#976: “Etiquette question: Who should call?”

I am visiting England from North America. A person I know knew when I was coming and where to reach me. They have never called to say hello or welcome. Was I meant to call them?

Do you want to talk to this person?

Do you want that conversation to be enjoyable and pleasant? Do you want them to still want to talk to you after it’s over?

If yes, call them, and (just a suggestion) don’t start your conversation with “Why haven’t you called me yet?” or “I’ve been WAITING for your call!

Maybe try: “Hello, do you still have some time to get together while I’m here?” 

It’s entirely possible that your upcoming visit was not the most important event on this person’s calendar. Perhaps they assumed you were busy with other travel activities and that you’d call when you had a free moment. Perhaps they forgot entirely.

No matter. What you think “should have” happened didn’t happen. So, what would you like to happen now?


51 thoughts on “#976: “Etiquette question: Who should call?”

  1. Maybe they lost your number. Maybe the election ate their brain cells. Maybe they’ll be completely thrilled to hear from you! Doubly so if there’s something in their area you already know you want to do and you call and say “hey, I’m going to [amazing thing] on [fixed day], are you free?

    Have a good trip, if you get to Bath the reopened baths are actually quite glorious and luxurious and reviving.

  2. I think if your question is “Were they rude not to call me?” I think the answer is no. If your question is “Did I commit a faux pas by not calling them?” I think also the answer is no. If you want to see them, it would be a good idea to contact them and ask them directly if they are up for hanging out together. If you don’t want to see them, you are not under any obligation to just because you happen to be nearby.

  3. I live in a tourist capital of Europe and lots of North American acquaintances and even old friends want to make plans when they travel here. Sometimes they get upset when I’m not available or if I don’t make an effort to make plans, but the thing is- the visitor is on vacation or on a trip or in some way taking some time out of their ordinary life. I’m in school and working and cleaning my bathroom and otherwise going about my ordinary life. I’d definitely say the etiquette is on you to remind me you’re here and be a little flexible with my schedule. I love to show people my city, but more so if it doesn’t require a lot of work for me because I’m already working.

    1. This, exactly.

      Also, unless I’m really close to someone and/or we’ve precisely discussed hanging out, I assume that they’re probably much too busy sightseeing to see *me*.

      1. The burden of arranging a visit is totally on the person traveling. I have been really confused by my brother in law. Twice in the past two years, he has come to my city for work. Once here, he has texted and said something like, “It’s a great day in [your city]!”

        What do I do with that information? Am I supposed to invite him over for dinner? What?

        When I travel, I contact the people I want to see way in advance because I am hoping they can find time on their schedule to see me. And I suggest something specific – “Hey friend! I will be in Austin on X date! I would love to meet you for dinner/buy you lunch/go for a walk! Is there a time that would be convenient for us to get together?”

    2. This. But also, speaking as a Brit with a lot of North American friends- we don’t always see distances the same way. Like my best friend considers my home town to be ‘close’ to London because google maps says it’s a 3 hour car drive. But for us London is an expedition and will usually take at least 6 plus a bunch of charges and other hassles that we won’t engage with unless we have no choice. This is especially true if they use public transport or cross the country. So they may well be thinking ‘oh OP is going to that city, they won’t want to make all that effort to come here’ because they’d consider the journey to be a difficult one. Unless you were already coming to my city I wouldn’t call you and risk making you feel obligated to give up holiday time to see me

      1. Yes. This. The way the LW phrased this stood out to me, as well, because it came across like ‘well, we’re both in England so what’s the problem?’ LW, were you specific with your friend about exactly where in England you would be, and when? To British people England – even just the bit that is England and not the whole of the UK – is a huge geographical area in a way it probably isn’t to people from North America. There are lots of bits of England that would take me hours of travel to get to, and cost substantial amounts. I might actually be up for doing that if a friend was visiting but it’s not a small thing and may not be in their budget or be manageable time-wise (especially if they have any work or family commitments).
        Also, I would tend to expect that someone coming on holiday may have plans for things they want to do or see. I basically wouldn’t see their holiday as being something I should hijack by expecting them to meet up with me – especially if I wasn’t in a position to travel to them, so that burden of cost and travel time would fall to them. So, I do think this is something where the visitor needs to communicate clearly a) that they would like to meet up and b) where they plan to be when, to think about whether this is logistically possible.

        1. …and not just England, Londoners joke about the other side of London being too far. I was reluctant to ask people to come to a name change celebration bbq because I live right on the edge of greater London so it’s 1-3 hours travel for most people.

