Borrow the Sugar
March 21, 2019 7:05 PM   Subscribe

 
We borrowed sugar from a neighbor once. We gave her some of the cookies we baked with it. This began an arms race of “thanks for the cookies, here is some X,” “Thanks for the X, here is some Y,” that ultimately culminated in us receiving two pounds of line caught bluefin tuna, after which we negotiated a truce and just hung out on each other’s patios.

I recommend talking to your neighbors, it usually works out.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 7:23 PM on March 21 [62 favorites]


Reminds me of an aphorism I read in Howard Rheingold's Smartmobs (attributed to Nunavut communities, I think; my book's not available): the best place to store extra fish is in your neighbor's belly.
posted by doctornemo at 7:28 PM on March 21 [37 favorites]


Alienation if labor and alienation of affect are the capitalist’s tools against society and we must work and build against them.
posted by The Whelk at 7:42 PM on March 21 [17 favorites]


Hi diddly ho neighborino
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:45 PM on March 21 [16 favorites]


Last place we lived, soon after we moved in I was pottering in the front garden and gave a cheery "hullo!" to the old Doris who lived alone next door, and we couldn't get rid of her for three fucking years.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:47 PM on March 21 [15 favorites]


My parents were always borrowers - always felt free to ask a favor of the neighbors (we lived in the country). It became a bit sad after a point because the neighbors never asked back. After years of this they found 2 sets of good friends in the neighborhood - the 3 couples are always happy to trade favors.

My parents also asked neighbors to drive me places. One neighbor drove me and their daughter to band and choir concerts because we had to be there an hour or more early. They never asked to swap. Same with the neighbor who drove me and their son to soccer practice, the neighbor who drove me and their kids to 4-H events, etc. We all lived in the country and no one wanted to carpool to town except us. Madness!

Now my sister and her husband live out in the country like my parents do. They have neighbors who are friends and can trade animal care, help, etc. But there are closer neighbors who will help if asked, but never ask in return and never make an overture of friendship. I don't get it.

I have a neighbor who takes care of our cat when we're away. We shovel her walk in the winter. She often says we are the best neighbors ever. And all we do is shovel her walk and say hello.
posted by Emmy Rae at 7:52 PM on March 21 [14 favorites]


My neighbor borrowed a cup of sugar and was totally nonchalant about it, just texted asking for a cup of sugar and sent her kid over for it, no recognition at all that she was Borrowing A Cup Of Sugar. I knew then that as much as I like her, we could never be close friends.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:35 PM on March 21 [8 favorites]


Tell you what, I don't borrow ingredients because I never bake. But we developed closer ties with our neighbors by becoming the only chumps in our Seattle-suburb street to acquire a snow blower. Funny thing, nobody really wants to purchase or store a snow blower but once you've got one everyone's interested in taking it for a spin.

That's pretty much why I wanted to buy it, so it worked out :)
posted by potrzebie at 8:48 PM on March 21 [14 favorites]


I've been building a free bookshelf at my neighborhood bar (20$ a weekish goes a long way when you can find 1$ used book sellers and curate them) and it's been good at increasing communication, some people even bring books back, or bring in new ones!

(I also have a sign 'books courtesy of your friendly neighborhood socialists' and try to select a ...leftist tone to things. I just found the whole RED MARS series for 5 bucks so that's going up)
posted by The Whelk at 9:03 PM on March 21 [27 favorites]


Borrowing might be more challenging than lending because it requires interdependence and vulnerability.
posted by aniola at 9:27 PM on March 21 [11 favorites]


I live within a web of mutual neighborly exchange and it's awesome. I've lived in this house for almost 14 years and I have never mowed my own lawn; the neighbor does it when he does his own because it's a small yard and he's been doing it that since before I bought the house (it probably helps that the yard is as much moss as it is grass..) Not because it's required in exchange but because I want to, I provide computer support when needed, periodically bring them fresh-baked bread, provide cut flowers from my garden in season, look after their house when they are away, offer a share of fresh fish or crab when we come back with surplus (which is no problem in any case, because another of my friends frequently brings me fresh salmon and halibut.)

When I was seriously ill a couple of years back, one neighbor stopped by to check on me every day, which is a great comfort when you live by yourself and are too sick to make it to the store for groceries.

I guess what I'm saying is -- having excellent neighbors rocks and being surrounded by people I care about and who care about me is worth a lot to me -- far more than the small gifts I give or the time I spend, especially since I probably derive at least as much pleasure from doing small kindnesses as the recipients get from receiving them.
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:28 PM on March 21 [26 favorites]


Not on the borrowing sugar front but more on the talking to strangers = increased happiness front, I've always felt like my funnest nights out with friends also involved chatting with multiple strangers over the course of an evening. It's sad because it rarely happens and the conditions have to be just right, but otherwise going to any bar these days you see cliques of friends keeping to themselves while intermittently checking their phones. There's a prevailing sense that no one wants to be bothered by some stranger so it's a thick wall to break through, out least for me.
posted by windbox at 10:10 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I went up and down the block today asking if they had a dragonfruit I could borrow and surprisingly, a few knew what a dragonfruit was. (They have just now moved from the Asian supermarket to the regular supermarkets in my town.) No one had one, though. But good conversations ensued, and I think dragonfruit sorbet might become a new Denver fad, if this spreads past my block.

