Neighborly Advice in the ‘burbs, we all get along, but what if we don’t?


I won the neighborhood lottery as a child.

In my Village East neighborhood there were a baker’s dozen children around my age. Street football games were asphalt Iron Bowls. I have stitches on my chin as proof of how great they were.

neighvneighNaturally, because we were all friends I assumed our parents were too. I didn’t realize that, short of having the same street name written on our envelopes, our neighbors were mostly strangers to each other before moving onto the same block.

But somehow, we all got along just fine and our parents did too. It’s a situation wholly unique to the suburbs — play nice with the neighbors.

I’ve lived all over since, mostly in cities in apartments where I didn’t know my neighbors, their names or whether they were alive in some cases. But in the ‘burbs, that doesn’t fly. Sharing a fence with someone is like breaking bread, apparently, and these people are next-to-kin when you move in.

What happens when it’s a nosy neighbor? When you’ve given it your all and you’d rather live on the moon than next to these people? It happens (just watch re-runs of “People’s Court” and you’ll see what I mean) and it can truly ruin coming home after a hard day’s work. You feel like you’re breaking some more when you can’t stand the people next door.

Jim Dunning knows and he’s got some advice if you find yourself dreading coming home or you can’t close the garage quickly enough at night.

“Honesty is really the best policy here,” says Jim. “Telling someone what bothers you is always a good course of action. But it’s not the first step.”

Is avoidance at all costs a good first step, then?

“No. Actually befriending is a good place to start. You don’t have to be best friends here, but friendly chats can go a long way in helping our understanding of other people,” he says.

And if that fails?

“Let them know then. Absolutely.”

Mostly, people don’t know when they’re upsetting you, he says. Bringing it up casually can help smooth things over and get you both back on the right track. Mowing too close? Say so. Trimming the wrong tree? Tell ‘em. Christmas music on a May morning? Well, be careful, but it’s worth a chat.

OK. Done that, and it’s still not working out.

“Define your space and be clear. Draw your lines; don’t leave room for interpretation. ‘This is my space, here,’” Jim says. And like anything else, there’s always the police.

“Chances are you won’t be able to borrow a cup of sugar from them in the future though.”

You could always move if you buy that huge mansion you’ve dreamed about. Never know, you might win the lottery.

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