Growing up, I loved having tons of neighbors to be friends with. Our subdivision was full of kids my age. There was the girl whose backyard was filled with McDonald’s playground equipment. And in addition to burger-themed slides, she had a trampoline, making her backyard pretty much the most fun thing in existence. Then there were all the kids’ with pools. In the summer, you did anything necessary to get an invitation to swim in their “above ground” pools, which some of my East Coast friends have informed me is not a term that people use outside of the Midwest.
One time, I even biked my pet degu, George, to to a far-flung street in our neighborhood to enter him in a neighbor girls’ Odd Pets Contest. He probably won.
In college, my girlfriends and I moved in to the attic level of a very old Victorian just off campus. There were maybe five other units in the building and I actually knocked on all the doors, introduced myself, and passed out cupcakes. How adorable/embarrassing is that?
Then I moved into a large eight-story apartment building in Washington DC where I lived for six years and never really knew my neighbors, save for the time a beautiful blond girl from next door knocked on my door asking to borrow a plunger. “I have Australians staying with me,” she explained. She returned the plunger a while later, along with a bottle of wine and she again explained the Austrlianness of her guests as the reason for her plumbing predicament.
After that, I lived in a hotel in Yemen and I did know some of my neighbors since they were also my co-workers. There was a fun few months where our friends, who are another couple our age, lived right next door and I borrowed their wine opener every single night for like a month until I finally ordered a new one. (Fun fact: You apparently cannot buy a wine key in a grocery store of a dry country). But there were many more neighbors on our floor whom I didn’t know and almost certainly would not have been comfortable making a baked goods delivery to their doors.
So, after my decline of neighborly relationships, starting after college, I didn’t expect to get to know any neighbor in New York City. After all, this city has a reputation for unfriendly people who seem to want to be left alone but have chosen to live in most densely populated place in the world. (Fact learned on a recent NYC bus tour taken with my mom and aunt, who visited me last weekend: There are 70,000 people inhabiting every square mile in Manhattan.) Anyways, I’ve actually met my next door neighbor in my Manhattan high rise and she’s lovely and friendly and even let me borrow a baking sheet and a spatula.
What is it that determines whether we know our neighbors, or have a desire to know our neighbors? Mr.YemenEm thinks transience is an issue. If you’re going to move soon, there’s no real desire or need to form a community of the people living around you. But I was planning on staying in DC for the foreseeable future and still I never went out of my way to chat up my fellow eighth floor inhabitants. Possibly because I assumed they’d be moving soon enough.
Home ownership is likely a factor, too. When I visit my parents in their cul-de-sac in Michigan, the neighbors all know each other, everyone says hi when they walk by, and there are often little congregations of neighbors standing around and chatting. Their next-door neighbor gives my parents bounties of fresh herbs and tomatoes and my niece has been known to just walk right in to her house to say hello. Neighbor lady will probably now start locking her door.
There is something just inherently nicer about knowing your neighbors. Granted, they aren’t buffoons like these people. Perhaps I should go back to my roots when we move in to our apartment in Madrid and pass out apple pie to my new Spanish neighbors, or organize a Cool Pet Contest. But let’s be real, the Diplocats would handily crush the competition.