What Ever Happened to Just Dropping By?

Why has just dropping by to visit someone fallen by the wayside?  Is it a generational thing?   Something that my over-studious, YUPified,*  helicopter-parenting,* research-before-purchasing* generation nixed? (*guilty as charged)

That said, being on the receiving end of a mid day drop by makes me nervous. My to do list and writing pages are about to burst into flames along with my head when someone drops by too long. That said, no one really does anymore. In general.

While I’m nostalgic for the days when people of all walks of life just stopped by my parent’s house–as an adult who’s lived through the “baby-must-nap-now-or I’ll-lose my-mind phase,” or the “I’ve-got-deadlines-out-the-wazoo after (insert: vacation, flu or taxes)-phase–” I kinda get it.

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Growing up, I recall how exciting it was when someone went out of his or her way to stop by. Indeed it was interesting to have a local farmer and his cute son stop by to talk “weather” and access to fields, or neighbors drop by in need of tools or equipment or books. Sometimes they didn’t stay long, citing dinner was on or chores to do, but sometimes she or he wound up staying for dinner.

In prepping for this post, I thought I’d check out what others had to say on this. I thought I’d research cultural differences on “dropping by” in some big academic database and regale you with clever cultural insights and a couple intriguing statistics on how “dropping by” has changed over time. That was after all my original question.

Instead I would up with nothing. Dead ends, drop offs and “dropping by” in any form but in a social visit sense. So, I reverted to a method I don’t condone. For students. For me. For anyone. The open road of google. Hitchhiking this road for information opens up all kinds of doors. Many that leave you wishing for something more solid, less freakish.

However, I did find, one website—projectbritain.com—indicated that the phrases “drop by anytime” and “come see me soon” were common social idioms in Great Britain that weren’t meant to be taken literally. Probably just as we Americans love to answer “Fine” to the question, “How are you?” Whether we’re fine or not.

And unlikely as it seems, on Ask.meta.filter.com, one self-named responder—“madajb”– suggested that the custom of dropping by may be more class specific than regionally specific in the US. This seems to make sense. At least it would have in my upwardly mobile middle class childhood home. My mother would certainly have wanted to wash the garden dirt from her fingernails and coiffed her hair before my father’s graduate school friends showed up.  For those things they planned. All other drop bys were subject to watching our work-in-progress or being asked to help shell walnuts or peas or pick apples during their drop by.

In the end, putting ideas of lofty research aside and using the most logical search engine out there–my brain–I’d probably agree with those in the negative about unannounced visits, because, I’ve been known to tell people on the phone or at the door that I have an appointment I need to leave for.

Perhaps it’s more the carefree life of a child that I miss more than the unannounced visit. I’ll let you know a decade from now if I ignored you and sat at my computer writing as you tapped at my door for an unannounced visit.

As they say in England: Drop by anytime.

Not.

What are your thoughts on unannounced visitors? How tight is your time? And how do you deal with people just dropping by when you don’t have time? What is your opinion? Is dropping by a cultural, regional or class custom?

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23 thoughts on “What Ever Happened to Just Dropping By?

  1. This is very true – and as kids growing up in the 1950-1960s, we just played together. Our mother’s didn’t have to arrange complicated “play dates!” My son recently told he he was arranging “play dates” for his dog! So his dog could play with other dogs. I thought, gee, it’s sad when life gets so scheduled. Where is the spontaneity in life?

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  2. Growing up we would drop by a friend’s house, or they would stop by on their way home from whatever errand they were completing. If we were eating dinner, we would offer them a drink and a chair and any food on the table (usually politely declined, as they stopped by unannounced). I miss those days, but understand the busyness of today’s world. And perhaps the etiquette rules have changed, as well. We now have cell phones to check to see if our friends are available. My friends are always welcome in our home. They also know that our house is usually in chaos; so as long as they don’t mind a few dishes in the sink, or dirt under my finger nails from gardening, my home is open to enjoy a friendship that is so comfortable that we can “just stop by.”

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    • Lisa,

      I thought of you as I wrote this post. You and I grew up so similar and have raised our families in such a similar way. And, I always feel welcome at your place! You made several good points about cell phones changing this social habit too. And I do love showing up at some people’s homes to find their house has as much chaos as mine. It’s like real life not a TV simulation!

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  3. I HATE it when people just drop in unannounced. It has often ruined my day. It isn’t always my favourite people who “drop in” and sometimes they just sit and sit and sit and get coffee and cake served while my plans for the day are wrecked. When we lived on corner lot that happened to be on everyone’s way to the fishing spots up the river, we had company dropping in all day long on the weekends. One day it was 4 o’clock and I realized that I’d been serving cake and coffee all day since breakfast time and had no time to plan for supper. I hate drop-ins with a passion. You’ve struck a nerve.

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    • Anneli,
      That corner house with all it’s droppers by would have annoyed me too. I’ve seen good German housewives serve cake all day long and it gave me hives to watch — as if their time was of no value but to be of service to others… I get it. I would have hung up the sign saying I’d “gone fishing” as a deterrent! Thanks for weighing in. I’m with you! – Renee

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  4. Great post! I’m from the south of Texas, the deep south as in 7 miles from the border of Mexico. In those parts of Texas, dropping by is still done and it’s an accepted practice.

    There have been times while visiting mom when unexpected guests drop by a chit-chat, cup of coffee, and sweet bread. These ladies all call themselves, “comadres”. A comadre is usually a godparent of one of the siblings; however, the term is now used for anyone dropping by.

    I’ve asked mother or the aunties if, “dropping by”, annoys them as it really does interrupt the daily schedule, and i’m firmly reminded to mind my manners followed by the scripture verse Hebrews 13:2. My mama’s favorite saying is, “If you come to see me drop by anytime, if you’ve come to look at the house, please make an appointment”.

