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I was recently a guest by my sister and brother-in-law, and over the course of my weekend visit he asked me several times to do very trivial things, for example, to bring him the newspaper from the table, while he's on the couch. Meanwhile, we were both reading different papers, and the only reason he didn't pick it up himself was out of pure laziness (I suspected such at the time, and he freely admitted such to me later).

I didn't (and still don't) think it's a big deal to him the newspaper, but there were two issues that bothered me:

  1. His laziness. For the same price that I had to get up, he could have gotten up. It's not like it was right next to me and I could just toss it to him; I had to do the same "work" that he would've had to do.

  2. The frequency. I can understand if this happened once, but this happened several times a night.

I would have liked to say no, for the above two reasons, but I felt it might come across as rude, after all "it's just a newspaper, how hard can it be to bring it to him!"

While this is one example, there are many such situations that can arise which are similar to this. In this case as well as others,how could I gracefully refuse to do it, without coming across as rude?

This question is slightly related, except it deals with less trivial matters than I discuss, which make it easier to refuse without being rude.

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    How old are you both ? How are you built compared to him (thin/agile/overweight) ? I'm asking these because it's common for grown ups to request stuff from younger kids(get me the chair/remote/paper) so if you were young when your sis got married, there's a chance he considers you as a kid. Also, it's faster for an agile person to answer the doorbell, pick up stuff, that maybe a reason apart from laziness. – svj Mar 19 '18 at 3:40
  • @svj We are of similar age and build. The points you make would indeed be valid if there was that imbalance. – Ploni Mar 19 '18 at 16:16
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You can make it less convenient for him to ask you than to do it himself. When you're both sitting there reading and he asks you to fetch the newspaper, you can say "I'll get it in a few minutes, after I finish this article". Or you can be really engrossed in what you're reading and not answer him immediately at all. I've used this approach with relatives (though not specifically as a guest of relatives), and I've also used it a lot with coworkers over the years. The message you're sending is "yes I'll help you, but right now I'm busy so you'll have to wait".

If you want to send a stronger message, then after this has happened a couple times, when you're fetching whatever he's asked you for this time, you can ask "while I'm up, is there anything else you'd like me to get you?" This is a subtle way to nudge him to group his requests -- one multi-step interruption isn't as annoying as six individual ones.

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Your question is very specifically about saying no whilst a guest in someone else's house.

We all find ourselves in situations that are uncomfortable. When we do, we have a choice - stay out of politeness, or leave. As this is a family situation, you have clearly opted to stay.

You can't really tell someone how to behave in their own home, but you can exert your authority over yourself. You can rightly say that you won't go and pick up his paper for him.

You could try a 'soft' approach by acting just as lazy. Say nicely:

Aaw, I'm comfy, I don't want to move.

Or, you could try a 'jokey' approach by saying what you are actually thinking but do so with a laugh and a smile:

Don't be so lazy! Get it yourself!

Of course with either these approaches you will have to be prepared for the consequences. If he expects guests to do a few chores to earn their stay he may state this opinion, in which case you have a discussion on your hands; or he may just silently rage and express his opinions on you to your sister later.

In my experience, family have to tolerate one another, and if you do exert your authority in this way then he may think of you as lazy, but really is that any worse than you thinking it of him? If you say nothing, whenever you visit your sister you will think I've got to deal with my lazy brother in law; whereas if you do say something then at worst he will think I've got my lazy brother in law coming to visit.

If you get drawn into a discussion about it, maintain a peaceful demeanor, and stick to your guns. If you have opted for the jokey approach, maintain your humour too. If he thinks you are argumentative it may have an impact on your relationship with your family - or your sister may have to hear all about it later. But if you keep calm and keep smiling then at worst you'll be branded as the lazy (but jolly) guest.

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    @Daniel Not saying you're wrong, but that was the optional, extra-soft approach and deliberately avoids directly saying "no". I suggested a second option too. – Astralbee Mar 19 '18 at 13:37
  • @Daniel There are surely more than three approaches, but I'm happy keeping my answer succinct. – Astralbee Mar 19 '18 at 14:32
  • My question is not specifically about saying no whilst a guest in someone else's house; that just happened to be the situation I was most recently in. It could possibly happen at work (during break), at a friend's house, etc. But you make some valid points regardless. – Ploni Mar 19 '18 at 16:20
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    @Ploni I'd recommend you keep it about the specific situation - there's no way we can give good advice that applies across being in a workplace with your boss giving menial requests, being at your own home where you have authority or being at a family home where you are a guest. Each of these has different dynamics and needs different advice. – Bilkokuya Mar 19 '18 at 17:07
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    In my family, the go-to "joke" response to such requests is: "Are your legs broken?" – Nuclear Wang Mar 19 '18 at 18:37
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A person is a king in their own home.

Unless they are extremely polite, they want to exert their power on the staying guests. Your B-I-L only wants to exert his power onto you.

You can either heed to his requests or try to overpower him, diplomatically. With this question, you surely do not want the first one.

Next time when this happens, go, fetch the newspaper. But, do not give that to him immediately. Stand there, turn a few pages, read aloud an article. Tell him something more about that article, the good and the bad. Insist more on the bad. Tell him, this is what Newspapers carry and you loathe reading it. And then handover the paper to him. Ensure that there is a time gap between getting up and handing him the paper. This way, you are ensuring that he does not get what he wants on time.

Some other time, you can say, 'Anything for you'.

Other time, you can say, 'I really love the way you keep yourself updated'.

The intention is make sarcastic comments but diplomatically. You are giving him what he wants and also making fun of it.

You'll have to device your own techniques while encountering such people. And beware about the other persons who are around you. If he realizes your technique, he might get more aggressive and ask you to work in-front of others too where this technique would fail.