OK, I made this up. But it could have happened. Eggs have been lent and borrowed most commonly on my block. Sugar is not the staple it used to be in our newly enlightened culture.
posted by kozad at 10:15 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


This is kinda the first chapter of Debt The First 5000 Years.
posted by Leon at 10:16 PM on March 21 [7 favorites]


I was really happy to borrow a jackhammer from our neighbors last weekend (and learn how to use it). Our block is an odd mix; we had a more casual, conversational relationship with the semi-homeless guy who stored a few of his cars parked on the street in front of our house than we do with our newer, kid-having homebuyer neighbors.
posted by migurski at 10:59 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Hi diddly ho neighborino

Easily the most devastating counterargument.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:15 PM on March 21 [15 favorites]


SOME of our political organizations are fostering neighborhood picnics and potlucks to engender just this feeling.

Rebuild your community!

(I like the craft nights the most TBH)
posted by The Whelk at 11:23 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Easily the most devastating counterargument.

Or it might be borrowing the wrong thing? Years ago, our neighbors borrowed our toilet plunger and never returned it (eww), replaced it (acceptable), or uttered a word about it ever since.

It colors our every thought of them.
posted by mochapickle at 11:40 PM on March 21 [7 favorites]


I try to keep in contact with the neighbours, and luckily they are a good bunch. My eldest son (then 9 yo) shared some of your misgivings when he came in the house and exclaimed "dad, did you know? The neighbour knows nothing about Star Wars!"

(I still smile to myself trying to imagine the conversation)
posted by Harald74 at 11:55 PM on March 21 [6 favorites]


The obstacle to this in my hood is that we rent, and most of us rent, and the high-turnover nature of our local rental market is none of us can feel very permanent. Which is a barrier to investing in relationships. I do know the immediate neighbours to say hi to.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:00 AM on March 22 [6 favorites]


All of this "community" and "interacting with your neighbors" stuff sounds lovely in theory – but, in the real world, the thought of actually doing it gives my introverted, socially anxious, misanthropic self the screaming heebie-jeebies.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:56 AM on March 22 [15 favorites]


I am recognized in the wider neighborhood as the guy who walks the basset hound (and another dog). I sometimes chat with folks I see, sometimes just say "hi", sometimes just wave. We have traded favors with a few of the nearby neighbors; watching the house while they are away for a few days, picking up mail, loaning a basin wrench or lawn mower... I remember my mother once decided she needed to get to know the neighbors, so she bought a hand-crank ice-cream maker, found a recipe, and sent out invites to a home-made ice cream social for everyone within a 6 house radius. We kids cranked the handle on the maker to keep up with the demand when the first batch ran low. Seemed like a pretty good thing to do. Maybe I should try it, too.
posted by coppertop at 5:15 AM on March 22


We lived in Rockville, MD for 5 and a half years. We occasionally got to know neighbors as they came and went, but mostly everyone kept to themselves. Whenever we'd leave town we had to scramble to find someone who could feed our cat. We tried to cultivate community, but when you're the only one in your neighborhood interested in the effort, it's a fucking uphill battle.

We moved to Greenbelt a few months ago and knew early on that we'd found home. I've already lent out some of my shit! We went on vacation a month after move-in and asking our next-door neighbor to feed the cat was a no-brainer.
posted by duffell at 5:25 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


Hi diddly ho neighborino

Easily the most devastating counterargument


I came out to have a good time and I'm honestly feeling so attacked right now.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:31 AM on March 22 [50 favorites]


This reminds me of a talk I saw years ago on time bank software. These systems tend to fail because most people would much rather give help than ask for it... and so over time the time-based economy locks up, because if nobody asks for help nobody can earn time credits, and if nobody's earning time credits the whole system ceases to function. It seems like in many places something similar has happened to the practice of neighbourly exchange: no one wants to make themselves vulnerable or inconvenience others, so that mutually beneficial back-and-forth trading of assistance and conversation never has a chance to get started.

Anyhow, I'm amazed and a little heartened by the number of people here who are close with their neighbours. I've never lived in a place where that was the norm, but you all give me faith that it's possible.
posted by Kilter at 5:42 AM on March 22 [6 favorites]


I came out to have a good time and I'm honestly feeling so attacked right now.

