Modern life is a lot less conducive to friendships and neighborliness than it used to be. The average American moves every five years. People drive straight into their garages, hire lawn services, hang out in their backyards instead of their front porches. These days, neighbors don’t even know each other’s names.
Good neighbors and good friends are a lot like electricity or running water: We don’t know how much we depend on them until we don’t have them. They make our lives more pleasant and give us a sense of who we are, both as an individual and as a member of the community. In fact, the authors of a recent book, Refrigerator Rights, claim that refrigerators are gauges of intimate relationships — after all, you wouldn’t snatch a drumstick from the refrigerator of a stranger.
The surprising thing is that all it takes to enhance your relationship with friends and neighbors is respect for their feelings, concern for their property, and a helping hand when it’s needed. Here’s how to nurture your relationships with two types of vitally important people
in your life.
1. Strike up a conversation over the fence or on the sidewalk. It’s okay to be the one to break the ice, even if you’ve lived next door for years. Most neighbors enjoy making small talk with the folks on the other side of the fence. So as you see them at work in their yards or at play in their pool, smile, wave, and say hello. Ask how their kids are (whether they’re toddlers or in college), whether they could use an extra zucchini from your garden, or what they think of the prices at the local supermarket.
2. Extend yourself to the new family down the block. These days, the old Welcome Wagon is a thing of the past. But your new neighbors may be feeling lonely and unsure, especially if they’re far from home, and might appreciate a friendly face bearing fresh-baked brownies. If they have kids, tell them where the children in the neighborhood live. Clue them in to the best places to eat and shop. Invite them over for coffee when they get settled, give them your number, and point to your house as you say good-bye.
3. Be considerate, especially of elderly neighbors. Return anything that you borrow from a neighbor, such as tools, in good repair and as soon as you’re finished with them. Replace anything that belongs to your neighbor that you, your children, or your pets break or soil. If your neighbor hasn’t brought in his garbage cans yet, roll them back into his yard. Random acts of consideration will have your neighbors talking — and the talk will be good.
4. Invite your neighbors to your next bash — or throw one in their honor. What better way to meet your neighbors than to invite them to an informal barbecue, pool party, or holiday open house? Better yet, you might even consider throwing a get-together just for them. Deliver the invitations in person to everyone who lives on your street and chat with each for five minutes before moving on to the next house. This way, you will get an idea of what your neighbors are like so that you can plan for appropriate food and music.