I live in a shared house in the US. Generally speaking it's very nice and the people I share it with are nice. There's a young lady from India who I noticed has very different views than I do. She often tells me to do things that I would've done without being told but since she's telling me, I get the impression it's urgent or bothering her.

Here is one example. I had a friend over for dinner. While my friend and I were eating, my roommate started talking to me about cleaning and splitting expenses. My friend and I got full and watched TV without putting away leftovers. Very quickly my roommate messaged me "I hope the kitchen gets cleaned soon". I cleaned it right away, but noticed that she did not use it. I don't see why she sent the message if she wasn't going to use it.

She's really nice and I noticed if I explain things in basic terms she would understand. For example, she kept telling me to take the garbage out, I finally was able to explain to her it's common to have a small bin inside and when it's full, empty it outside.

So how can I explain to her it's considered awkward to bring up cleaning or roommate issues when there is a guest over?

I'd like to make her understand I don't have to be reminded to clean after myself but I don't know how to do so without sounding rude.

One problem I've had with her communication style is she says what to do not what she wants/needs. For example, I would have preferred "I'd like to use the kitchen now" rather than "I hope the kitchen gets cleaned soon".

Added: in the comments a point is brought up that maybe she doesn't like to look at the mess. I'm not sure how to address this because to me it seems obvious something (such as the kitchen) is going to be messy when it is in the middle of being used.

Also my philosophy with roommates (and in life) is try to ignore minor things that bother you. For example she leaves her socks with her shoes at the door, which I don't like looking at, but I chose to ignore it. I don't want to turn this into a battle of attrition where we keep telling each other to do.

Another point brought up in an answer/comment is having the guest help clean. I think it would be rude to ask your guest to clean, but if they offer then it's ok. Out of curiosity do other people see it differently?

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    But perhaps she meant "I don't like looking at that mess" not "I want to use the kitchen." You assume she doesn't understand you, consider also that you don't understand her. Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 14:56
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    Is it possible that she sees you as a messy person? (according to her standards of course). Or (sorry for asking...) do you think you could be?
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 18:34
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    @KateGregory if that's the case she shouldn't live with roommates if she doesn't want to see other people using the kitchen. Also I never said she doesn't understand me, actually the opposite, I said I didn't understand the reason she asked for the kitchen while we were still eating.
    – Tuberiform
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 22:15
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    @OldPadawan yes I think it's likely she sees me as a messy person.I don't consider myself to be and try to clean up as soon as possible.
    – Tuberiform
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 22:25
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    @Tuberiform you see no difference between using a kitchen, and leaving it empty and messy just sitting there for other people to look at? Many very tidy people feel a sort of "itch" seeing mess sitting around not being dealt with. I don't know if your room-mate is such a person, but I do know how to find out - talk to her about it. Being all logical like "if you don't want to use the kitchen you have no right to care it is messy" is not going to improve this situation. Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 5:59

2 Answers 2


Ten years living in East Asia speaking here...

In summary: Address it casually and as often as it comes up.

Start by understanding your situation:

1. Cultural difference: Generally among Far Eastern cultures, people feel more free about looking after each other; in the West if feels more like being nagged and nannied. She probably doesn't mean any offense by it.

2. Personality: She might also seem to be a bit more out-spoken because not everyone so clearly speaks up like that—without cause—from any hemisphere.

3. The problem & the bother: Point 2 also gets close to what may have bothered you: You are being nagged about housework without cause. Remember that for yourself and in conversation about it with her.

To summarize my understanding of what you explained, not to be rude at all toward her, she is leaning on the side of being petty and immature—at least by your standards, as it comes across to me in what you say. Bear that in mind...

Addressing the problem:

The best way, from my experience in dealing with cultural-personality conflicts and/or immaturity is to respond gently as if dealing with a child...

This doesn't mean you're more mature or that your housemate is childish or that you should think you are better than she is—not anything like that! Be gentle and explain things that you might not normally expect to explain to others.

I was once the new foreigner in East Asia and there were many cultural things I didn't understand. Also, I have an outgoing personality. Eastern friends who explained things to me that are more obvious in this new [to me] culture did me enormous favors! I was like the child who had to learn, in the cultural sense.

As a general rule of thumb: No matter the reason, when someone acts like a child, respond by teaching as you would a child—explaining more than normally and always being gentle.


Right when you received the text message, text back:

Cleaning up isn't a problem and now isn't the best time anyway. We can always talk later. :-)

...If she texts back, ignore it until later, like when your friend leaves.

When it comes up in person:

In America, anyway, telling someone what to do usually means you want to fight. But, I'm old enough to not let it bother me.

