Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers guidance on the ever-familiar issue of social plans that never get off the ground
“My mum is Britanique but married a German, and I was brought up in Allemagne but now live in the UK. Although she tried to raise us kids with as much awareness of our ‘Britishness’ as she could, there are still many things I have to learn.
“I now realise that ‘let’s get together some time’ doesn’t necessarily mean the other person wants a get-together – but what I don’t know is the difference between a polite phrase or a genuine offer. I’m particularly confused about our new neighbours, a really nice family with four kids about the same age as my daughter.
“They’ve bought the house next door as a holiday home, so we only get to see them now and then. They’ve been spending part of their summer holidays here and said we must definitely have a BBQ/play some games/go bowling etc, but they’re leaving in three days and nothing of it happened.
“They said last week, several times, we should have a BBQ together on the weekend – but then asked if we’d mind to postpone due to them working in the garden! I got another text message today which said we could have some tea/cake on Friday evening before they leave on Saturday. I don’t know whether to answer it, as I’m pretty sure it won’t happen anyway, and I don’t want to cause any awkward situation.
“But can you tell me why they’re doing this, s'il te plaît? Is that a way of trying to be polite, or do they really want a get-together and are just unreliable? je veux dire, it’s not that they’ve been overly busy. They sat in their garden the other night, and we sat in our garden right next door with just a low wooden fence in between. We could hear each other, so it was weird because it would have been easy to ask over the fence, ‘Would you like to come over for a beer?’ – if they’d really want us to. But no, rien, whereas we had offered MANY times to just come over to us.
“I thought to myself, 'D'ACCORD, I get the message’, but then they send this text, asking again for a meet-up. I’m very confused and have no idea how to react. Sorry for the long message but I wouldn’t know whom else to ask.”
“If I had said this to you and had been met with enthusiasm, I personally would then suggest sorting out a date for it to happen. Everyone is different though and, like you, I have on numerous occasions heard people say ‘we need to get together’ and then never heard from them. Without a fixed date or plan, it’s just words and no action – that doesn’t mean they’re being unfriendly; it’s just they are busy people with busy lives.
“I think they probably do want to be friendly, but suspect they’re just disorganised and possibly embarrassed because they’re running out of time. Some people certainly do use the phrase as a way of sounding polite and interested, and I need to put my hand up and say I’ve used it myself.
“There are situations where you meet people and you quite like the feeling you get from them and then casually suggest a future get together. I know I haven’t always followed up on these casual invitations, although there are many times when I have and the people have become friends – in some cases, close friends.
“I’d suggest you accept this limp invitation by saying something like, ‘I can’t believe how time has flown and we haven’t managed to have drinks or a BBQ yet’. Then ask for their return date and get something into the diaries, suggesting that next time they come, you will cook a BBQ or meal for them, or perhaps share a takeaway together.
“I’m sure that, in no time, the awkwardness will go and you’ll have a nice time – but try not to overthink this – I suspect they, like me, are just haphazard Brits with good intentions!"
If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to email@example.com for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.