      2. On the other hand, “I’m three hours away in London” is a hell of a lot closer than “I’m across the ocean.” Maybe just because I don’t travel a lot, but if I were going to be in England I’d definitely expect to make some trips out to visit folks no matter where I was actually going in specific. After all, I might never have another chance–and certainly not any time in the next several years!

        Then again, that’s my situation, not OP’s–and even then I’d be specifically contacting people well ahead of time, to make sure they’d be in town/up for getting together during the dates I was traveling.

    3. I’ve always felt like the onus was on the person who is visiting (whether it was me or someone else) to reach out. I don’t expect anyone else to remember my travel plans except my partner… I sure don’t remember theirs!

  4. I’m French/Australian, but I’ve lived in the UK for 40 years…and yes, you should have contacted them if you wanted to see them. I’ve personally found the British quite hard work when it comes to maintaining friendships i.e. often had people enthusiastically make plans, and then when it comes nearer the time, never heard from them again (and the plans don’t go ahead). In this case, they probably thought if you wanted to see them when you were free you would make first contact.

    1. I’m so sorry about this. Most of us English people are consumed by social anxiety by default, and just can’t face new social experiences. Sad, because when forced into it we have a great time. However, the subsequent sleepless night reviewing every interaction we had in case we screwed up is pretty tiring.

      So, in conclusion, if you (as an apparently socially competent, and therefore terrifying, foreigner) have managed to get an English person to socialise with you even once, they really value you.

      1. I guess you were joking, but just in case anyone not from the UK is taking that seriously, no, the UK is really not made up largely of people consumed with social anxiety, as you will quickly find out by, e.g. walking around any UK city in the evening. Please don’t worry that you’re stressing Brits out by talking to them or asking them to join you for a drink.

        1. Yeah, speaking as a Brit, that sounds to me like bad manners or bad planning, not a national tradition!

          1. It’s a British/Irish cultural thing that confuses the heck out of other Northern Europeans. Me and my partner are English and Irish respectively, and have both lived in Germany, and it’s something we joke about a lot. If we, English, meet someone at a party and get on with them, it’s quite common to say something like, “oh, you should totally come to my party next week!” or “we should definitely go and see that film!” “Oh, sure, sounds like fun!” Most British and Irish people won’t consider that a firm arrangement, though: it’s a genuine expression of interest on both sides, but it’s not a firm intention until one if you texts the other a day or two later and says, “hey, if you still want to see that film, how about meeting at…?” Whereas for most Germans, Dutch, Scandinavians, Belgians etc., that would count as a firm arrangement. My partner once got horribly caught out by this when she took, “hey, you should come to my party next week!” as a casual Irish invitation (I’m having a party, it’s open house, it would be cool if you turned up but I’m not really expecting to see you), and then discovered later that this was a German invitation (this was a dinner party for six people, we were expecting you at 7, we waited til 8 to eat, what the hell us wrong with you.)

            (I haven’t spent enough time with North Americans to know where they fit into this, but it’s not unlikely that some parts of North American will be German/Scandinavian in this respect.)

          2. IN response to Mary, but out of nesting… I’m American and have mostly lived in the Midwest/Great Lakes region as an adult. In my experience “you should come to ____” or “we should ____” is context driven. If it’s a casual college party, it means come if you can. If it’s a movie with a friend, it requires further follow up. If it’s your best friend and you know them well, maybe show right up. But often it does require some sort of follow up or confirmation of plans.

          3. I, as another born-and-bred North American, agree with Renita. If a fairly specific thing is mentioned – e.g., seeing a specific film or attending a specific party – I would assume it to be a genuine offer requiring follow-through, unless it was a casual “drop in if you’re around” kind of thing. But if someone suggests something specific, I would definitely assume that they wanted to do that particular thing, not that it was a vague gesture of possible friendship.

            I’m a little unclear on your dinner problem, Mary. If your hosts said “We would like you to come on X date around Y time,” and you said “yes,” then yes, I would have expected you too. If it was more like “You’ll have to come to dinner sometime – how about next week?” you have not really committed to anything yet, but you should expect follow-up soon. If it’s more like “We’ll have to get together sometime” and you say “Yes, we should!” nobody’s committed to anything except mutual niceness.

  5. Perhaps they forgot entirely.

    It me! I am terrible with dates and times. As much as possible I put things in my calendar so a computer can remember them for me, but even with that habit pretty well established I routinely discover that an event I was interested in happened last week. And then if I forget to call (or text, or email) someone when I meant to I start worrying that it’s just going to be weird and awkward to contact them now and then I angst about it for a couple weeks and then I don’t contact them at all and feel like a huge jerk.

    tl:dr if you want to call this person, they may be very grateful that you took the initiative.

