modern ms manners: love thy neighbour – how to get along with those who live next door
I spent the greater part of my youth growing up on a farm. Whilst it was quite small in comparison to other properties in the area, our nearest neighbours were still about a kilometre away. Despite this physical distance, I still have quite fond memories of our time growing up there and more particularly, the relationship we had with our neighbours. They were (and still are) welcoming, decent people – the kind who would not mind if we turned up unannounced for a “pop in”. The kind who had baked goods on standby for such an occasion. They also happened to have a fully functional mini train for us to ride, so in the mind of children, these people were like Santa!
As our lives moved in different directions, my family decided to move off the property and into our local town. My enthusiasm for the move was understated, as most of life is when you are a teenager. However, I was excited about the prospect of having neighbours right next door! I imagined there would be weekly cricket games, dinner parties and each year our street would close for the annual Christmas party.
I waited three weeks with eager anticipation before I had to realise the sad fact that no one was going to drop by and offer us a “welcome to the neighbourhood” chicken/cake/fern. The most interaction we had was from one neighbour who came by to complain about our cat getting on her roof. The least she could have done was drop off a fern!
Had I been too naive? Were my expectations of what it meant to be someone’s neighbour completely out of date?
Sadly, the answer to the above questions appears to be “yes”, which has only been affirmed as the norm as I have since moved into a bigger city. I now live in an apartment building where I know no one, despite being able to hear them through the walls and running into them every day in the hall. A simple ‘hello’ in the lift has left some of my neighbours so startled that you would have thought I had just yelled an expletive at them.
Not to be disheartened I have completed some research into the idea of what it means to be a neighbour in Australia, and can advise that it appears that things were not always this way:
In supporting my argument I refer to two pillars of Australian culture – Neighbours and Home and Away. Sure I may have not watched either program since Dee died in Neighbours or Noah left Home and Away, however I am sure that the programs’ advocacy for being neighbourly has not changed.
Given that these programs revolve around one street or bay, it makes sense for plot development for the entire neighbourhood to be involved in the story. It is also an apparent necessity as every year around Christmas time, a character inevitably ends up drowning/dying in a car crash/house fire or at the very least, moving away so as to enable the actor to attempt a singing career.
However, the point remains – these people were neighbourly. Not always friendly sure, but at least there was an acknowledgment of each other. They would “pop by” and call in on one other, even if the motive was to question the paternity of your lover’s baby given their affair with your best friend. And I am sure that a lot of those prop ferns on set were given by the characters to the new neighbours when they first moved in.
If law school taught me anything (this is a valid question) it is that a neighbour cannot give another neighbour a dud beer which has a snail in it, without having to accept some responsibility for said beer. I concede this is an oversimplification of the principle of Donoghue v Stevenson, but again, the principle remains – “Give your neighbour a (snail free) beer!”
Turning to other reputable law sources, namely any crime television show, there is a timeless plot of the character dying in their apartment and the neighbours not reporting anything because they never really knew the person anyway. If there is no other reason to get to know your neighbours surely it is this one.
Sure we are not all going to get along. And yes, you might want to allude to an element of privacy to make up for the fact that you can hear your neighbour in their most intimate moments through your bathroom wall. But there is no good reason for people to feel completely alone and isolated, just because we as a society have decided not to take the time to say hello.
So put yourself out there. Greet your neighbour the next time you see them. Pop in to the new guy’s place and introduce yourself. You may even find that you make some new friends. Not to mention the fact that any “neighbourly dispute” can often be resolved over the sharing of some baked goods or a game of cricket. Because ‘that’s when good neighbours, become, good friends’.