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Moochers Do Not Leave It Better Than They Found It

A recent submission about unwanted houseguests overstaying their welcome and mooching from their host had me commenting about a close friend who I refused to let stay with me. I thought an example or two of his behavior might make a good Etiquette Hell submission.

One Saturday my friend showed up at my house shortly after lunch time so I could do some work on his car (as we had previously agreed). I did not realize that he had custody of his two young daughters that weekend. The kids played in the yard while I worked on the car but after an hour or two they came up to us and said, “Daddy, we’re hungry! Can we get something to eat?”, to which my friend replied, “Uncle Rob is working on my car, we can get McDonald’s when he is done”.

Realizing I had at least an hour more of work to do I told him there was bread and cold cuts in the kitchen and to feel free to make himself and the kids lunch. As I was finishing he and the kids came back out. He thanked me and drove away.

When I went in the house I found three dirty plates and three half-drunk glasses of milk on the kitchen table along with crumbs on the table and floor. The open bag of bread was sitting on the counter along with more crumbs and the open bags of cold cuts and cheese. He couldn’t even be bothered to put the refrigerated cold cuts back in the fridge when he was done.

I said in my comment that I never let him stay with me. That’s not completely true. One night he showed up drunk (I have a breathalyzer – he blew a 0.40). I gave him the option of sleeping in his car or my taking him to a local cheap hotel and getting him a room for the night. He opted to sleep in his car.

Five minutes after he went outside his car backed out of my driveway. I called him on his cell and told him if he did not turn around this second I was calling the police. When he came back I took him to my spare room and told him I was taking him to an AA meeting the next morning whether he wanted to go or not. The next morning while I was making breakfast he disappeared without a word and his car was gone from my driveway when I looked outside.

I called him and told him that if he ever showed up at my door drunk again I would be calling the police. He never did that again.

I could write a small book about all the horror stories his friends and family told me but I think this suffices to give you an idea.   1108-12

One of our hard and fast rules for using other people’s belongings or hospitality is that you leave it better than you found it…to the best of your ability.  That means no evidence of lunch having been prepared and eaten in the kitchen, and you clean up the host’s dirty dishes to boot.   If you borrowed something and broke it, you fixed it and made it as a good as you found it.

I believe mooching and freeloading starts as a bad habit that continues to perpetuate because people lack a spine to put a stop to being used by moochers.  Once ingrained as a way of life, it is a hard lifestyle to change until forced through necessity to do so.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Bint November 13, 2012, 5:55 am

    Please tell me you spoke to him about doing this. “I’m not impressed at the mess you left.”

  • b November 13, 2012, 6:00 am

    At 0.40, bringing him to an ER is another option – I work in a hospital/clinic lab, and that’s a “critical value” – the p0int at which we call the patient’s nurse or physician because the patient’s life is in danger. “Experienced” drinkers can get that high of a BAC and still be concious, but yeah, they’re still getting liver damage.

  • Lo November 13, 2012, 7:10 am

    Good on your for standing your ground when he showed up drunk and for making sure he stayed safe too.

    You absolutely did the right thing telling him if he shows up drunk again you’ll call the police. This guy needs help.

  • livvy17 November 13, 2012, 8:43 am

    I feel sorry for the poor little girls. Someone who’s still functional at 0.40 BAC has a very serious problem, and likely is not likely to have control of their drinking, even on weekends when they have their daughters. Good for you for not letting him think that his behavior was ok.

  • TylerBelle November 13, 2012, 8:53 am

    Take care of someone else’s belongings better than you do your own is something I recall my mom telling me from time to time. I guess either a mess-making person, as the one in the story, has always had someone else (parents, spouse, etc.) pick up after them, or they simply don’t care and expect the owner to see to it. Neither of which should be an excuse for the behavior.

  • Cerys November 13, 2012, 9:09 am

    While I applaud your threat to call the police if he tried to drive home drunk, wasn’t your insistence that he go to AA a bit extreme? Unless he had a truly regular habit of being drunk and incapable, threatening him with AA was more likely to frighten him off that help him. If he clearly *did* have a habit, however, then ignore me.