    1. “And then if I forget to call (or text, or email) someone when I meant to I start worrying that it’s just going to be weird and awkward to contact them now and then I angst about it for a couple weeks and then I don’t contact them at all and feel like a huge jerk.”


      All. The. Time.

  6. If you want to see them, call.

    There is a certain type of reserved politeness where us Brits tend to avoid imposing. So it’s possible your finds assumes you have a packed itinerary and other UK friends to visit.

    Also, my concept of distance is relative compared to my American friends. I live in the North of England and would find travelling to Edinburgh or London to see a friend to be a large distance. Depending on where your friend is, they may assume that asking you to travel 300 miles to meet them is a big ask. I’m aware that North America is really bloody huge in comparison to our rainy little island and you may not feel seeing your friend is a big excursion!

  7. Hello! As a typical reticent Brit, I say definitely call them. They may well be thinking ‘ohh LW said they were coming to the UK around now and I’d love to see them! But I’m just one person and there’s so much cool stuff to see and do, and I don’t want to be all needy and asking them to sacrifice scarce time on their trip to see me. I’ll wait and see if they get in touch.’

    So – call them or drop them a note. Either way you won’t end up going home wondering about what ifs.

    1. “I don’t want to be all needy and asking them to sacrifice scarce time on their trip to see me”

      This is exactly the sort of thing I might be thinking in that scenario. “Oh they’ve probably got everything planned to a T and I don’t want to intrude and I’m sure if they want to see me they’d tell me. I don’t want to make their special trip all about me in any way!”

  8. It’s fine for both or neither of you to call each other. But I will say, as a life-long visitor to places people live and liver-in of places people visit, it had never ever occurred to me that anyone but the visitor (with their unpredictable holiday schedule) would do the calling. If they don’t call, I assume they got too busy.

  9. I dunno about etiquette, but in my experience, contact usually falls on the traveller.

    I generally send an email or text in advance: “hey, I’ll be in your area on these dates, will you be around/want to meet up?” kinda thing.

    Then when I get there I’ll send another message (or first if I didn’t get to it sooner): “I’m in the area through next Saturday/love to get together/when are you free?” with maybe some info about my plans and availability or stuff I wanted to do.

    This is what most people do when they visit my area, too. If I see they are in town from social media, but they didn’t contact me, I might reach out depending on my schedule and our relationship, or I might figure they are busy with tourist things/their family/work conference and just ignore it.

    If you want to see this person, it’s not too late!

  10. Generally speaking, the one who “should” call is the one who is thinking of calling and has the time to do so.

    Specifically to trips, it’s one thing to know that someone plans on visiting your continent/country within a general timeframe. It’s quite another to know definitely that they arrived, and their itinerary.

    Plans change. Trips get altered, delayed or cancelled. People get sick or jetlagged and aren’t up for all the activities on their wishlist.

    You’re there. You’re up for getting together. It’s only reasonable to confirm that to your friend.

  11. Agreeing with everyone else here. If you want to see/do a fun thing with someone while you’re in their part of the world, the best way is to ask them. I’ve had a few occasions when I’ve dropped loosely made plans because someone I know is in the area and wants to drop by and/or drag me off to a fun place.event or just hang out. If I have a specific thing I want to do with a named person, equally, I’ll ask them.

    Brit, mostly from Yorkshire/N, Derbyshire, who has lived all over the place.

  12. I grew up traveling and have family and friends around the world. I don’t know if it’s what etiquette dictates everywhere but, in my world, the visitor always calls the locals, not the other way around. (And holy crap are you in trouble if you wait too long to call! Though I think the severity of said trouble is a family thing and not standard.)

  13. It’s fine for either person to call. That means a reasonable question might be which would feel worse: missing them and finding out later that they were waiting to hear from you, or calling them and being told that they aren’t available/interested after all? That’s not an etiquette question, it’s a question about your personality and state of mind, and possibly about your friend’s personality, if you know them well enough to predict their answer to that.

  14. British person here: Unless you specifically made arrangements to visit or contact this friend while you’re in the UK, they will have assumed you are busy sight-seeing or whatever and haven’t factored them into your plans.

    In general, I’d expect the person making the travel plans to drop me a line and tell me if they’re going to be in my vicinity, and then it’d be up to me to help make mutally hassle-free plans.

    Be aware, though, that our infrastructure is so crap (especially for non-drivers) that I couldn’t even make a journey of 226 miles to a major city for a fellow British friend’s birthday without a 6-hour coach ride. It would have cost me hundreds of pounds to make the journey there on the train. Neither option is viable for me.