Huh, I assumed the counterargument was that you might discover your neighbor was a dimwitted, child-beating alcoholic whose job was to maintain the safety of a key piece of local infrastructure and about which you discover he gives not one lonesome fuck. (#notsimpsonist)
posted by solotoro at 5:47 AM on March 22 [16 favorites]


I live on a boat, in a community of boats around a small island.
We all get on relatively well, because we all have similar problems. (You can google how to do a house thing, it's less easy to google how to do a dutch barge thing).

I have to drop by a neighbours boat this evening to aquire 2 metres of 22mm speedfit piping.
This is because you can only really buy it in 50m spools. I have a spare 30m of 15mm. He has a spare 40m of 22mm.
Take that capitalism!

A couple of neighbours brought round their dropsaw and impact drivers and showed me how to line the walls.
They've since moved, so I bought a dropsaw and an impact driver and visit other neighbours to show them how to build things.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:05 AM on March 22 [7 favorites]


Anyone have advice on how to approach neighbors long after you moved in? We apartment hopped for a while but then have ended up settling down in one. Our neighbors have unusually long tenure too for an apartment building in this part of town, so over the years I've gotten to know them and their pets by face but not by name. To complicate matters, they probably know me as the third-worst neighbor, because we have a lot of loud friends (but we're not as bad as the tire slasher or the teenagers). If we're all going to continue living here for more years to come, I'd like to go around and formally introduce myself or drop off cookies that I "accidentally" made too many of, but it seems like that ship has sailed.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:14 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a Comunidad in Santiago, a leftist condo built and inhabited by a group of friends and acquaintances who wanted a safe space to raise their kids during Pinochet's worst years. There where a bunch of them, designed by Fernando Castillo Velasco, a great Chilean architect. Ours was one of the larger ones, and many actors, artists, intellectuals and politicians lived there at some time, including Ricardo Lagos, who would go on to be president of Chile.

It was 42 houses, and I at some point visited each one. At my friends houses, I'd just walk in, no knocking, say hi to their family and go see if they where in their rooms. If I needed something from somebody else, I'd just knock on their door and ask for it. When I was older and still living with my parents, it was fairly common to look up from reading a book in my room to see a little kid asking for a glass of water, or a bathroom, or a snack.

I'm not super social right now, but I generally try to be friendly with everybody in the small alley I live in. One time I was having trouble changing a flat on my car, and 2 different neighbors came out of their houses to help, lend me tools and stand around doing that male thing when somebody is fixing a car. It's also fairly common for a neighbor to ring our doorbell to tell us we left our car lights on.

There are also about 15 cats living in the small alley. My across the alley neighbors lets them sleep in his front yard, and feeds them a bit. Another different neighbor buys large bags of cat food and feeds the same cats a few times a week. Another neighbor is a retired veterinarian and we ask him for advice about our own cat.

All in all, even if you're not actual friends, its good to know the people around you give a damn about you.
posted by signal at 6:29 AM on March 22 [19 favorites]


Several different neighbors also hold on to deliveries for us when we're away, without being asked.
posted by signal at 6:31 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Last year our neighbor shared an owl with us.

She came out to clear snow and found it, not dead but weak, sitting in her driveway next to her garage door. She came over to ask for advice / help and we spent the next several hours together trying unsuccessfully to save it. Ultimately we tracked down a guy who studies bird parasites at the local university, who came over and diagnosed it as having starved; the snows of winter are hard on them.

Anyway it was sad, but also great to have a minor neighborhood emergency to bond over.
posted by elizilla at 6:42 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


When we moved into our house ten years ago (!) we really had no choice but to meet the neighbors because our landlord (whom we later bought the house from) was a wiry, beautiful, flamboyantly gay Egyptian busybody and restauranteur who kept tabs on the entire neighborhood and made absolutely sure that the right people me the right people. He also threw tremendous halloween parties and invited the entire block.

Thanks to Ahmed, this recovering misanthrope knows most of his neighbors very well.

We frequently carpool to school with the family down the block that has a boy in the same class as my daughter (who is one of her best friends and her “secret boyfriend”). We move neighbor’s cars when they’re on vacation so they don’t get ticketed on street sweeping day. My next-door neighbor is a shade-tree mechanic and has helped out my Father-In-Law multiple times when his auto maintenance ambition has exceeded his grasp. On Halloween all of the kids gather into a roving pack of goblins and loot the street.

I used to say that we lived on a good street in a rough neighborhood but the latter becomes less true every year as gentrification spreads further into the surrounding area. I’m glad we like it here because we can’t afford to move.

The older I get, the more convinced I become that individuals, the platonic ideal of person as autonomous actor, don’t really exist. “People” are an emergent property of socioeconomic systems, and while the amount of control we have over the economic part can be frustratingly small, we can act to help the social environment allow better people to emerge, when we act with kindness and empathy and stop keeping score.