  • Cat November 13, 2012, 9:21 am

    As to the drunken foray: I would have called the police without telling him. Behavior has consequences. You gave him the chance to sleep it off in his car and he chose to drive. Reminds me of a student I had who told me that, no matter how drunk he was, the instant he got behind the wheel, he was sober. I explained to the lad that, if he was drunk enough to believe that, he was far too drunk to drive.
    You were fixing his car for free, fed him and his children, and he chose to leave a mess for you to clean up? This is a friend? What do you do for enemies?

  • Just Laura November 13, 2012, 9:25 am

    I agree with Cerys in that threatening to take him to AA wasn’t really the correct course of action (though all other actions were excellent).
    People aren’t supposed to be dragged to AA; they have to understand that a change is needed and be ready and willing to make that change. Mentioning AA, however, would have been a good idea, and perhaps the eye-opener this person needed. I hate when people come to my house drunk, I go to the trouble of preparing a safe place to sleep, then when they think I’m not looking, they sneak back to the vehicle. What, was I just supposed to forget you were even here?

  • Anonymous November 13, 2012, 9:49 am

    If the meat had gone bad from being left out, did you ask him to replace it?

  • Shalamar November 13, 2012, 10:00 am

    Yeah, I agree with Cerys – unless I’m missing something, threatening to force him into AA seemed a bit over the top.

    The lunch angle of this story reminded me of when a friend came to visit with his two boys. We’d said “Come over in the afternoon.” We should have been more specific, because he literally came “after noon” – about one minute past 12:00, in fact. And, not surprisingly, both of his sons (who were very small at the time) were complaining about being hungry. Friend said “Oh, right, food – guess we’ll go to McDonald’s,” whereupon he looked expectedly at my husband and me. What choice did we have than to offer them lunch? We didn’t have much food in the house, as it happened – I hadn’t gone grocery shopping yet.

  • egl November 13, 2012, 10:05 am

    I do have to question your threat to take him to AA. Given it apparently only has an about five percent success rate, even if he does have a drinking problem, being forcibly dragged there isn’t likely to do much for him.

    If he does have a problem, and you think AA would be helpful to him, by all means, find a way to encourage him to go. It will probably have a better chance of working if he feels it’s his decision.

  • Cherry November 13, 2012, 10:34 am

    @Cerys – anyone who thinks driving while that drunk is a good idea needs some form of help

  • Snarkastic November 13, 2012, 10:45 am

    The first issue with the cold cuts is an etiquette issue. The second issue with the extremely high BAC is more of a behavioral issue. It’s not rude to be a total mess of a person: it’s just sad.

    The first example really ruffled my feathers and I can only imagine the stories people must have about this guy.

    @Cerys: I’m with you. Unless his out-of-control drinking was a pattern/habit the AA stuff was overkill and not precisely the OP’s call.

  • Abby November 13, 2012, 11:20 am

    Wow, there are no words. So, he comes to your house so you can work on his car (I assume for free) so you are already doing him a favor. You offer sandwiches so his little girls aren’t hungry, and he makes a mess of your kitchen and leaves food out (hopefully it didn’t have to be thrown out). It will probably fall on deaf ears, but I’d tell him, you came to my house for a favor, in the midst of working I offered you another favor, and you made a complete mess and left meat sitting out?

  • Ellen November 13, 2012, 11:27 am

    Drinking aside, I think the slob aspect of mooching comes from early training (or lack thereof). Several posters mentioned how leaving things better than you found them was ingrained from an early age. I am sorry to confess I had the opposite experience – my mother always cleaned up after us and never insisted we be responsible for our own messes. This allows children to grow up with no knowledge that messes require cleaning up – they just disappear. It was not until I lived on my own that I realized wet towels will not magically jump back onto the rack unless *I* picked them up.
    I always paid my own way in roommate situations, etc – but as a young adult I was completely oblivious to the trail of destruction I left behind me. The shame and embarassment I feel looking back on that, ensures that my children know how to wipe up spills and hang up their towels – and have done so since toddlerhood. I also find that nobody gets upset over spills in our house – they are not making more work for us, only for themselves.