    Maria

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    • Maria,
      Your comment is so personal and insightful. I love that your family has talked of this and has a name for the ladies who stop by! What a gem of a story! And that your mother has a scripture verse of sorts on this matter! Really cool! Thank you so much for your thoughtful share!

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  5. This is a tender topic for me. I was raised in a house where people were not received without notice. This meant that my friends and suitors spent their visiting time on the porch with me.
    However, with my own household, I am only a bit more relaxed.
    I lived on an Army base for seven years, and many of my neighbors came to call regularly, which I enjoyed, and did in turn. A level of comfort, I suppose.
    Now, about six people are welcome to drop by any time. And I do mean whenever it occurs to them. The people who pop-in the most are my in-laws, which ALWAYS happens at the least convenient times: I am barely dressed, I am painting the dining room, I am giving the dog a bath, I am having a nap, I am wiping out cupboards and all of my items are on the counters. *facepalm* I wish very much that I could tell them not to drop by, but it would offend them, I’m sure.
    Ironically, when they call me, they always ask me if it’s a good time.
    My schizophrenic neighbor comes by at least once a week, always with a kindly, but completely ridiculous token. He, too, has terrible timing.

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  6. Never mind people dropping by to visit, how about actually just talking on the phone? I’ve lamented the decline (the end?) of telephone conversations in recent years due to this newfound fascination with texting and email and social-media thumbs up, down and around. I’ve even seen some relationships just whither to a shadow, because without some organic, non-digital connection, there’s no “there” there.

    And recently I caught myself subscribing to — and tripped up by — the same paradigm. I’d been struggling mightily over a situation with the kid I mentor in South Africa, and my head was in a very dark, confused space. So I texted a friend to set up a bar date downtown so I could vent and maybe get some clarity. She’s a big texter and we’ve sparred about the issue, so I was surprised when she called me later. She knows I hate going back and forth via text to arrange a get-together, when it can be done faster and more clearly by phone. So I assumed she was calling to discuss which bar we’d meet at to guzzle beer and oysters while I griped about my long-distance son.

    But after a minute or two I realized she was actually asking me about my bigger issue then and there — and was listening and responding on the phone! I was taken aback; I literally wasn’t sure how to handle it for a second. Should I keep talking it through? Should I shut it down and wait to finish when we met up?

    In the end I got it all out. She offered a bit of helpful perspective, but mainly I think I just needed to spew out all the dark, confused thoughts running around my brain. And given this endless, epic winter in the Northeast, we had to cancel our plans to meet. So thank god for that phone call. It was a real life saver; it pulled me out of a major parenting nadir.

    How strange that the simple act of calling a friend to “talk me off the ledge” these days seems odd and is fraught with confusion and awkwardness. More and more studies show that with all this new “social” technology, we are in fact feeling more lonely and disconnected. I’ve been reading about the new “technology diet” movement, and certainly will take part. As one social researcher said, these “little sips” of information that we get from our devices really aren’t satisfying at all. We’re slowly being starved for depth of connection and meaning. So in addition to cutting technological calories, perhaps we need to gorge a bit on long phone calls with friends, family, even colleagues and clients. And, yes, maybe even drop in for a face-to-face once in a while. I’m sure it will be satisfying, whether or not there’s coffee and cake!

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    • Michael,

      Thank you for weighing in on this. “…[W]ithout some organic, non-digital connection, there’s no “there” there…” I think this line does well to get at the root of the disconnect, ergo the dissatisfaction we feel with connecting digitally. It’s also less than two dimensional. While there may be sounds and visuals in some mediums, talking on the phone allows for a range of intimations in the auditory form that don’t occur on a screen. But, I wonder if some hailed the advent of the phone as the end of the salon, intellectual era as well… people no longer met at the corner or by the watering hole to hash things out?

      Yes, I too hate texting more than a few words at a time. I find it arduous and and frustrating bc it’s so limiting and takes so much time to type more than a couple words on that tiny keyboard.

      On the new “technology diet” movement, I’ve heard about this and I know folks who’ve never partook from day one. For me, I try to keep it in my comfort zone, but what irks me is how kids are so engrossed. Yesterday a teen sat at my table when I asked her too, but stayed glued, ooing an awing over her device as we started to eat. I finally made a jokingly irritated second invitation to the table and changed the topic to something of her interest. The key may be for my generation to know how to tune in to those “tuned out” with devices and understand how to lure them back to the art of the conversation… but that may prove challenging since studies actually show that devising rewires the brain and lights up the same pathways that drugs do… so it preys on the human propensity for addiction. Scary stuff… and well, AA doesn’t take place over a device does it? Thanks for stopping by- You’ve make me think before coffee this morning!

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  7. I never liked when people would just drop by my house, with one exception. My grandparents always did it–once a week. They dropped by the house of every one of their children and grandchildren. Always with a basket of garden produce and/or baked goods. And they never stayed past 20 minutes. Loved it all!

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  8. I hate it when people drop by. Most people who know me know that. I’m very introverted and need time to mentally pysch myself up for visits. Plus my house is ALWAYS a mess and I am in sweat pants most of the time I’m home.

    But, this topic just came up. I encouraged my daughter to walk the dog and stop by a friend’s house. “She hasn’t texted me back.” Which made me realize that kids never knock on their friends’ doors spontaneously anymore. I’m nostalgic for those days, but am also relieved not to be caught off-guard.

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    • It’s fascinating how devices have changed our behaviors–whether its communicating on a regular basis before stopping over or family TV viewing (my post for tomorrow). Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad to understand how other bloggers and writers approach things! – Renee

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  9. Pingback: Don’t Drop By | joeyfullystated

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