Love,

an introvert and recovering curmudgeon
posted by murphy slaw at 6:47 AM on March 22 [18 favorites]


A year after we bought our house, I signed up to be block leader because ours had none, and we wanted to get a permit to shut down the street for a National Night Out block party. It’s worked out pretty well for me, as an introvert - every summer we haul out tables/chairs/grills and reintroduce ourselves, and people are thankful for my organization efforts. I maintain the block email/phone list, though my super nosy neighbor up the street usually tracks down the contact info for me. We are by no means an exemplary community of block neighbors (there are blocks that rent bouncy houses multiple times per year and have more regular events), but it’s been nice to see even my minimal efforts pay off. I feel less awkward about borrowing stuff or asking for help now that I feel like I’m giving back in a way.

I can also recommend growing squash/pumpkins in your yard if you are in need of neighborly conversation starting points. This year I am going to grow corn, too!
posted by Maarika at 7:01 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


I lived in a condo building in Toronto and we have a Facebook group. People post both wants and offers on the group -- "does anyone have a hammer drill I can borrow?" "I am getting rid of these plant pots, does anyone want them?" -- and people can take them up on those offers. It's less socially fraught than making an individual approach -- someone who doesn't want to lend their drill can just pretend that they never saw the post -- and it works out most of the time. It's a solid part of the community feel in the building.

Our Board considered creating a formal lending library, but determined the costs would be too high. I'm not sure it would really have worked better or created as much of a community feel as the informal system does anyway.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:06 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


My aunt & uncle have a Facebook group for the people who live in a grouping of little villages in Northern Ontario. They don't do a ton of borrowing on there but they all post their bear sightings (they have a lot of black bears some years - harmless but destructive like big raccoons), requests for snow plowing of driveways and discussions on how to deal with beavers in culverts.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:13 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of a talk I saw years ago on time bank software. These systems tend to fail because most people would much rather give help than ask for it... and so over time the time-based economy locks up, because if nobody asks for help nobody can earn time credits, and if nobody's earning time credits the whole system ceases to function.

I just joined a neighborhood babysitting coop that is utterly fantastic. Time is tracked by the circulation of coupons—an ultra-local currency, if you will. You pay/get paid in coupons, with rates specified in the coop bylaws. This coop has been around for thirty years. I'm not exactly sure what magic has kept it going, but I think it's just well-organized and super-specific in its purpose. I already know my neighbors and their kids better. It's great.
posted by the_blizz at 7:18 AM on March 22 [6 favorites]


For a couple years Nextdoor.com in my city was an amazing way to share/give away/sell stuff amongst neighbors, but in the past year it devolved to people publicly shaming other neighbors, and I deleted my account because it made me so angry. I really miss using it as an ultra-local, less sketchy version of Craigslist to exchange household stuff and kid gear, plus share extra perennials, but at this point I’d rather buy new than wade back into that cesspool.
posted by Maarika at 7:20 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


most people would much rather give help than ask for it

(Possibly also it works because the need for child care is desperate and unavoidable, so you have to ask someone. Why not a neighbor who will do it for $0?)
posted by the_blizz at 7:20 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Anyone have advice on how to approach neighbors long after you moved in? We apartment hopped for a while but then have ended up settling down in one. Our neighbors have unusually long tenure too for an apartment building in this part of town, so over the years I've gotten to know them and their pets by face but not by name.

The pet is perfect - you're probably at the nod-and-smile phase, I'm guessing. So next time you're about to do that, if they've got their pet with them, just say "hey, I've always been curious - what breed dog is that?" or ask some question about the pet. Even if you already know the answer; all you want to do is get them talking, and people like talking about their pets becuase pets are cute. Then you can just follow that up with a couple of gushing comments about the pet and then say "I'm [so and so], by the way. Hi." And then they'll introduce themselves, and there you go.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:28 AM on March 22 [9 favorites]


True-life example of the above - that is exactly how one of my neighbors introduced himself to me during my cat's final illness. He was in a neighbor building, and he hung out on his stoop a lot to smoke or make phone calls, and I was schlepping my cat back and forth to the vet a lot over the course of a week - and once as I was bringing him home he finally said "hey, I've been seeing you with your cat a lot lately - is everything okay?" and I was just so desperate to vent that I unloaded on him and he was all sympathetic and then he introduced himself and so did I and that's how we got to know each other.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:52 AM on March 22 [11 favorites]


I recommend talking to your neighbors, it usually works out

unless you live next door to Bruce Banner.
posted by flabdablet at 7:54 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


I like solidarity but hate small talk. What do?
posted by tobascodagama at 7:59 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


tobasco... does it help to look at it as solidaritytalk instead of smalltalk?
posted by kokaku at 8:00 AM on March 22 [9 favorites]


I've lived in a few very close-knit neighborhoods. Honestly, the working class neighborhoods where everyone lives on top of each other and everybody genuinely needs a hand sometimes are the ones that feel like little villages (for better or worse -- tons of gossip and grudges as well as friendships). There's not a lot of privacy, so you're going to get to know everybody really well whether you like it or not!