    And forget Cornwall – it might as well be on the Moon for a Northerner. But enough kvetching about our transit system – be chill and call your friend to say hi if you want to get in touch. No need to over-think. 🙂

  15. I agree with AltoFronto: you don’t need to overthink this! Just a text like – “Hey! I’m in X from [date] to [date], and I’d love to see you! If you’re down, lmk when and where to meet up!” would suffice.

  16. Experiences as someone who’s an immigrant in the UK (and 99% of my family is outside it):

    – When people come here, I expect them to initiate the plan making.
    – When I visit, my family expects me to make the plans.

    When someone’s travelling, it can be difficult to ask them straight out to carve out time because it feels ‘selfish’ or ‘presumptuous’. “They’ve got so many cool plans and people to see, I’ll wait and see if they do want to see me.”

    Even when it’s someone like my grandparents, who would 100% expect to see me when I travel back to home country. They assume I will be busy seeing the whole family, but also that I will contact them to make plans.

    I wonder if part of it is that, no matter how busy, someone at home is living their normal life so they’re a known quantity, while the visitor is the one where the exact plans are unknown?

  17. My philosophy always is that if I want to see someone, I call and ask if they’d like to get together. Avoids a lot of unintentionally hurt feelings.

    I live in a place where a lot of tourists visit and I often hear about people I know visiting my area. I would never assume they want me to call them up and try to get together–not because I don’t want to see them but because I don’t want to impose on their short travel window because i know how packed they can be. I have an old friend who comes my way periodically and he always lets me know if he’s got time for a get-together, and we do and it’s great. I have a Facebook friend who recently came my way (we’d never met in person) and contacted me to see if I’d be interested in meeting up. We had dinner and it was wonderful. I have a couple of other friends who come to a town near mine rather frequently and never ask about getting together even though they know I’m here, and I assume it’s because they are busy with family who live locally. When I visit my own family across the country I generally have my schedule packed 24/7 with family and my closest friends. While I’d love to see my other friends from high school and college it’s simply not possible. I certainly don’t expect them to ring me up and make plans. When I traveled to San Francisco recently I reached out to two friends living there to see about getting together. It would never have occurred to me that they should have initiated plans.

  18. If it was me I’d probably be sitting at home going “woe is me, I thought they liked me and they haven’t phoned, *sob*”.

    Brits have that “negative politeness we don’t want to impose” thing going on. Americans are the opposite (gross generalisations I know, they won’t always be true).

    If you want to see them, call! If not… don’t?!

    1. I’m starting to understand why I get mistaken for a native when I visit London. It had to be more than the lack of puffy sneakers and fanny packs. I have the same “do not wish to impose” reticent / polite demeanor, am introverted and depressive, and I can confirm that I often overthink myself into an anxiety spasm about these sorts of “should I or shouldn’t I?” scenarios. If that’s “a Brit thing,” I guess I’m unofficially British.

  19. SHIT. Okay. On the off chance that this was me, which feels unlikely, except it is ENTIRELY SOMETHING THAT I COULD DO AND FORGET:

    I would beg you to call me. Seriously, please, forgive and call me.

    I have billeted many Awkward Army people in England and it was always, ALWAYS a case of “oh heck! Are you here? Next week? Shit! sorry! Need a bed?” And I am so sorry; I am SO sorry, oh my god I hope this isn’t me.

    Can we blame the baby. That excuse is still good right?

      1. Yeah but that’s the problem, I’ll get used to it and when the timer runs out I will need to cultivate different excuses (additional children; dogs; chicken problems) rather than trying to be a Better Person, who writes things down on a calendar

  20. As a Brit with family living in the USA, I definitely say you should call them.

    I’m aware that flying to my tiny little island from the USA is Not Cheap. I’m aware that it is a Long Flight and that airports are Exhausting and Stressful. On top of all that, anyone travelling to the UK has A Lot To See. Our country is large enough and transport unwieldy enough that for us over here, the prospect of visiting Buckingham Palace, Canterbury Cathedral, Glastonbury Tor and Stonehenge in a single fortnight sounds horrifying, but we’re also tiny enough that I know more than one American visitor who has attempted to do exactly that when coming down.

    What all that adds up to is that I assume anyone from the USA or Australia or some other similarly far-away place bothering to come over here will have a packed itinerary, a list of family or close friends they especially want to make time for, and a list as long as their arm of sites they plan to try and squeeze in. And I don’t want to pressure them to also make time for me in that, if I wasn’t already high enough in their list of priorities for them to have made arrangements to see me *before flying out*.

