What are neighbors like in Britain?

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.

Smudge

Smudge

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.

83 thoughts on “What are neighbors like in Britain?

  1. I”m sorry to hear about your little moggie :( I think it depends where you love. I don’t think there’s much neighbourliness in the cities, no matter which country. Everyone’s mistrustful of each other nowadays :(

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So sorry for Smudge, Ellen… My heart goes out to both of you. You are right, it is moments like this when it shows you who your neighbours really are. I am glad I got you thinking again. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Saint Blog will take care of it all, and be waiting with a scrap of meat for the kitties who make their way up there. (Not that I believe in a heaven, but I’m not above indulging in a bit of fantasy right now.)

      Like

  3. I think neighborliness or its opposite is simply universal rather than culturally specific. In Scotland, England and America, I’ve experienced good neighbour’s and indifferent neighbours. Maybe even a smattering of actually awful neighbours. We are actually feeling very lucky right now as we left behind some wonderful neighbours in Argyll and worried what neighbours we might find here in America but I’m happy to report that our neighbours on the street where we’ve bought a home are all very welcoming, friendly and helpful. If there’s a bad neighbour somewhere then they are in hiding. While I have had experience of terrible neighbours, I would actually say my worst experience was when we lived in London’s commuter belt and our town was essentially a dormitory. That led to absolutely minimal interaction between neighbours. Outside of my immediate neighbours, I could not even have told you their names. I think that indifference and lack of community was far worse than more annoying neighbours I’ve experienced. Neighbours with a sense of community are definitely a very good thing.

    I am very sorry to read about your poor wee cat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Laura.

      In every neighborhood I can think of, we’ve had one neighbor who we think of as the one who won’t return the kids’ ball when it goes over the fence. The kids in question don’t happen to be ours, but all the same, we’ve all known what that’s like. So there’s always one, but far more good ones.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh ours are wonderful too. B, our neighbour is so generous with T. Gives her presents on her birthday, Christmas and also chocolate eggs on Easter! She used to feed our cat when we were away and even has a key to our house! We do the same for her too, so yes, we are surrounded by “lovely” people. So far in our little close, I don’t think I’ve ever met any one who was stand-offish…. yet ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Terribly sorry for your loss. Sounds like you do have some wonderful neighbors though. In the state where I reside we have a substantial number of British tourist, and I have to say I absolutely love them! I’m not sure where the stiff upper lip reputation came from, I find them to be exceedingly polite, and very likable. G-uno

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks.

      British tourists have a terrible reputation–in Britain. A few destinations are known as places to get falling-down drunk and throw up on the street (what fun!), and at least the non-falling-down-drunk portion of the country disapproves.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am sorry for your loss, and glad the neighbors were so helpful for you. I must say that I have been fascinated with British culture for many years and would love to visit some day. Your blog has become a very valuable source of information and enjoyment for me. Thank you for writing a great blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Our neighbours, including all the shop keepers along the road, were lovely absolutely lovely. We choose to live outside of the expat community and were taken in straight away as the “soft-spoken Yanks we thought were Canadians but aren’t and it’s now too late to change our minds” mindset. I’d move back in a jumpin-jack flash…don’t get me started…

    Liked by 1 person

    • In our village, there really isn’t an expat community. Mercifully. I enjoy spending time with other Americans, but as for forming a community? Sounds too isolating–too much like people who don’t really want to be where they are, just want to recreate where they came from.

      I like the idea of people who decided you were Canadian and then it was too late to change their minds. In a completely insane way, it makes perfect sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: British People as Neighbours – Ellen Hawley’s Take | Not Another Tall Blog

  9. How sad about your gorgeous smudge. From the picture he looked very much like the only cat I ever lived with. When she died, a friend said my kitty was now happily rolling around in fish heads . . . The image made me smile a little, in between the tears.