Otherwise, I think that hosting parties and inviting the neighbors and kind of incorporating them into your friend groups works pretty well to create friendships -- there's a couple on my parents' current street that has cultivated neighborliness for YEARS and while back-and-forth favors worked OK to help them get to know my parents and vice versa, the parties are where it felt like they actually became friends. But I don't think anything works like literally hearing and seeing practically everything that your neighbors do and having to help each other with the basics (feeding each other, watching each others' kids, getting through medical emergencies, etc) to create a sense of community.

I live in a fairly luxurious high rise condo nowadays, and there is definitely a premium on privacy here. Some of the older neighbors have introduced themselves to me, but that's pretty much it, and I haven't gone around to the others, either. When I used to go for a run every afternoon, I would see the same people around and would recognize if someone was absent or not, but I don't think I've ever traded two words with any of them, either. The lack of neighborly connections is all my fault, but honestly, I don't feel any solidarity with the other people in the building, for whatever reason. I guess I should ask them for a favor but I don't need any favors right now and since we all live in these condos that are very well insulated for sound and have nobody ever just hanging out shooting the shit in the lobby or garage or anything, they all feel like total strangers to me. Looking for solidarity here seems like it would be like looking for solidarity at a shopping center or something.
posted by rue72 at 8:35 AM on March 22


/closes blinds, turns off lights
posted by banshee at 8:41 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Huh, I assumed the counterargument was that you might discover your neighbor was a dimwitted, child-beating alcoholic whose job was to maintain the safety of a key piece of local infrastructure and about which you discover he gives not one lonesome fuck. (#notsimpsonist)

Flanders knows all this and does nothing he is complicit. All neighbors are bad.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:47 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


The article's point that being friendly and cultivating a community spirit is well taken. I just have trouble feeling a sense of community where I am now because we're all so isolated from each other in our daily lives. I never see and hear my neighbors doing their chores, decompressing and shooting the shit, taking care of their kids/relatives and pets, chatting on the phone, whatever, in the way that I have in the neighborhoods where I've felt a real sense of being "at home." I feel like our homes are too isolated, so our lives are too isolated, and there's no way to get to know people through osmosis or in a truly casual way. You have to formally introduce yourself and formally give/take favors, and it all just feels so much more stiff and distant and artificial.

Community is really important to me, so I actually do LOTS of community-oriented stuff. Civic orgs, political orgs, social stuff, whatever. It really did "take a village" to raise me, and I look back on that with a lot of gratitude. And I do miss that sense of living in a real neighborhood with life and surprises all around. I would even be willing to deal with the grudges and gossip and all that that's inevitable, too. I just...I don't feel a connection to my neighbors where I am now. I guess I do need to cultivate it. There are some elderly people who live there who clearly want more of a sense of community and I guess I'm being the jerk by not reaching out to them with some overtures of friendship. Maybe asking a favor or maybe inviting my neighbors to a small party for the floor or something. Maybe I'll host an open house for watching the March Madness championship game, something like that. Every other week there is a new obituary up in the lobby for a resident or former resident and it is so touching that the family/friends of the deceased know that their neighbors would want to know what happened. So clearly some people do feel a sense of community here, even if I haven't yet.

Yeah, I think I'll invite everybody on the floor over for a March Madness championship party and see if anyone turns up. Like why not, I'll just be sitting there drinking a beer and eating pizza and watching the game anyway, might as well see if any neighbors are doing the same -- and would be up for doing it in the same room instead of in all our separate little nooks.
posted by rue72 at 9:10 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


I live in a big apartment building where all of the units are studios and it has made me think a lot about high-density living and social isolation. I'm closer to my neighbors physically than people in "isolated" parts of the US are, but I couldn't name them (though I can tell you that the chihuahua in the corner apartment is Phoebe) and the idea of being friendly frightens me. The example of "Jamie" in the comic feeling vulnerable is spot on. We have been taught that friendliness is vulnerability. That befriending a neighbor is an invitation to harm us or rob us. There's a lot of social programming that is contributing to or exacerbating my own social anxiety. I've argued with a lot of people about how a street full of "sketchy people" (read: people dealing with poverty and housing insecurity) is a lot safer to me than an empty street--it seems hard for people from my own white upper-middle-class background to grasp this one.

Normally I am the first person to yell about how the internet and Those Damn Cell Phones didn't change anything and most complaints about Millennials are just perennial complaints about people under 40. But I think the internet is at least partially to blame. I've had a lot of people tell me they're impressed that I have friends outside of work, but I'm just talking about hobby and interest-based groups that I was able to find because of the internet. The thing about that is it's way more self-selecting than "people who can only afford a studio downtown". I know my building has a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds. Meanwhile I'm probably way less likely to expose myself to viewpoints and backgrounds other than my own, and to be more hesitant of doing same. I don't have an easy solution, though yeah, borrowing sugar or a drill is somewhere to start.