  • Annie November 13, 2012, 11:41 am

    I had a “friend” who loaned me a CD. I accidentally stepped on the case and broke it, so I went to the store and bought a new case so I could return it to him in the condition that he gave it to me.

    About a year later, my husband loaned him some DVDs with several seasons of The Simpsons on them. A few weeks later, my husband asked for them back, and the “friend” said casually, “Oh, I don’t have those anymore.” It turned out that he had given them to a woman in an effort to impress her, and she subsequently quit speaking to him and he was afraid to ask for them back! (What’s really amazing is that this guy was 45. Not 14).

    My husband chewed him out at length, and then let the whole thing go. I’m a lot more passive-aggressive, because years later it still bothers me.

  • --Lia November 13, 2012, 11:44 am

    The OP did very well so the following is a quibble. As much as we’d all love people with drinking problems to get the help they need to get sober, I can’t see that threatening to take someone to an Alcoholics Anonymous whether or not they wanted to go could do any good. The folks at A.A. are terrific about helping people with big or little drinking problems. The policy is not to turn away anyone, but generally people go because they themselves have realized that they’re hurting themselves and need help. If they’re forced, they either go for a few meetings before declaring themselves cured, or they learn the vocabulary for how to sound like they’re in recovery while not doing any of the underlying work. They learn to become better actors. A.A. isn’t a punishment for showing up at a friend’s house drunk. Generally people look forward to meetings because of the loving sympathetic support they get there.

  • Nannerdoman November 13, 2012, 11:55 am

    May I offer a humorous side to this issue? Several years ago, my sister and I were staying with the elderly friend of our late mother. One morning we got up early, had breakfast, and went out for the day. When we got back, Eve was worried about whether we’d had breakfast, because we’d left the kitchen so tidy she couldn’t tell. (The next day I made a sketch of a messy kitchen and left it on the table for her before we went out.)

  • Calli Arcale November 13, 2012, 12:02 pm

    Cerys — if he’s conscious with a BA of 0.40, he’s surely got a problem. It takes a lot of work to build up a tolerance like that. I think OP did a great job. Obviously he’s not lost his friendship with this person, but by the use of a polite spine has kept his dignity and also integrity intact. I hope that the friend eventually does get some help. He has an awful lot to lose.

  • Cat November 13, 2012, 1:01 pm

    About the threat to take him to AA-While it is true that AA is great for those who have reached bottom, have admitted that they are powerless over alcohol, and want to change, but has little effect on those who are still in denial, it might have been a way of underlining the fact that, “Look, Pal, you have a serious problem with alcohol!” No, it doesn’t change his behavior, but it makes it clear that you are not going to be an enabler to his drunken binges. but are willing to take him to get the help he needs.
    I had a vocational school adult student who denied she had a drinking problem regardless of all the friends who tried to tell her she did. It finally hit home when she accused a fellow student of trying to rape her. I asked where the attack occurred and what she was doing at the time. She was drunk and lying naked in the man’s bed. While no means no, I can see why her attacker was a bit confused.

  • Missy November 13, 2012, 1:29 pm

    Confession: I once told a boyfriend who may not have been an alcoholic that I would break up with him if he didn’t do AA. He had a handle on his drinking, but that didn’t mean he didn’t get good and annoying once a week. I didn’t think he needed to go sober, but I wanted to be able to break up with him WITHOUT getting drunk dialed at 3 am for the next 9 months.

    It worked!

  • mpk November 13, 2012, 2:07 pm

    Annie – I would have insisted the friend replace the dvd’s or pay for them.

  • Library Diva November 13, 2012, 3:34 pm

    I, too, hope the friend eventually gets some help, particularly if this matches with the previous comment that I think it matches with. I also congratulate the OP on working hard to maintain this friendship. Most people would have cut all ties with this guy and abandoned him to his fate, and it would be pretty understandable. But OP chose the harder road, drawing non-negotiable boundaries and fastening his eye on the good in this guy.