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  10. Hi there, first of all I am so sorry to hear about the loss of Smudge, I adore cats and have a 3 year old one myself (Salem) and would be devastated if anything happened to him, so my condolences to you. On the topic at hand, I believe nationality has nothing to do with how polite or attentive people are, the world is full of both good, bad and indifference when it comes to humans. I’m English myself, and have always found that British people on the whole are polite and courteous, but I have also met many Americans, Canadians, Germans and so on, who are equally as pleasant, it’s about the individual I believe. Have a great day! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for both the kind words and the comment. I agree that people are pretty much the same the world over, but it seems to me that the cultures we’re raised in do give us varying degrees of permission to emphasize different aspects of the possible range. But the national stereotypes that get built up, in my experience, do no justice to the human lives that go on behind them.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Sorry to hear about Smudge. glad you like your neighbors. Ours are alright they give my son gifts on the holiday’s. For the most part, they don’t talk to me. I think it’s mainly because they all have issues with me not keeping up with my yard!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. So sorry for your cat, but how wonderful for those who cared enough to find and console you. To neighbor or not to neighbor..it came up a lot as we moved so often. There must be a happy medium, but I’ve only known the extremes. Perfect strangers or people who know your name, and all your business and love to talk about it. Community vs. privacy…who knows ?? Van

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gossip seems to be the price we pay for community. At this point in my life, it’s a price I’m happy to pay. When I was younger and–well, I was going to say the gossip was juicier, but maybe it was only that I was less sure of who I was. Anyway, let ’em talk. I’m not all that interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. So sad for your loss of little Smudge. It’s always amazing to me how huge a hole such small creatures leave in our hearts.

    And … frozen brownies? I’m astounded – not that you freeze them, but that they’re still there when the neighbors call… :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, even though we know they’re there, they’re sort of hidden and we manage to forget them. Sort of like setting the alarm clock ten minutes ahead. You know you’ve tricked yourself, but it still works.

      And thanks for the kind words. They do stake a big claim on us.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I don’t have great neighbors, but I don’t have bad ones, and that’s enough for me.
    I’m so sorry about your cat. Sad. I think our neighborhood is so small, everyone knows which pet belongs to whom, from windows and walks alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That makes me smile, the thought that everyone already knows which pet belongs with whom. As for bad neighbors, that’s a whole ‘nother post, and depending on how far back into history we want to go, it could be a long one.

      Like

  15. Oh Ellen, I am so sorry to hear about Smudge. Xox
    i live in a big city, but find there is still a very neighbourly feel to my little patch. I am lucky that my Fella is very gregarious. He visits our elderly neighbours and chats to everyone as they walk past. Our little shopping centre is a great meeting area too. It helps that the branch library is there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Both in New York, where I grew up, and in Minneapolis I also found a good sense of community. It’s different than the interactions in a village, but just as important.

      And thanks for the kind words about Smudge. We’re still missing him pretty fiercely.

      Like

      • Did you happen to know Brighton Beach? Or the Concourse in the Bronx, way up near Fordham? I loved the way everyone brought out card tables and kitchen chairs on summer nights and drank tea through sugar cubes you held between your teeth. Even in the late 80s there were still some integrated blocks…I mean in the north Bronx, not BB…

        Liked by 1 person

        • I knew the Concourse, although not well, and Brighton Beach not at all. But in Yorkville, when I was a kid, the mothers would sit on the stoops and watch the young kids play on the sidewalk. It did make a community. I doubt they do it now–it’s way too gentrified.

          Liked by 1 person

  16. Poor Smudge. I can only hope that if it were to happen to my Theo (heaven forbid), my neighbours would give me the same thoughtful consideration that yours did for you. I think the wondering and not knowing would kill me.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Sorry about your cat. I think with regards to the relationships you described your village seems like a stereotypical village. I think maybe one will find you know more about your neighbours and interact more with them in smaller places than in larger towns (towns doesn’t have to be to big either).

    Liked by 1 person

    • My thanks.