The Arcade Fire nailed this one: I feel like I’ve been living in a city with no children in it/ A garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside of a private prison
posted by capricorn at 9:37 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


"I am getting rid of these plant pots, does anyone want them?"

I briefly read this as "We are getting rid of these pot plants," and yeah that WOULD work!

I have been in my place less than a year and will probably only be here one more year but I try to say hi when I see people moving in or out. Apartment complexes are just weird places though.

When we had a fire next door last year, though, and my kiddo (12) was home alone, and it was cold outside and rainy, neighbors gave him a blanket and a place to sit down and a bottle of water while he waited for his dad to get there. People can be good in a crisis like that. All of those folks have moved now because of the fire to other apartments in the complex but I'm glad they were there when he needed them.
posted by emjaybee at 9:38 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Also I think it's interesting that the Nicholas Epley study profiled in the comic was in Chicago. I don't even know if he could have run the study in DC. When I lived in Chicago I regularly had conversations with strangers on the CTA or in line at the grocery store. This doesn't happen to me a lot in DC. I think DC's a particularly paranoid city.
posted by capricorn at 9:40 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


I have lived in my apartment for 6 or 7 years. This winter I was trying to move my car and it was too icy. 3 people I had never seen before came out of their homes and pushed me. I have never seen them again. Not so much community as... ghosts??
posted by Emmy Rae at 9:41 AM on March 22 [10 favorites]


> There are some elderly people who live there who clearly want more of a sense of community and I guess I'm being the jerk by not reaching out to them with some overtures of friendship. Maybe asking a favor

I think that's a great way to begin. One of my best friends is my neighbor who's in her 80s (and blind and uses a walker). She asks a lot of favors of me and my family, but I also ask favors of her -- even ones I don't actually need done. She checks my mail when I'm out of town, for example, even though my catsitter could do it. She's become like a grandma to my kids, whose actually grandmas live several hours away, and almost like another mother to me. It is important that I ask favors of her, and that my son accept the $5 a month she gives him to take out her garbage and do odd jobs, so that she doesn't feel like she's a burden but instead knows that she's a valuable piece of our small community.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:54 AM on March 22 [16 favorites]


I'm generally a socially very shy person who takes quite a bit to open up. In the past, we mostly new our closest neighbors to say, "Hi." and that was about it. We'd occaisionally take over cinnamon rolls, or baked items, but beyond that didn't interact much with anyone.

When we most recently moved about 6 years ago, I decided to try to be a bit more open. I'm bad with names, but I've learned the names of the people who live on one side of us, behind us, and those kitty corner to us in both directions (us house fronts to a four lane relatively high traffic road - no relationship really possible to those on the other side of the street). Last year, there was a health emergency (unsure how drastic) to one of our elderly neighbors kitty corner to us who shared the last name (but no relation) of a prime minister. The house was sold to an apparent flipper - I met a few trades people initially hoping to introduce myself, but have given up until the house goes back up for sale.

We've decided to establish a "good fences make good neighbors" relationship with the people behind us and their no-bee policy. We're good with saying hi to them, and were amused when they built a fence 2 feet higher than our fence ~6 inches away. Honestly, first impressions were kind of ruined when shortly before moving in we were having work done (the electrical service was upgraded). They asked us if we could turn off our "air compressor" because they were having a garden party. My wife pointed out it was a needed generator for the electrical work being done (in part by local city hydro company which had a giant truck parked near), and gestured to the two (?) prominently branded electrical contractor vans on the driveway that they needed to pass. It was a multi-week process to coordinate with city and contractors, and it was 5:30pm on a Friday and if they didn't finish we'd have no power until it was finished. Clearly we're just noise loving garden party haters ;) . It was less than 60, if not possibly less than 30 minutes before the work was finally finished.

The other neighbors we've sent over some jam's and cinnamon rolls, and they're returned awesome garden-grown tomatoes. I keep their sidewalk clear. But with large religious and age differences, it's probably best that we mostly stick to friendly waves as we go about our business. There still are 1-2 times per year where we have a brief conversation over the four foot fence that they haven't seen the need to augment, and that's mostly OK. We even coordinated once on find two lost dogs their owner - with an inground pool we couldn't lock them in our yard and didn't relish trying to fit them into our 2 dog, 4 cat household. So they granted us their fenced back yard for us to give them some food/water bowls. Fortunately the next morning the owner got to pick them up, and we split the unprompted $40 reward.

Beyond the immediate people sharing our borders, while walking the dog, I pointedly say at least hi/good morning/evening to all I see. I've had a few conversations, not learned many names, but it's resulted in more cheery/less perfunctory return "Hi"'s from most of the neighbors. Againt the odds I met someone who shares (well, shared he's lately taken an extended break) my hobby of distance running, and oddly lived just a street over from our old place about the same time that we lived there.

