as you could, and I remain neutral-to-no about your friend being sent there.

  • The Elf October 4, 2011, 11:03 am

    Yeah, the list is a little rude, but I would be much more upset if the list was in a public space. This was in her own room, where theoretically served more as a reminder to herself than public shaming to you.

    Personally, I never borrow what I can’t pay back right away and I don’t lend what I can’t afford to lose, so I never would keep a list like this. If my friends paid me back, bonus.

  • Jennifer October 4, 2011, 11:11 am

    I think you’re too sensitive. From your post, I take it that you had the money and didn’t pay her back until you were embarrassed. I wonder how long it would’ve taken you to pay her back without the note? The note wasn’t posted in a public place, but in her own room at her own desk. If I had to choose someone to throw to e-hell, it would be the original poster for failing to pay her roommate back, even though she had the funds.

  • Susan October 4, 2011, 11:25 am

    I think she was brilliant! She got you to pay her back, AND never ask for money again. A Win-Win in my book. 😉

    I think if someone borrows money, there should be an understanding of when the money will be paid back. If there is a problem meeting the obligation, the person should apologize and make arrangments. If someone is kind enough to lend you money, I don’t think they should have to chase you down for payment.

  • Cordelia October 4, 2011, 11:27 am

    The posted reminder makes sense to me. It was in her own private space, so it doesn’t sound like it was meant as a passive-aggressive thing. She probably just needed it to make sure she could keep track of who owed money to her.

    However, if such a list must be posted where others could also see it, rather than kept in a binder or computer file, it would be nicer to just use the debtors’ initials. The girl herself will know what they mean, but when other people see it, it’s ambiguous. If I were listed there as “C.S.”, that could mean me, but it could also mean “computer science” or “cat shampoo” or any number of other things. 🙂