...Then just ignore and take no action or minimal action on whatever she just nagged you about. Drop similar lines when it comes up and keep it as short and "non-drama" as possible. Maybe even act tired and dismissive/not-so-interested when you say it, always being kind of course; keep calm to make calm.

I hope that provides enough fuel for thought so you can navigate your way through this. If you do, you'll be all the more awesome for it.

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    Good insights in your anwer. :) But treating your peers as children sounds like a recipe for disaster. Most people don't like to be treated like that and some get very offended. Explain in more details, yes. Explain as if teaching a child, not so sure. Also, OP's possible judgement of the other person being immature (or any other judgement) is labelling and takes away from good, clear communication. We should all avoid that. Communication is a 2 way road. If OP will do the talking and their roommate is supposed to just listen, that's a lecture.
    – msb
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 18:20
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    Finally, acting dismissive can make the other person feel like their feelings don't matter, which is quite rude, frustrating and/or hurtful. This might lead to escalation, which is not the course I would want to take.
    – msb
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 18:23
  • ...All true, but not of my answer. Re-read: "This doesn't mean you're more mature or that your housemate is childish or that you should think you are better than she is—not anything like that! Be gentle and explain things that you might not normally expect to explain to others. ...I was like the child who had to learn." The key is to teach whatever the next thing the person needs to learn is and do so gently. Condescention would be to expect people to know more than they do and that starts with attitude. Recognizing the need for teaching basics and feeling superior are separate—and key to IPS.
    – Jesse
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 19:21
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    @msb what Jesse is saying is that to understand that the peer is as naive as a child is in the sense that they don't have the cultural cues that you have and sometimes they need to have things explained and spelled out for them. That they're not doing it out of malice, they're doing it out of ignorance (Hanlon's razor). This is not the same as being patronizing. Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 19:03

When I have friends over, I want to spend quality time with them, doing fun activities and chatting. I don't get visits that often, and it's usually a special occasion. For that reason, I defer any cleaning to after they're gone. I don't want to spend our precious time together doing chores alone instead of having fun together. Especially if it's something that can wait a couple of hours. (edit: about comments on sharing the cleaning up, in my culture it's quite rude to put guests to work, unless they're very close family or friends).

Based on your description, I find it safe to assume you feel similarly. I don't have roommates, but if I did, I would still feel the same and do the same. If my roommate pressured me into cleaning up faster, I would feel very frustrated. In a way, they would be pressuring me into giving up precious minutes of company with my friends in favor of something that is not urgent, and it's not a roadblock for them.

As exemplified in this TEDx talk, the best approach is to share feelings. Similar situations evoke different feelings in different people, especially when they have different cultural backgrounds. Because of that, it's hard to find a common ground just by exposing a situation and expecting empathy. However, feelings are universal, they're just triggered by different situations on different people. Also avoid putting labels, stereotypes, and other simplifications. Labels lead to assumptions, which take away from dialogue, and therefore takes the people involved farther away from mutual understanding, instead of bringing them closer to that. As mentioned in the talk, use inclusive language. Talk about "my" feelings, talking about the difficulties "we" are facing, ask questions, try to understand their side of the story ("what were you feeling that made you send me that message?", "what are your fears?", "do you feel strongly about this? If yes, why?"), and brainstorm solutions as a team (what can we do about this?). Try together to find solutions that will address both their concerns and your frustration. If they propose solutions that don't address your feelings, be clear about that. ("If we do what you're proposing, I will still feel frustrated; how could we do this differently?")

It is a tough situation, but clear and open communication is never rude (even though it's alien to some cultures, unfortunately). Good luck!

  • umm cleaning the kitchen after eating is so easy to share, you wash I will dry is a very basic example. Or "can you keep me company in the kitchen"
    – WendyG
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 14:09
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    This is a good point. Part of it is I feel like I'm being rude to my guest if I'm cleaning instead of hanging out with him.
    – Tuberiform
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 16:26
  • Out of curiosity would you consider it polite to ask a guest help to clean your place? @WendyG
    – Tuberiform
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 16:43
  • @WendyG in my culture it's reasonably rude to put your guests to work when they're visiting, specially if you invited them. But that doesn't answer your question. Usually the "drying" person in "I wash you dry" should also put things in place, which If it's the guest, it would require them to know where things go, which usually isn't the case. You could ask them to wash. But that would be extra rude in my culture: not only you're putting them to work, you're asking them to do the harder work.
    – msb
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 18:01
  • @Tuberiform I did supply 2 options, some friends would of course help after a meal I had cooked for them, and others would be happy just to chat to me in the kitchen just as well as any other room. My RPG groups all helps wash up after dinner and before gaming commences.
    – WendyG
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 13:59

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