December 05, 2010

Love Thy Neighbour?

It is festive season, and we shall all be drawing together our disparate lives and attending parties and obligations-flying-under-the-banner-of-parties for the next few weeks. I say disparate lives because the Christmas party tends to be an Event that has little to do with conviviality, or spirituality, but rather more to do with an official letting-down of the collective hair of people who normally only see each other at work. One’s colleagues usually have precisely one thing in common with oneself, namely, they work at the same place as one. And to get over the awkwardness of it all, enormous amounts of alcohol are consumed and nefarious activities take place in the vicinity of the photocopier. It is altogether not particularly charming.

Anonymous photocopier Christmas art
And there are the parties with friends and family, which are much more congenial, but these days no less representative of our disparateness. In the age of Facebook, who can say anymore that all their friends and family live close by? Mine don’t, and I shall be making the 4,000 mile trip to see some of them, while leaving others behind. Even then, people will be dispersed across the vast metropolis, and will come together only through Planning, Organising, and the tool that works at any distance, Facebook: in short, through Contrivance. One can never escape the feeling on such reunions that water has passed under the bridge. It is not so much a catching up, as a patching up; re-building ties undone by distance.

Isn't everyone's family gathering like this?
Who here knows their neighbours anymore? I’m afraid to say that over the years I have not known mine, and when I have tried I have found them either unresponsive or transitory. People don’t sit still for long enough, and where they do, the hatches are battened down. This is a shame, but I sense a glimmer of hope in my current abode. I always thought it was a matter of politeness to invite one’s neighbours to a party, since the best way to avoid disturbing them is to include them. I am pleased to report that the slightly eccentric man above us included us in his annual gathering – wine, whiskey, spätzle and a lot of cigarette smoke. It wasn’t our scene at all, but these were neighbours, offering a hand of friendship and hospitality, and we were most gracious. And strangely enough, everyone learnt something in the process: I learnt that even the most ‘ordinary’ of Germans – bad knitwear, leather trousers and the mandatory mullet – value politeness and tend to be decently read. We tiptoed around each other for a while, but soon the language barrier began to melt away. I spent a long time talking to a young man, eager to learn but with little worldly experience, about why one cannot claim multiculturalism to be an utter failure if one hasn’t actually tried it. I think I also successfully introduced this youth to the finer points of single-malt whiskey. The scotch-drinking part of the evening involved the removal of those with a robust palate to a separate room, where history and social policy became the topic of the night. I inferred from our host that those with a taste for fine spirits were more likely to have refined minds, and on the evidence of the evening I cannot argue. It finished with two complete strangers offering me the long-term loan of a guitar and amplifier. I was pleased as punch.

We had made a priori plans to stay an hour and politely take our leave. We left at 1 a.m. The sense of community was unlike the standard fare of the Christmas season, and although I am not known for being a literalist, I began to see the most obvious advantage of the phrase, ‘Love thy neighbour’.


  1. Nice piece. The confluence of minds and single-malt most particularly insightful!

  2. Ah, yes, the old we'll only stay for an hour approach. It does seem more often then not, the one turns to several. Sounds wonderful.


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