On Not Another Tall Blog, Angie K. wrote recently about English people’s reputation for being cold. No, she wasn’t not talking about the weather, she was talking about whether there’s a downside to all that stiff-upper-lip-ness and explored the question of whether the British are good neighbors. Then she asked if I’d tackle the same question.
I sat at the computer and was pontificating away about how to define good neighbors and the differences between neighbors in New York, Minnesota, and Cornwall. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy echoed around inside my mostly empty head. It wasn’t relevant and I knew that, but it came to mind anyway. I was failing to be either funny or interesting about any of it when the doorbell rang and who should be there but our actual neighbors—or two of them anyway, along with their baby. You can’t plan this stuff. You could make it up, but as it happens I don’t have to. I shut the computer down, made a pot of tea, and grabbed some brownies out of the freezer (they’re good frozen—I don’t even apologize anymore), and we sat around and talked and admired how well the little guy’s walking.
He’s a gorgeous fellow, just a year old.
So yes, we’re of good terms with our neighbors. We’re closer to some than others, but where isn’t that true? Some of them seem standoffish, but ditto. Others are warm and delightful. We have small, human interactions with people we don’t know well, and it reinforces the shared idea that we live near each other and can get along. We ask after health, partners, gardens, kids, pets, and anything else we know about. We talk about the weather. Y’know that stereotype about the British and the weather? It’s true. People have a lot to say about it. I mean, we’ve got a lot of weather. And it’s free. Why let it go to waste?
On the other hand, if you take a survey of the village you’ll find we also argue about fences and boundaries and who said what to who and whose fault it was, or whose kid’s fault it was, or what exactly the it was that started the whole disaster anyway. We take each other to court. We pass along stories that are sometimes true and sometimes maybe not so true and sometimes, true or not, should’ve been kept to ourselves. We join clubs and committees and organizations, where we either get along so well we all want to get married and move in together or we have a bitter, six-year battle over whether to start the meeting at 7:01 or 7:03 and whether we need to open a checking account for the £4.39 in our treasury. We think about assassination and wonder why it’s illegal. Memories last a long, long time, and relations can get as toxic here as they do anywhere.
But just over a week ago when our younger cat, Smudge, was killed by a car (yes, today’s photo is actually relevant), the neighbor whose house he was nearest to activated the network—human and virtual—to find out whose cat he was. No more than an hour had gone by before Wild Thing saw the notice on the village Facebook page, and only a few more minutes had passed before someone knocked on the door to ask if he was ours, just in case we hadn’t heard. (Wild Thing had already gone to check, and she brought him home.) If they’d all shrugged their shoulders and told themselves it wasn’t their problem. we’d have spent days looking for him and worrying that he was trapped or hurt somewhere and then finally, endlessly, wondering what had happened to him. I’m grateful to them for letting us know, and grateful for the sympathy they expressed, because we miss him and somehow it helps to hear a few words of comfort.
So neighbors? I’m not trying to draw any large conclusions here, but ours are wonderful.