WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOUR?
How to be everyone’s favourite buddy on the block
To live in a great neighbourhood, and enjoy all the comforts that come with being part of a tightknit community, you have to be a good neighbour yourself.
There’s certainly no shortage of examples of bad neighbours in TV shows and films (think Homer Simpson or any neighbour from Desperate Housewives). But what does it mean to be a genuinely good neighbour?
Here, etiquette experts share ways to build and maintain positive, long-lasting relationships with your neighbours. (It takes more than simply lending someone a cup of sugar.)
SHARE IMPORTANT INFORMATION
One of the best ways to welcome new neighbours is by providing them with a “need-to-know” checklist, says Diane Gottsman, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life. If you know a great housekeeper, handyman, dry cleaner, dog walker or lawnmowing service, give a sheet with their contact information to your new neighbour. Include suggestions on the best and nearest grocery stores, restaurants and pharmacies.
KEEP UP YOUR CURB APPEAL
Just one ugly home in a community can reduce property values for the entire neighbourhood. You don’t want to become known as the owner of “that ugly house” — the one with knee-high grass, overflowing gutters, dirty windows, peeling paint or toys scattered across the front yard. “You should be cleaning up the front of your house as much as possible,” says Lizzie Post, co-president at the Emily Post Institute, a Burlington, Vt.-based etiquette-training business.
BE A RESPONSIBLE PET OWNER
“Pets can be a big bone of contention between neighbours, so you need to keep them in check,” etiquette consultant Lisa Mirza Grotts says. Start with Pet Etiquette 101: Clean up after your pooch. “When you take your dog for a walk, do not deposit your dog ’s poop bag into someone else’s trash can,” Gottsman says. “It sounds basic, but it happens a lot.”
ORGANIZE A SERVICE PROJECT
You may want to attend block parties, community cookouts and other neighbourhood events so you can mingle and form friendships. But to go an extra mile, suggests Elaine Swann, founder of the Swann School of Protocol, co-ordinate a community-wide project that neighbours can participate in together, such as decking out your neighbourhood’s playground for Halloween. Live by a senior citizen? Assemble a group of neighbours to help hang lights outside the person’s house for the holidays.
INVITE YOUR NEIGHBOURS OVER
Recently moved in? One way to build rapport is by inviting your neighbours over for a housewarming party, instead of inviting only your friends. But “let people know that you’re not accepting gifts,” Post says. “This should be simply a social event.” Once you’ve established a relationship, you could form a neighbourhood book club or weekly softball game to deepen friendships.
THE TOWN GOSSIP
Part of being a good neighbour is avoiding gossip. But, Post says, there’s a difference between “good” gossip and “bad” gossip. “If a neighbour’s mother passes away, communicating that news to other neighbours so that people can attend the funeral is good gossip,” she explains. Bad gossip, meanwhile, spreads negative rumours (e.g., “I heard Jerry got fired from his job. I can’t say I’m surprised”).
BE A RESPECTFUL PARTY HOST
Keeping music at a reasonable noise level when you’re throwing a party is common sense. An aspect people frequently overlook, though, is minding where their guests park. “The last thing you want is for your guest to block your neighbour’s driveway,” Gottsman says. You also don’t want your guests’ cars to take up the entire block, which is why Gottsman suggests hiring a valet service to handle guest parking.
ABIDE BY COMMUNITY RULES
When you live in a homeowners or condo association, you have to comply with the community’s rules. Still, a lot of people don’t take the time to review their association’s rules, Swann says. These rules may dictate parking restrictions, trash and recycling schedules, landscaping requirements, move-in procedures and more. Breaking your association’s rules cannot only result in fines but also ruffle feathers with neighbours. “It’s your responsibility to police yourself if you want to avoid conflict,” Swann says. Also, check local codes to make sure you’re following city ordinances, particularly regarding noise. A new survey by Improvenet.com showed that six of the top 10 complaints people have about their neighbours involve noise, whether from music, voices, parties, kids, pets or the television.
HANDLE CONFLICT JUDICIOUSLY
No matter how friendly you are, you may have disagreements or quibbles with neighbours. Handling these conflicts with tact is crucial. Generally, if you have an issue with a neighbour, your first line of defence should be to try to resolve the problem with the person directly. This should be done face-to-face, not by text message or email, where messages can get misconstrued, Swann says. Let’s say your neighbour’s dog is peeing on your garden. Broach the subject by starting with a compliment, and then suggest working together toward a solution: “Duke is such a sweet dog. However, I have noticed that he’s been peeing on our begonias, and I would really love to curb that behaviour so that my flowers don’t die on me.” If you can’t resolve the issue one-on-one, contact your homeowner’s association.