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Background

I was invited to my friend’s flat the other day to enjoy an infrequent visit. It isn’t often I spend time with her, so this was a special occasion.

Her flat isn’t exactly high-end and is quite small and crowded. She is often impulsive and purchases a range of products that amplify the already existent lack of space issue.

She currently lives with her fiancé so I met both of them while I was visiting. When I arrived, I realized there were only three chairs. Two of which were taken by her and her fiancé.

Problem

The last remaining seat was actually a trendy pillow-typed-chair (almost like a bean bag) that had been well worn and contained old food stains.

I was offered the seat and felt a growing pressure to sit and ‘relax’ (which, in my culture, is highly encouraged while visiting).

Personally for me, I’m a germaphobe (and often irrationally so); something like this really bothers me.

I didn’t want to tell her that I was more comfortable sitting on the carpet than the chair because it was grimy, so I resorted to sitting on the carpet and hoped it would just work itself out.

Goals and Question

My goal for next time, should this situation repeat itself, is to have a more comfortable approach to denying the request to sitting in the chair.

I don’t want to be mean to my hosts by evading their request. At the same time, I also don’t want to be socially coerced into sitting either.

Ultimately, I like to be as honest and genuine as possible. If I can’t have both honesty and unhurt feelings, then unhurt feelings will be my priority.

With that in mind, how can I evade sitting down without offending my hosts?

  • Is a small white lie acceptable in this case and with them? – OldPadawan Feb 1 at 20:57
  • @OldPadawan see my revised edits. The priority is honesty, but if my friend can only get hurt by it then truth omittance or a white lie might have to be my last resort. – Anilla Feb 1 at 21:11
  • Just a clarification I need for considering throwing in my own answer: Are you generally fine with sitting on the ground? – dhein Feb 8 at 8:44
  • @dhein Yup! In my case their floor was quite clean so I wouldn’t mind sitting there in the first place. – Anilla Feb 8 at 8:51
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In this case you don't actually have to choose between giving a reason (ew, gross, old food stains!) and lying. You can be honest but provide less information by saying something like "I prefer to sit on the floor, thanks." If they ask why, it's fine to just say, perhaps with a smile and shrug, "I prefer it."

Perfectly honest, not rude or hurtful, and most of all, doesn't give them anything to argue with or make excuses over.

If you were to say something like "I would rather sit on the floor because the food stains bother me." That opens a door for your friend to either take it as slight on her housekeeping and get defensive, or argue about if your choice was the most reasonable with something like, "It's just a little stain on the fabric, I did try to clean it." Stating it as simple matter of what you want or prefer avoids this; there is no reasonable way of arguing with someone's preference.

  • I really like the simplicity of this method. The only concern I have is them being like: “oh, no, please. Sit in the more comfortable chair”. I’ve done this before and notice that American hosts can be stubborn on how their guests are treated and often pressure them. Is there anything you might be able to add to this worry? – Anilla Feb 4 at 20:08
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    I see what you mean about Americans pressuring our guests in an attempt to be polite. (We as a culture should probably try to break that habit..) I think all you can really fall back on if that happens is to sit on the floor and smile and repeat, "Oh, no, thank you, I really am more comfortable here." There is still some chance that one of the hosts will move to the stained chair and give up one of their (hopefully cleaner) chairs at this point. If so, and you wish to take it, it is perfectly polite to do so with, preferably with plenty of expressions of gratitude. – Meg Feb 4 at 20:19
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then unhurt feelings will be my priority

Then the Interpersonal Skills you are looking for are either the Little White Lie or Related Truth. There is nothing wrong with them. They are techniques specifically meant to spare hurt feelings when honest just isn't necessary.

Whether or not you friend will get hurt by honesty I don't think matters. It's just unnecessary to tell your friend that you won't sit in the chair because it's dirty.

For instance, if the chair looks even the slightest bit uncomfortable, as a lot of trendy furniture is, casually offer that you prefer the floor because it's easier to sit up straight.

Depending on how old you are or the believability of a sports injury or similar, a bad back, sore knee or sprained ankle are all common reasons you'd be more comfortable in a 'normal' chair. Just be ready with a plausible but un-interesting reason.

Now that you've seen the chair and/or are more aware of their situation, your problem is really 90% solved since you have plenty of time to develop a plausible reason to not want to sit other than griminess. You may even settle on a reason that gets you one of the other chairs.

While not specifically Interpersonal Skills, there are two tactful things you can also consider: - Avoid this situation entirely by gently insisting that you meet outside their home. - Delay sitting down until maybe one of them gets up, then basically steal the seat :). You can say something like "I've been sitting all day, need to be up for a bit."

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Ok, I think this answer will add little to the existing advice, but still I want to point it out, since OP clarified they are generally fine with sitting on a not dirty floor and in that case, this might add a little.

So I myself have generally problems with sitting for too long on too soft surfaces. I am not sure if it is just uncomfortable or I simply don't like it for what ever reason, but when playing i.e. Dungeons and Dragons and having to sit for 1 session for like 12 hours on a couch, I switch multiple times between sitting on the ground and on the couch. Given that, and feeling comfortable with sitting on the ground in general when there are situations making it more pleasant to sit on the ground, i.E. being at work with the team lunching and there is no place with enough seats for everyone in a couch corner where people had to make compromises to solve the situation, or the dirty seat scenario from OP, I usually opt to sit on the ground. This first makes people insist on them trying to find an alternative for me being able to take a seat anyways, but I keep saying:

No, its fine. Sitting on the ground is as comfortable for me as on a seat, and sometimes I enjoy it even more.

And me being someone who also likes to stick with honesty, so giving untrue reasons for sitting on the floor being a problem, like this solution very much, since sometimes this not being the reason why I don't want to take a seat, the statement itself still remains true, it is just not mentioning the specific reason for a specific situation. And while this is a sometimes weird situation, when being with with a group where no one of them noticed me doing this before, this is just a single time. And especially if I am with a group, where at least one person encountered this behavior of mine before, its not a deal at all. People will just accept it and not even note on it again if you explained it once. So while being very comfortable for me establishing this being an general option isn't really taking that much effort and makes a lot of situations where honesty might get awkward way easier as a nice side effect.

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I would choose to be honest. But I would do it in a manner as to not embarrass your friend. Next time you meet with her, find a place out of earshot of anyone else. Let her know you really enjoyed the visit and look forward to spending more time with her. Then say something to the effect that "I'm a bit of a germaphobe, and the food stains on the chair caused anxiety when you asked me to sit. I really appreciate the offer to sit and relax, but my phobia would prevent me from relaxing. I do still want to get together, just please allow me to sit on the floor" (or pick a place to sit that won't trigger the phobia). This puts the issue as your problem, not hers. Then close by asking when you can get together again to show you're sincere about spending time with her.

I've learned over the years, even little white lies or fibs can lead to hurt feelings or distrust down the road. It's also an integrity issue on your part. If she can't accept the truth, then she is overly sensitive. But from experience, generally people will receive it well if you frame it in a way that's not blaming and when not done in front of others. Who knows, she may replace the chair for you.

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