  • Pebbles November 13, 2012, 4:12 pm

    Being a successful mooch is an art. I have a few friends who mastered it. They do not expect anything from anyone. They just take advantage of their surroundings. Plus, having a great personality is a bonus. If they need a ride, they wait until you are good and ready. A few are vegetarians, and if the free meal is full of meat, they’ll eat it without a complaint. One is a smoker and supports her habit by telling a joke or singing a song to every person she bums one off of. So don’t look down on every moocher. It’s just the selfish, entitled ones that give them all a bad name!

  • Colleen November 13, 2012, 4:27 pm

    Do you really use a breathalyzer on people who come to your home?

  • Robert November 13, 2012, 4:49 pm

    Hi! I’m the OP for this one.

    As some have guessed my friend is an alcoholic. When we were teenagers we would filch booze from our parents, when we were in out twenties we would go out to bars or have some beers while we played video games. I grew out of it, he didn’t. His ex-wife of 12 years enabled his drinking but finally kicked him out when she couldn’t take it any longer.

    From the time that he was thrown out to the night in question he had openly admitted his alcoholism, blamed the end of his marriage on his drinking and spoke a lot about going to AA meetings. That night when I offered to go to the AA meeting with him in the morning he told me that AA just doesn’t work for him. After talking on the phone to the woman who was letting him sleep on her couch (really sweet woman but she has the spine of a jellyfish, she finally moved to a new apartment to get away from my friend) and being assured that he talked a lot about going to AA but had never actually gone to a meeting I changed my request to a demand (even though I know a person has to want to change…at one point I even looked into involuntarily committing him to a rehab but that’s not legal in my state).

    As for the cold cuts they were not ruined and I can’t say I was surprised by his behavior; I didn’t expect him to clean up after him and his kids but not putting the cold cuts back in the fridge shocked even me. In my early twenties I shared an apartment with him and his then girlfriend now ex-wife and quite frankly they are both complete slobs. I treated the apartment like a rooming house and kept to my room. A few months after he was married we were at a bar having a beer and he turned to me and told me that when I was living with him he constantly wanted to just turn around and punch me. Startled I asked why and he replied, “Because of the constant mess! I was mad at you for being so messy but now that I am living with wife only and our apartment is just as bad I realized that it wasn’t you that was messy it was her!” All I could do was shake my head and think, “It’s not just her my friend”.

    I really don’t think he is ever going to change. When he was mooching he would pay lip service to wanting to quit drinking and that it was ruining his life. Now that he has a minimum wage job and a shoebox apartment his tune has changed to how he is content to be an alcoholic and why should he change?

  • Electric Blue November 13, 2012, 6:21 pm

    I can’t believe you’re friends with someone like this.

    I was “friends” (although I would say she was more of an acquaintance) with a moocher. She would attempt to worm her way out of paying for anything…her classic but soon got very old, very quickly thing to do was to conveniently forget her wallet and others would pay her way. She only ever pulled this one on me once… and I pestered her like no tomorrow until I got my money back.
    Others, she pulled this stunt on numerous times as they were not as short tempered or blunt as I am, and were more willing to let her get away with this sort of behaviour.

    She too would drink and drive, although she would do it because it were cheaper to drive rather then get a taxi.

    One night when she was out with us she got so drunk (and to this day I suspect she took something as well) She was very sick and we didn’t know what to do.
    As she did not have ambulance cover it would have cost her an absolute fortune if we had called for one, we chose to call her mother and asked her mother to come get her.

    Her mother refused as she didn’t want to get out of bed and do a half hour drive to get her daughter. And demanded I take her back to my place…I refused, she was
    in need of medical attention, her car was at my place and we were terrified she would drive. I could not believe a mother would refuse to come get her own daughter.

    Her mother said it would be my fault if anything were to happen to her daughter…her 27 year old daughter…I was 23 at the time, and meant to take responsibility for her daughter?!

    It hit me like a ton of bricks at that very moment. This girl was just like her mother…her mother didn’t want to spend money on fuel to get her daughter, her mother would
    rather just blame us…another thing this girl had a habit of doing. It was never her fault…always someone else!