  • I like the core point of this answer ("overpower with diplomacy"), but I feel like the second and third answers come across as passive-aggressive. May I suggest also that the OP could simply say "one second, I'll finish [the paragraph/article] I'm reading"? – LinuxBlanket Mar 19 '18 at 18:24
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Impossible to know for sure without knowing more about the person / family, but this is something I have already encountered and was greatly puzzled / annoyed until I realized what is going on, and I feel it is worth mentioning as a possibility:

In some families small favors like you describe are used to build and maintain a sense of being together / caring for each other, instead (or beside) of small talk. If this is the case, the "proper" answer is to engage in the game and ask some trivial favors from him, to keep the game going. It can look like:

  • Him: "Bring me newspaper from the table, please"
  • You: "Sure, here you are"
  • You: "Can you hand me those nuts from the cupboard, please?" ...

If this is the case, your attempt to raise the issue either in open or in some passive / aggressive form could be inefficient, as it is quite likely the family members are not aware of the the habit and when you ask about it, they are puzzled, confused and unable to explain.

What I like about this approach is if you try this, two things can happen:

  • If this is the family culture I have described, he will willingly and gladly do those trivial favors for you and everyone is happy, the mutual care is flowing and nobody needs to feel abused, nobody was rude, no issue was even raised.
  • If it is not, chance is he can take the lesson, seeing his own behavior from the receiving side, or at least the absurdness is seen in open and can be acted on somehow. If he will not do the favor for you, just watch his response and apply the same against him once it is your turn again. This is a bit passive/aggressive I am afraid, but it should not be considered rude.
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... a guest by my sister and brother-in-law, and over the course of my weekend visit he asked me several times to do very trivial things, ...

It's a bit of a toss-up as to whether the guest is waited upon or does chores to earn their keep.

Other factors are do they always have you over to the rich part of town and stuff you with the finest food while reclining in luxury, while people don't visit you because you live in a small place with a lousy view - it's tough to balance what we don't know, nor how you expect it to be decided.

Is it your good fortune that he married your sister or is he just a useless idiot - why do you visit there if they are like that?

It depends on the customs of the location (I presume it's Israel), which can include many factors unknown to outsiders; since you haven't provided any information we'll presume that you want a generic and unbiased answer.

two issues that bothered me:

  • His laziness. For the same price that I had to get up, he could have gotten up. It's not like it was right next to me and I could just toss it to him; I had to do the same "work" that he would've had to do.

Would it be exactly the "same" work - Example: You could grab the paper nearer to you and walk four steps while he would have had to walk around all the furniture and then walk back - 8 steps for you or 16 steps for him.

That doesn't mean that he shouldn't have gotten up and got it himself regardless, just wondering about the measuring and your desire to be so polite while he is rude and lazy (as you describe it).

Is he programmed to be like that and you are programmed to accept abuse in silence?

  • The frequency. I can understand if this happened once, but this happened several times a night.

Agreed. Once is no big deal but a bad habit is not something you should support, especially if it affects you negatively. How often, over what, etc. - all things you need to gauge for yourself (and I won't be roped into playing 50 questions) - it really comes down to your ultimate question ...

I would have liked to say no, for the above two reasons, but I felt it might come across as rude, after all "it's just a newspaper, how hard can it be to bring it to him!"

It depends on how difficult it is for him to do it himself - do you ask him to do stuff, how about asking him to do it himself.

How could I have gracefully refused to do it, without coming across as rude?

  • Say you don't feel like getting up right now, you'll do it later ...

  • Explain that you like the way he does it (gets up and gets it himself) and you'd like to see it again.

  • Say you don't want to do his work, he's such a great guy that you don't want the neighbors to think he's lazy.

All of those are positive and some are complimentary ...

You can avoid all that by simply not visiting, explain to your sister why; she's likely to tell him.


The "better" (unwanted) advice is to be rude, make an incident out of it to guarantee he pays the price and doesn't repeat the behavior; why should your manhood be downtrodden, stand up for yourself.

Only you can measure it exactly, on the fly, and you'll have to live with the consequences - If you don't slave for him will he divorce your sister and send her back to live with you ... is that good or bad ...

What is your risk / reward - why do you accept that you must be the better person and not teach him some manners (yet we strangers must debate manners with you)? You don't have to be too polite.

  • Would it be exactly the "same" work? - Yes. As I wrote in my description of that part, it also meant I have to get up and walk over to get it, not that I could just reach over to it. – Ploni Mar 19 '18 at 16:27
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    Is he programmed to be like that and you are programmed to accept abuse in silence? - Very good point. I had never thought about that, but I am actually "programmed" to accept abuse in silence, and he is likely "programmed" to be lazy. – Ploni Mar 19 '18 at 16:29
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    And FTR I'm in the US, but I'm looking for a generic answer, as you correctly guessed. – Ploni Mar 19 '18 at 16:30
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How could I have gracefully refused to do it, without coming across as rude?

Honest but polite: Thank you, but I´d rather do that not right now.

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There is a certain personality type of person that will always push you to see how much they can get you to do for them. They do this out of laziness. But also because of the sense of power they get from being able to get some one else to do their bidding.

So next time he asks for something inane. Stand up for yourself and tell him no. Don't get mad about it, anger has a tendency to spread. But it's probably ok to sound annoyed.

You're an adult do it yourself.

Adding in the "You're an adult is a reminder to him that he is responsible for himself.

If you prefer to keep things simpler and avoid as much confrontation as possible you could just say.

Do it yourself.

I think you'll find that after telling him no a few times he stop pestering you and start pestering some one else. Although there is always the chance he could try to get tricky. Like waiting until you get up to get a drink and then asking you to bring the paper. So decide before hand what you want to do when he starts trying to get tricky. Personally I would call him out on it.

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