    1. As an Australian, we’re so used to travelling long distances that fitting all of that in a fortnight sounds perfectly reasonable. I mean, I’m willing to drive for three days when going north for a warm weather holiday, so!

  21. Agree with all who say that if you want to get together with someone, make contact.

    The question has been around for a long time. It surprises me with how much emotion and potential for hurt feelings is behind it. I’d have said it was up to the traveler to call– but also that it wasn’t all that important who calls whom. I recall a time 30 years ago I worked in a library. Our job was to help people find the information they wanted in books. (Actually my job was more about putting away books, but I sometimes fielded questions.) I’d gotten the question on whether it was the traveler or the home town person who was supposed to do the inviting. I’d shown the man where the etiquette books were, then helped him look up the information in the index, then because he seemed to need it, helped him find the page with the information he wanted. Then I listened as he told me quite directly that the book was wrong. It was easy for me to shrug off his mini-lecture, but I remember finding the whole exchange funny enough to tell a friend about it later.

    There seems to be a general disconnect about both time and space between the traveler and the one at home. When people are traveling from Europe, they somehow think it’s a short distance between New York and Los Angeles, or even between one side of Dallas to the other. That disconnect is so common as to have become sort of funny. It’s a disconnect that everyone’s made once. You know better when you live there, but there’s a tendency to do it yourself when you’re the tourist. There’s also the disconnect around scheduling. When I’m visiting another city for only a week or so, I’ll email everyone I know there to set up times I’ll see them so I can fit everyone in. That might be as much as a month in advance. Some people will think “oh, she’ll be here for a week, plenty of time to get together, give me a call when you’re here.” Those are the people I sometimes miss. Basically, when you’re traveling, a week (or 2 weeks, or a month) seems like a short time. When you live somewhere, it’s seems much longer. Time when you’re traveling seems much shorter.

    1. Yes to the distance thing. I once lived in LA, and an internet friend from Florida excitedly informed me she was going to be in San Francisco for the long weekend, so perhaps we could get together to go to Disneyland one day. I found this especially perplexing since she was from Florida (another exceptionally long state), but I think this same “unclear on distance in foreign places” issue was in play.

  22. If you’re trying to get what you want, considering taking action for that thing yourself if feasibly is usually an easy option

  23. Today I learned that my fondness for tea and Marmite is because I have _actually_ been a Brit _all this time_. What a relief.

    1. Oh, bless you. I wanted to like Marmite so much–my BIL is English and terribly fond of the stuff; he once brought it as a present to my parents when he came to visit the States–but it just hit my irrational yuck buttons (not that there’s anything wrong with you liking it!) But I am always, always down for a cup of tea.

  24. I’d not call American friends because most of them don’t have mobile phones that work in the UK. I also don’t phone because I don’t do phones unless necessary, and I might have plain forgotten that you are coming to my city this week. I also don’t expect visitors to phone because in this age of mobile phones, public phones are impossible to find, and they were never convenient.

    But I think there’s a barrel of red herrings in the room. How would a definite answer to this question (as if Etiquette weren’t a matter of opinions, as if individual circumstances aren’t different enough that there are dozens of correct answers to any one question) improve your life? It will either give you ammunition to beat yourself up (I should have called, it’s MY FAULT), or ammunition to be angry at them (they should have called, they were rude to me) but neither will achieve the thing you wanted, a better human connection with the person you were hoping to meet up with.

    This connection wasn’t important enough to you to pick up your phone (or email, or Facebook, or whatever) to call them. Or you weren’t certain enough about your relationship to contact them first. Own that, whatever the reason. Then consider how you want to proceed: if you’re still around, do you WANT that meeting to happen? Contact them. Are you ambivalent? Maybe don’t contact them, hang out with someone else, or take yourself to a date to a place that you’d like to see but feel you oughtn’t because it’s too silly/far/other. (I’ve visited libraries in strange cities because I needed some quiet book time. So there.)

  25. Yep. You both should, if you want to try to meet. Or you neither should, if you don’t. I know you asked an etiquette question and I answered a pragmatic question, but I don’t think the etiquette will get you much. Oops, there I go being pragmatic again.

  26. I’d say that this isn’t necessarily an etiquette question where one or the other of you ought to have called; it’s simply a question of whoever thinks to do it first. I’d phone them if you’d like to see them.

  27. I have traveled with the specific intent of meeting up with friends abroad, and always assumed it was on me to initiate contact once I arrived in their city/country, not them.

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