    Long story short, we took her to the hospital ourselves. The days following she spoke to me and basically said how dare we take her to the hospital…with that I told
    her “Fine, next time we’ll just leave you in the gutter if that’s what you’d prefer.” Obviously there was never a next time. I refuse to have anything to do with people who refuse to take responsibility for themselves, do stupid things and blame it on everyone else. Life is bliss without her. You don’t need moochers in your life weighing you down…they are toxic and drain you of energy.

    I do however feel sorry for his daughters and worry that they see his behaviour as acceptable. I hope their mother is a better role model.

  • Angel November 13, 2012, 6:50 pm

    Your friend sounds a lot like my husband’s cousin. Do them one favor and they will ask for 10 more. It is never enough. Finally we had to distance ourselves. It’s great that you have been able to distance yourself a bit, however, if he’s not a family member then why are you even wasting your time on him at all?

  • Cat Whisperer November 13, 2012, 8:46 pm

    You cannot fix other people who are broken. Especially if they do not believe they are broken and think that it’s the rest of the world that’s broken.

    Broken people stay broken until they decide they are broken, then they find a way to fix themselves. But you can’t fix someone who hasn’t decided he/she is broken. (Ergo, the OP’s offer/threat to make the moocher go to AA was useless.)

    From an etiquette standpoint, all you can do about broken people is firmly draw your boundaries and not permit them to trespass. And if the broken person’s behavior endangers other people, call whoever the proper authorities are: Child Protective Services, the police, psychiatric evaluation team, whoever.

  • Shalamar November 13, 2012, 8:53 pm

    Pebbles, I have to wonder about the “vegetarians” you know who will happily devour meat if it means getting a free meal.

  • NicoleK November 14, 2012, 6:36 am

    I gotta say, the mess from sandwiches wouldn’t faze me. Mildly annoy me, yes, but certainly not anger me enough to write in about it. When I have people over, the house gets messy. That’s just how it is.

  • Pebbles November 14, 2012, 7:33 am

    @Shalamar – Sometimes survival trumps morals!

  • Joni November 14, 2012, 7:39 am

    Taken on its own, the lunch incident seems like a non-incident to me. He left the meat out? Not worth ending a friendship over cold cuts left out & breadcrumbs on the floor. I’d have to end my marriage if that were the case. And I certainly wouldn’t begrudge two hungry children a sandwich and a glass of milk.

    The drinking, though…

  • michellep November 14, 2012, 1:38 pm

    @NicoleK, and @Joni, I hope you are both kidding. No, it is not acceptable to leave a mess at anyone’s house, especially if they have done you a favor. The OP didn’t “begrudge children a sandwich and milk”, he rightfully got angry at their dad for leaving a mess.

    OP, Robert, you seem like a good friend, and hope you have fully cut the guy out of your life.

  • Enna November 15, 2012, 11:36 am

    I could understnd the OP being a bit annoyed at the mess but the OP should have spoken to this firend about it. I woudn’t say that’s enough to end a firendship but if the person has had a history of being messay and selfish why did the OP put himself out by fixing this man’s car for free or have anything to do with him? If the man was a recovering alcoholic who was making a real effort to be sober then leaving the kitchen a bit messy in my view would be forgiveable. I’d help someone who is prepared to sort themselves out.

    I don’t know what the drink/drive measurements are in the USA, but I woud say if the man was very drunk once then he’s not alcoholic, now we have that information that he was it does put a different light on things. If it was a one off attempted drink drive incident then the person needs “a talk” form a concerned firend or relative but if it happens again I would suggest that person gets help.

  • NicoleK November 15, 2012, 11:58 am

    I’m not kidding. I really wouldn’t get very mad if a guest left dirty dishes in the sink or bread on the counter. The drinking, yes, if you’re a raging alcoholic then you’re not someone I’m hanging out regularly with. But a few plates and some crumbs? Annoying, not infuriating.

  • Enna November 16, 2012, 11:42 am

    The OP should have addressed the issue of the crumbs and plates and food being left out e.g. either on the phone or next time when he saw the person “you left the kitchen in a mess, next time could you tidy up?” Or simply don’t allow them to help themleves next time they are around. Or say “if you want to help yourself please remember to clean up.”