Research has shown that "New Zealanders are losing touch with their neighbours". Evidently just four per cent of Kiwis say "they felt close to people in their local area".
That means I'm in good company. Over the years I've had enough close encounters with neighbours to make me wary of them.
Allow me to share some of these experiences. They're amusing now but were irksome at the time.
Unsolicited landscaping advice
One neighbour appeared on our front doorstep to ask if our immature and neatly trimmed hedge could be reduced in height. This might not seem an unusual request but context is everything. In order to make such a request, this person had walked past our sharp rows of box hedging, well-groomed garden beds, clusters of pruned rosebushes and a trio of clipped topiary cones.
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Now, my general philosophy is to not judge the state of other people's properties. But considering the fact I had employed a gardener whose key brief was to prevent the vigorous weeds on this not especially well-tended neighbouring property from coming through to our side, I regarded this focus on my own manicured garden as misplaced. Needless to say, I did not welcome landscaping suggestions from someone who demonstrated no genuine interest in such matters. It was so farcical that I (honestly) looked around for hidden cameras. There were none.
Complaints about lawful parking
The elderly woman who lived across the road telephoned a couple of times to complain that someone who was visiting our house had parked outside her place. I just rolled my eyes. Last time I checked this was perfectly lawful parking. I was polite to her, though; I try to respect my elders even if they live close by. The funny thing was that a short while later she telephoned again. "It's my birthday," she explained. "And a courier has left flowers on my doorstep but I can't bend down to pick them up." My husband went to help but I kind of felt an unwritten code had been breached. I reckon neighbours should either make baseless complaints or ask for assistance. Surely it's not reasonable to do both in the same week.
False accusations about foul smells
A neighbour arrived to say a stench was emanating from our property. I immediately called an expert who paid an emergency visit to inspect our drains. He quickly determined that this smell was not coming from our place. I reported back to the neighbour concerned. A little later I asked whether they'd resolved the problem. "Oh yes," this person replied. "It was coming from our own place after all." Let me get this straight. They had approached me before checking whether the source was closer to home. Nice. Plus they issued no thanks for my prompt (and ultimately needless) action.
We've had neighbours with a dog that stood at its gate barking all day at anything and everything that moved in the street. We've had neighbours who gave children drumming lessons in their basement. We've had neighbours who fixed outdoor speakers facing directly towards our place; they would play loud music through them, go inside and forget they were on.
Yet not long ago I broke the habit of a lifetime by bonding with one lot of neighbours. Needless to say, this cordial relationship did not stem from differing views about trees, weeds, parking, smells or noise. Rather we came to know these people because our daughter loved their little cat. We were invited to visit their new kitten. Then we had them over for Christmas drinks. We were being neighbourly! "How long have you lived here?" I asked over mince pies and bubbly, fairly confident it would be less than my 18 years in the 'hood.
"Ten years," they replied. And I suddenly realised my definition of good neighbours. They are people who don't rush to form an artificial connection for the sake of being able to claim they are being neighbourly. Importantly, they are people who are not determined to impose their views about petty issues on whoever resides nearby. While I enjoyed bonding over something positive such as a cute little kitty cat, I resist being forced into engagement with neighbours simply so they can attempt to further their own goals. I used to think that made me misanthropic.
Now I realise I'm simply in the 96 per cent of Kiwis who just aren't into neighbours.