No, really: do you even know who lives next door?
Image: Neighbourhood Life
I once lived next door to an elderly widow who would probably have loved some company, but most of the time one wouldn’t have known she was there. Her appearance one day at the window during my attempt at a back-yard barbeque was telling: ‘Are you trying to smoke me out?’ she yelled from the top floor of the house. She closed the window and then appeared at the back door. ‘Since my husband died I like to keep the bedroom window open’, she said. I wondered if he was still in there. In any case, it wasn’t an auspicious beginning, and I can’t say a relationship blossomed thereafter.
When I left England and moved to Montreal, my first neighbour there was a pot-smoking loner called Hubert. He really smoked a lot of pot; so much, in fact, that I spent much of the first six months in Canada feeling light-headed while teaching an assemblage of McGill ‘90 Averagers’. I blame Hubert for the smashing of this teapot, as my attempt to remain civilised failed in the drifting haze. I think the breaking of a teapot is a highly significant act, for the teapot is the pivot around which friends and neighbours are meant to gather. To imbibe tea is the modern equivalent of breaking bread. This was altogether a failure in the company stakes.
The German neighbours have been altogether a different kettle. I must say, I’ve become rather fond of our upstairs neighbour here, with his repeated insistence that we should come over and consume alcohol. He’s in his 50s, something of a lone wolf, and a tad deaf. But the act of talking to a neighbour is unlike other conversations. It’s not like talking to a friend, or a family member, or a colleague. After all, what do you have in common, other than your proximity? And to that end, talking to a neighbour reinvigorates the art of conversation, for you escape into chatter about interesting things, sometimes weighty, sometimes trivial, sometimes anecdotal, and find that you have pleasantly escaped your own stressful preoccupations for a while. Our neighbour here helps this along by his conspicuous display of maps and globes, old photographs and books, and a random assortment of antique talking points. It’s a stimulating experience, being inside the character-filled home of another. Think of that the next time you’re tempted to shop at Ikea.
Of course, it’s not all roses. We were invited to this man’s annual party once, along with an assemblage of life-long friends of his who collectively fit well with the randomness of his furniture. The only thing they had in common was a tendency to chain smoke. Being German, they all smoked inside. Since we’re now utterly unaccustomed to such an atmosphere, it was hard to swallow.
Good Neighbors: my first crush is on the right.
One way or another, it’s better to have neighbours whom you know than otherwise. It’s never a good thing to start a relationship with an argument, but unless you introduce yourself, this is likely going to be the case. So, why not send your people next door a smoke signal? What’s the worst that can happen?