Love thy neighbour

I live in a Co-op, so I know most of my (90) neighbors. Some of them are amazing and have become good, like-minded friends. Many are decent people that I will never be friends with but that I respect and can happily live next to. And then there are the other ones… Some are weird or plain mean, some don’t do their fair share of work (there is a reason we pay so little rent in a Co-op) and some are just… annoying. Like my next-door neighbors.

I’m sure some of the annoyance I feel can be chalked up to cultural and age differences. My neighbors are in their late 80s or 90s. And to be honest, they are really nice people. They just annoy the crap out of me. One example: a few years ago, the woman told Zak: “You should tell your wife that she needs to sweep in front of your door. Nobody does it here, you have to do it yourself”. She told me later that she swept her front door every day. Two things here: Zak is a big boy and is just as able as I am to sweep the front porch. But that one is obviously a cultural/age difference thing. The other thing is: I cannot bring myself to care. Sure, we should probably sweep a few times a year. But we can barely manage to vacuum the living room, where we actually live and play, once a week. Like I’m going to sweep my front porch every day (or week, for that matter)!

Another thing I find really annoying is how the man still treats my son like he’s a baby (or a dog I guess). When he sees him, he’ll talk to him in that very loud, babyish voice and dangle his keys in front of his nose, repeating “You want my keys?” again and again. My son usually hides behind my legs and looks at me, speechless, with silent “What the hell does he want?” pleas in his eyes. I mean, we’re talking about a boy 2 months short of his third birthday who can quite easily explain to you how rocket-ships launch and then shed their boosters (I know I always use the same example, but I find it fascinating). He’s not 6 months old anymore (although the behaviour already seemed annoying and borderline offensive when he was). And you know you won’t actually let him have your keys. So please, stop already!

All that to say that I usually try to avoid having conversations with my neighbors. As I said, they are super-nice. They will put things they don’t want anymore on our doorstep to see if we want them (and then WE are stuck getting rid of their junk). They put an (ugly) doormat on our front porch a few times (probably to hide the dust I don’t sweep). They even offered to babysit (yeah, right)!

But we also had to tell them to remove the moth balls they had put all around their front porch. They were trying to get rid of neighborhood cats who pee on their door step. I understand their annoyance. But we had a dog – and now a child – who could die or at least get seriously ill from swallowing one of those. Not good.

Last weekend, we received the annual shipment of dirt at our Co-op. We are supposed to spread the fresh dirt on Co-op plants, but we can also take some for our own plants, especially those that we maintain on Co-op property. I went downstairs to play in the dirt pile with my son, somewhat helping to spread it around. When we came back up, my neighbor was putting fresh dirt in her plants. She asked “You don’t want any mud?”. I quickly muttered “We don’t need it, thanks” before slipping inside. I probably didn’t look too happy, as I was in a hurry to change my son out of his muddy boots and coat so we could get to the store and buy bread for lunch, and he was non too pleased with being interrupted in his dirt-spreading game.

When I came back out 10 minutes later,  my neighbor said something I didn’t understand (eh, neither of us has English as their first language), so I kinda smiled (admittedly, probably halfheartedly) and said nothing. That’s when she said “You never smile, you never say anything?” At first, I thought she was talking about my son. He’s kinda shy around them (could he possibly be picking up some vibes from us?) so he tends not to say much. I answered “Oh no, he can talk very well when he wants  to!”. That’s when she said “No, you, you’re always so serious.”

I was stunned. That seemed so rude to me. What could I say? I think the elevator arrived and I was saved from really answering anything, but…  I don’t know. I guess it made me feel bad, too, because it made me realize that I haven’t been that nice to them, and although they annoy the crap out of me, they are really nice, decent people. They just don’t have the same background as I have and act differently. I should be more tolerant. And I guess I have been tired lately and not on my best and most smiley behavior. On the other hand, is it just me or was it not something you should say to people who are not close friends or family members? What could I have said?

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