I’d been invited to drop in for coffee sometime. The invitation had been extended more than three times so I knew it was sincere, but it’s very vagueness (sometime) had me dithering. Believe me, invite me over for pizza on Tuesday at seven and I’m there! I know the parameters of such a visit, and even better, I know you won’t be taken by surprise when I unexpectedly knock on your door as you’re cleaning the bathroom grout. Embarrassing on both sides of the door.
How does dropping in work? I typically don’t know my neighbour’s names let alone feel comfortable with foisting my company upon them with no warning.
There used to be very intricate, complex rules for visiting. Here is an excerpt from ‘Mrs. Beeton’s book of household management’
After luncheon, morning calls and visits may be made and received. These may be divided under three heads: those of ceremony, friendship, and congratulation or condolence. Visits of ceremony, or courtesy, which occasionally merge into those of friendship, are to be paid under various circumstances. Thus, they are uniformly required after dining at a friend’s house, or after a ball, picnic, or any other party. These visits should be short, a stay of from fifteen to twenty minutes being quite sufficient. A lady paying a visit may remove her boa or neckerchief; but neither her shawl nor bonnet.
In paying visits of friendship, it will not be so necessary to be guided by etiquette as in paying visits of ceremony; and if a lady be pressed by her friend to remove her shawl and bonnet, it can be done if it will not interfere with her subsequent arrangements. It is, however, requisite to call at suitable times, and to avoid staying too long, if your friend is engaged. The courtesies of society should ever be maintained, even in the domestic circle, and amongst the nearest friends. During these visits, the manners should be easy and cheerful, and the subjects of conversation such as may be readily terminated. Serious discussions or arguments are to be altogether avoided, and there is much danger and impropriety in expressing opinions of those persons and characters with whom, perhaps, there is but a slight acquaintance.
In all these visits, if your acquaintance or friend be not at home, a card should be left. If in a carriage, the servant will answer your inquiry and receive your card; if paying your visits on foot, give your card to the servant in the hall, but leave to go in and rest should on no account be asked. The form of words, “Not at home,” may be understood in different senses; but the only courteous way is to receive them as being perfectly true. You may imagine that the lady of the house is really at home, and that she would make an exception in your favour, or you may think that your acquaintance is not desired; but, in either case, not the slightest word is to escape you, which would suggest, on your part, such an impression.
In receiving morning calls, the foregoing description of the etiquette to be observed in paying them, will be of considerable service. It is to be added, however, that the occupations of drawing, music, or reading should be suspended on the entrance of morning visitors. If a lady, however, be engaged with light needlework, and none other is appropriate in the drawing-room, it may not be, under some circumstances, inconsistent with good breeding to quietly continue it during conversation, particularly if the visit be protracted, or the visitors be gentlemen.
Very interesting, but not of much use to me as I don’t have calling cards and my neighbours don’t have ‘at home’ days (or a servant to show me to the door).
So, as we do in these enlightened times, I turned to the internet, asking friends if they are dropper inners; are there rules to follow? Is there a neighbourly etiquette I should know about before I go knocking? How long does one stay? Will the visit be reciprocated? Do I bring something because it is rude to arrive with empty hands?
Really helpful suggestions came back:
I'm decidedly not a dropper-inner. I have done it a few times in my life, and felt awkward every time, so I can't help ya there! But my mom is, and she has a ton of friends who are, so I suspect there really is no etiquette before the drop-in. Simply walk up to the door. Knock. Enter. Drink coffee. Talk. Leave. (I think?)
I was approaching the question from a non-dropper inners perspective until I read this from Carly:
Wow. Those words reminded me there are two people to the drop in equation and that done with consideration and care, dropping in can be an act of service. It can be charity and hospitality and communion. As Carly pointed out, she benefited as a child from the culture in her neighbourhood of dropping in, being, well, neighbourly.
I was convinced. I had the encouragement I needed, and the suggestions to help. I would drop in on my landlords. So last Friday evening found me at their front door with the rent cheque and a plate of homemade cookies in hand. With a twinkle in their eyes, Mr. and Mrs. Landlord stepped aside; we all knew I would be staying for tea this time.
It was lovely! I not only survived it, I enjoyed it.
You see, I grew up mostly on army bases which don’t really foster easy friendliness between neighbours (nobody sticks around long enough to make a real effort). Now I live in a small town, where more than one person has extended open invitations to stop by. With this first successful visit under my belt, I feel more comfortable with the idea of taking them up on it.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about the art of dropping in:
1. If they say it, they mean it.
Take them at their word when they say “Come by for coffee sometime.”
2. It’s ok to ask for clarification.
“I’d really like that. What days are best for you?”
3. Keep it short.
That way you know you’re not inconveniencing them, and they will be happy to see you on their doorstep again.
4. It’s nice but not necessary to bring something.
I felt better bringing the cookies because it gave me a sense of purpose. I needed the prop!
5. Keep it light.
A casual visit over coffee isn’t the place for political debate.
Especially if you don’t know you’re hostess well! She just might be one of those bleeding heart liberals you are ranting about! Awkward.
6. Keep it clean.
This isn’t the time to gossip about the other neighbours or overshare personal details. Really awkward.
7. Be sensitive to the signals.
Your hostess may be too polite to drag your chair out the door, but her frequent glances at the clock are a sign it’s time to wrap things up. A lack of response means she isn’t comfortable with the topic. As Jane Austen suggests, one can always talk about the weather or the state of the roads.
8. Enjoy yourself! Do it again.
And, as Carly said, just do it! Take up the art of dropping in!