      It seems to me that I know more about my neighbors’ stories here. In the cities, we interacted quite a bit, but I didn’t tend to know people’s entire life stories. Here, because so many people have known each other for so long, you hear the whole tale. Sort of like reading a novel instead of a short story.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. So often the weight of the larger world trivializes our relationships with animals that I want to counterbalance that force by adding my respect to that of the big hearts of your readers – although we have only just “met”.
    The world seems generally pretty stingy re, bestowing legitimacy on relationships, period – so it makes me happy to see this recognition of a relationship based on love as fully authentic as any other relationship. It doesn’t have to be further qualified in order be legitimately grieved. It has its own authenticity that belongs only now to you and to your partner. So, however you grieve and say good-bye is the very right way, because no one knows the particular Smudgeness of Smudge except you. So take your time,
    Fifteen years after my adolescent cat. Sam, used to huddle with his gang of ruffian pals in their San Francisco vacant lot, pretending that he absolutely didn’t know me, I still burst into loud laughter. All they needed was a couple of cans of spray paint. But every night, Sam would leap casually through my window, burrow under the blankets and very purposefully “nurse” himself to sleep.

    Teenagers!

    Please pardon my long post, and thanks for having me.
    ___________________

    Smudge Cat, Esq.,late of Cornwall:
    Still suns upon on his favorite wall.
    He sees no reason not to be
    Sunning for eternity.
    (The wall was built for him, you see:
    What other reason could there be?)
    At any rate, he heard somewhere:
    “The sun never sets on you-know-where”

    Liked by 1 person

  19. My condolences for your sweet friend Smudge. So heartbreaking when our friends leave us, especially if it’s in a traumatic way. I once spent a few months in the UK. One of the things I noticed was their love for animals, so I can imagine that they’d do the right thing if needed. I also noticed some neighbors of the nosy variety. So nosy they were cartoonish.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re right about pets here. You ask someone about their dog, and they’re likely to tell you, extensively. I swear, the reason we got to know people initially is because my partner stops to talk to every dog–and its person. As for nosy–well, yes. People make jokes about the neighbors twitching their curtains aside to see what’s happening outside. But for first-person evidence, I’m not honestly convinced that they’re nosier than in the U.S.

      Like

        • Don’t you just love people who know how to live your life better than you do? But you do remind me of a man I met here who was out walking his tortoise. Actually, he was carrying it, but (as he said) the tortoise would have tucked its head in if it hadn’t enjoyed the trip. He (that’s the man, not the tortoise) clearly enjoyed talking about the tortoise and I suspect took him out just for the conversation.

          Like

  20. I am so sorry for your loss. Neighbors are interesting creatures. I grew up in a nosy/closeknit community in which everyone was into everyone’s business. Thought I would escape it by coming to America, but good neighbors follow me everywhere. Except now I am old (and hopefully mature) enough to appreciate it instead of feeling violated :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re onto something there: Whether we appreciate community must depend, at least partly, on what stage of life we’re in. And it can, very definitely, have a constricting quality about it.

      Thanks so much for your sympathy. I appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. I am so sorry about your cat. I would be a basket-case if that happened to one of our pets, so I don’t get cats since it is hard to (and unfair) to hem them in.

    As for neighbors, I have written about ours from time to time and what you described could be written for our enclave as well. I tend to prefer friendly but arms-length relationships with them since you can’t move if anything goes sour. It is good to have a neighbor or two who is trustworthy in times of emergency. Otherwise, I try to just be pleasant and helpful but not chummy.

    Again, condolences on Smudge. Companion animals are family members and every loss is hard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I still find myself turning to put food out for him when I feed our older cat. But I do agree–it’s not fair to hem them in.

      I understand the decision to keep relationships with neighbors distant but friendly, but I’ve never been able to do that unless that was as close as I’d have wanted to get if I met the person in another context. It makes perfect sense, but I just don’t seem to be constructed that way.

      Like

  22. Pingback: Irrelevant post: new kitten in the house | Notes from the U.K.

  23. Hi Ellen,
    I’m so sorry to read of your loss. I know from my own experience how hard it is to lose an animal companion, as we have lost quite a few while still living just outside of Karnes City. There, with a busy highway just in front of the house, plus coyotes, javelinas and snakes around, life was quite dangerous for our cats and dogs [http://tinyurl.com/npr26kf]. Here now, within the city limits of Fredericksburg and on a relatively quiet road, we hope it’ll be better for our kitties. Our dog Chiquita is too old to roam about much anyway. But we did lose our Sally to a tumor last year [http://tinyurl.com/l55m3e8].
    Again, I really feel for you losing this adorable kitty.
    Take care,
    Pit

    Liked by 1 person

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