I find large amounts of socialization trying and tireing, but I'm definitely going to continue being a "social butterfly" (as my wife calls me) when I'm out dog walking.
posted by nobeagle at 10:21 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


When I moved in, in a So Cal January, had a van full of stuff and two cats. But on St Pats day I had a 26 foot Penske, full and an old lady friend from Utah with me. We worked one Saturday and on Sunday she left. I had given myself a hernia in the whole process and was staggering some. A young man from across the street solo carried my mattress in the day before, the Sunday alone another older man from across the street, helped me in with the clothes dryer. I moved all the rest alone and took the truck back, Tuesday. My neighbors in the duplex had a house alarm, and didn't let their child out in the fenced back yard, alone. Apparently my side of the duplex had hosted a series of nightmares. Now, I feed cats for vacations, they use my washer and we hang clothes on the line to dry. The back yard is full of kid toys, the alarm system is gone. I occasionally get an incredible plate of bbq, from not just them but even the next house over. We talk over the fence, and if I leave my car lights on, someone comes to tell me. The neighborhood is coming up and the house next door just sold to one of my daughter's friends, partially because of the added safety of the knowns. Neighborhood is important, we all watch out for each other.
posted by Oyéah at 10:29 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


I had the good fortune of marrying an extrovert, who has ensured that we know our neighbors and vice versa. (Just don't ask me to remember their names...)

But mostly this reminds me of long ago, when I spent about 2 years living in a 2nd-floor shoebox apartment in San Francisco, whose street-facing wall was entirely a sliding glass door onto the fire escape, so it felt like being in a little fishbowl. And in one of the apartments across the street lived some guy who always seemed to be sitting in the window, and it really stressed me out to think about him watching me, and I made a lot of effort to block off everything outside my own space but especially the creepy neighbor.

Eventually I was moving out, and as I was taking boxes downstairs, for the first time ever I managed to lock myself out of my apartment. But I realized that the sliding door was unlocked, so if I could just get up to the fire escape I could get back in. So I'm pacing and cursing on the sidewalk, trying to figure out how to reach 12 feet off the ground, when I hear this voice asking if I needed help.

It was the creepy neighbor, offering to lend me his ladder. Which I had to get from his apartment, because he was partially disabled, which was why he spent a lot of time sitting at his window.
posted by bjrubble at 10:29 AM on March 22 [10 favorites]


Duffell, we live in Bowie, but I sometimes have Greenbelt envy.
posted by wintermind at 10:50 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a tight neighborhood in the Midwest and it was wonderful. New England culture is not as neighborly. My current neighborhood is okay; I could borrow sugar. It's friendlier in summer when we are out on the lake, or walking dogs in a more leisurely manner. My garden is now in the front lawn, so I get to visit more.

I am across the road from a lake. The houses on the lake are getting more expensive; people buy, spend a lot on renovations. Even a teardown & rebuild this winter. There is increasing status distinction and, blecchhh. This was developed in the 40s as fishing and summer camps for working class people - the wealthy bought on the ocean. Nice to have my property increase in value, I guess, but it makes me want to put an old truck up on blocks and get a clawfoot bathtub and Madonna shrine going, because as I get older, I get contrary-er. As it is, I have a pile of unstacked wood, an old camper, and am casual about mowing.
posted by theora55 at 10:51 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


This makes me realize how much friendlier I was with neighbors in my old condo, because we didn't have shovel/plow service. It got to the point where I'd whine about getting out there early, because otherwise our super-nice neighbor would have done our walk again, and I wanted to "get him back". Now that we have a service at the new place I can stay snug indoors... but don't get to kvetch with neighbors. Hmm. But borrowing sugar when we're a block from a supermarket would be silly, so I'll have to come up with something else...
posted by ldthomps at 11:56 AM on March 22


My mother-in-law lives in Bowie, wintermind! Neighbors!!
posted by duffell at 12:19 PM on March 22


I never really thought about NOT borrowing stuff that I don't have. We always had "Stormy" down the street that had just about any tool you'd need, my dad was an engineer and could/would answer any question on building, and we even had a plumber on the street. Anything you need, you could find.

Now, lots of years later and clear across the country, we still borrow and lend on our street. From plumbing (retired now but he'll consult) to lawyers, to stuff (meat slicer, splitting ax, rotary hammer . . .), to dogsitting or snow shoveling, we just put out the word that we need something, or just acquired something, and Bob's your uncle.

Life on a friendly street is great!
posted by Man with Lantern at 12:52 PM on March 22


Oh, God.

I just bought a house last year, for the first time in my adult life. I got the keys, excited to walk through my new digs and trod the yard. My yard. And sit in my nice new swing and survey the world, quietly.

I didn't get two minutes before the people across the street came trotting over and ruined it.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Get to know neighbors, blah blah blah. I really should. I know. But I don't want to. I don't want to be interrupted while I'm reading a book with my cat because somebody couldn't remember to get sugar on their last shopping trip. I don't want to have people last-minute inviting me to things that I'd be perfectly happy to do if I could get 24 hours notice.

