Sunday, October 14, 2012

Roommate Relations

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's letter comes courtesy of my friend Kimberly, and it's about roommates and cultural differences (probably):

I have a new roommate who's really nice but foreign (Nepali, specifically). He works 9-9 seven days a week and I think he is desperate for socializing or maybe it's a cultural difference thing but he literally pulled up a chair behind me last night while I was at my computer trying to have chat conversations with friends and do research and read over my shoulder everything I was doing! I can tell he has no idea how inappropriate this is so I don't want to be a jerk. I'd like to nicely indicate a boundary so that I can have private internet time without having to hide in my room. Also, he seems intent on feeding me which is odd. Seriously, he cuts cake for me without even asking if I want any. It's really kind of him but... um...awkward!
Here's where I admit that I have never had a roommate who was not my family or my spouse. I love my privacy, and could probably never be as polite as Kimberly would like to be with this young man who is reading over her shoulder.

Kimberly, it's hard to say whether his strange behavior is because of his culture, his upbringing, his own personal quirks, or just the fact that he is a new roommate awkwardly trying to get along with you. The good news is whatever his reasons, it doesn't sound like he is doing anything malicious, and I would have a hard time complaining about someone who brought me cake, up until I started dieting a week ago.

It sounds like your roomie wants to be friendly, so you first need to decide how friendly you're willing to be with him. Are you willing to set aside some specific time to hang out with him? If so, suggest that every Thursday at 10 is when you can play board games and share cake, for instance.

In the meantime, the next time he comes up behind you and starts reading your chats, minimize the window, turn around to face him, and say with a smile,

Oh hey, I'm just taking care of a few things on-line. It's kind of private. If you want to chat or hang out, I'll be done in about half an hour.
 If he doesn't take the hint, then a simple "Please don't read over my shoulder" should get it across.

And then there's the cake thing. This may be a cultural thing for sure. Some cultures have such strong feelings about feeding other people, he may have been raised to believe that it's wrong to get food for himself and not bring some for everyone else in the house, too. It's tricky to deal with this sort of thing without offending, which is why I once had to choke down some cold borscht (though to this day, I wonder why I was singled out for the offending borscht. Neither my brother nor mother had to eat anything. I was, apparently, too skinny?).

You may need to slowly and gently retrain him on this one. Start turning down his unexpected snacks with a simple "Oh, I'm not hungry, thank you!" When you're getting a snack, ask if he wants anything, with the hopes that he'll learn by your example. Maybe even explain to him that he should ask you before bringing you food.

This could lead to some good dialog. Maybe he'll tell you that he was raised to share food, and you can be understanding and say that's just not how you do things. Now that you've both explained your side of the food thing, he'll hopefully be comfortable to bring up any of your quirks that he finds unusual in an equally polite manner, and you two can both take care of any issues before they turn into resentment.

I feel really bad for anyone who is working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, so I hope you can resolve this in a way that leaves him feeling like he gets to be social, and leaves you feeling like you can chat in privacy.

Have your own strange roommate question? Send it to me at and I'll consider it for this blog!

By the way. Kimberly also has a great Etsy shop, Night Lily Design. Check it out!


  1. I have so far had 3 Nepalese immigrants as co workers, and while I am no expert, my experience does seem as if especially the food thing is a cultural aspect.

  2. I have so far had 3 Nepalese immigrants as co workers, and while I am no expert, my experience does seem as if especially the food thing is a cultural aspect.

    1. I almost emailed you to ask about your experience with your Nepalese co-workers!

  3. I love the 'minimize' suggestion! Thanks for the great post and for the shop promo ;) I'm going to go hunt for your donate button now :)

    1. I find that it really sends the message of "Hey, I don't want you reading this" without you needing to say anything :)

      Hope the advice helps, and thanks for being my first donator!