If there were a way I could get to know my neighbors have people knocking on my door or texting me at random intervals, that'd be great.

Yes, I'm a horrible person. Mostly I just really, really enjoy my solitude.
posted by jzb at 1:40 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


A neighbor asked if I had a metal detector I could borrow for one quick job, as I seemed like someone who would have one. I replied that no, but now that he said that I desperately wanted one.

A week later he knocked on my door with his brand-new metal detector to give me, since he'd bought it for the job and was done with it, and said I could say "no" but that it would end up my porch anyway. So now I have a metal detector!
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:01 PM on March 22 [10 favorites]


This morning I was thinking about how asking for and accepting help from people you know really helps solidify bonds between you, turning acquaintances into friends and friends into good friends. To me it makes sense that this would work to make neighbourhoods as well.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:06 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a no-equity tenant-owned coop, meaning not only did we have to run everything ourselves (there was a hired manager very early on, but we disposed of him in favor of self-government) but there were a plethora of chores we had to handle because there was no money to hire a janitor or anything. Also, most people went to one of two churches nearby. Rehabbed an empty property next door as a shared playground and garden space. It really forced neighborly intimacy. Banging summer barbecues, but also generations of grudges (as a basically well-kept building with a reputation for safety in a neighborhood of ruins, turnover was quite low). My mom, who lived in the building for thirty years, will still talk shit about some of her nemeses on the executive committee.
posted by praemunire at 5:21 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


I've had good experiences and bad, both borrowing and lending among neighbors. But the experience always builds a bond. There are folks I will never lend to again, and they know it, and so they will never ask again. But there are many many more with whom mi cases es su casa.

IN a weird way it's how I met (and I believe won the affection of) my wife. She and a friend had moved in to the other half of a duplex and invited their tribe for dinner - but they'd not realized the stove and water heater were gas - so they had lights and water but no stove! Turned into a fun party and great way for my brother and I to meet our new neighbors.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I'm saying ix-nay on "borrowing" our cable. I mean - I'm paying for that! (This is the bit that I think won my wife over - I was willing to share but had enough backbone to not be taken advantage of by a pretty face). Also note this was 20 years ago, when cable was analog so a simple splitter between friends was quite common.

It was eight months before we "connected". After 20+ years it turns out she's the one making plates of brownies to welcome new arrivals to the neighborhood. And this is The South, so no borrowed plate comes back empty...
posted by ElGuapo at 6:55 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


I was saddened when our excellent next door neighbours moved to a smaller house in a different town because their large block was becoming too much to maintain.

The man who moved in after them kept himself to himself to a great extent. Polite but nowhere near as neighbourly. And I was even more saddened when he turned out to be a flipper, doing a fast reno on the house and subdividing the block and running a huge ugly paling fence across the newly created boundary that cut the house off from the nice view behind what had formerly been the back half of its yard.

On the upside, he's moved out now and the people at both 10A and 10B are all lovely.
posted by flabdablet at 6:17 AM on March 23


I live in a tiny Alaskan town of about 800 year round residents. We add another 2000 or so in the summers because we are a cruise ship town and a good number of those are people who return year after year. This town has the community thing down! We are there for each other in a way I have never experienced anywhere in my life. We have a few Facebook pages for swap and barter, buy and sell. There are two social clubs in town, the Elks and the Eagles and everyone belongs to one or both, we do fund raising for all kinds of things including medical bills and school teams. I tend to be more introverted and private, but that is slowly breaking down because the upside to knowing everyone in town is just so great. There's the Arts Council, the tiny K-12 School events. Local chefs who work in high end places in the summer work in the school kitchen in the winter and you can go for lunch there even if you don't have a kid in school. There's bowling league and softball league and our town's 4th of July is amazing. We organize the Chew Chew Train for new parents and people who have medical emergencies. No new parent needs to buy clothes or toys, etc. We are all up in each other's business, but it's good. When I first moved here it made me so uncomfortable because of the way I grew up, with extremely secretive parents with financial problems. It took me about four years to really accept it (been here about 10 now), but now you would have to pry me out of here with a crowbar! And really, it might sound oppressive to the introverted, but I have found that mostly people accept it when I want to retreat, no one is in my face. But when I want to join in, I am welcomed no questions asked. Maybe it is a function of the remote town thing, only accessed by ferry or small plane if you don't want to drive through Canada to get anywhere else. Living here is a battle we all have to wage, it's expensive and hard to live here in a lot of ways, but I feel so lucky. I don't think I would ever have this kind of community if I lived in the lower 48. If I have a problem or need something, I know there are at least about 800 people who pretty much have my back.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 7:35 PM on March 23 [3 favorites]


I prefer to think of it as "stealing."

(JK I love my neighbors/neighborhood and I really can't figure out where else in the world I would possibly want to live).
posted by aspersioncast at 9:11 AM on March 24


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