She was still yelling when I bid her goodbye, turned my back and left. I had said screamed my piece, there was nothing more to add. She was not getting anything from me. I was already home, the door closed loudly behind me, once again emphasizing the end of our “conversation”, but she was still yelling out there, arguing by herself. Oh well… It was about time for another one of these.Differences between cultures and peoples are constantly emphasized, they cannot go unnoticed. But how about those differences between various regions in one’s own country? When I moved here, I was the youngest adult in my part of the building… which translated into a certain kind of treatment from my older neighbours. The age difference was considerable, most of them were retired, and let’s just say it took a while to accept each other’s ways. (Fortunately the dynamic has changed a lot since then.)
Lo and behold, I had barely moved in and the building was suddenly falling apart. And somehow it was my fault. Leaking pipes, floods in the basements, loud noises, messy gardens or hallways, cigarette buds on the ground? All me, of course, although I wasn’t even a smoker. After all, it’s a well-known fact that young people are the source of all evil. It is also common knowledge that they have all the money too (they do?) and the older generations might as well take advantage of their reckless spending habits. Considering I could barely make ends meet at that point, I was certainly not about to become the building’s benefactor only to avoid confrontation. Besides – financial issues aside – that has never been my style.
I was expecting that sort of attitude, but that doesn’t make experiencing it any easier. From all those knocking at my door with loud demands, threats and belligerent requests, one individual stood out… There’s one of them in every building and setting them straight generally gains you a certain kind of respect. In this case, the person in question was my downstairs neighbour. Just my luck… Sometimes you win people over with your wit, other times a kind nature prevails, a sense of humour is all you need in some cases, even looks can make a difference. But there are times when all that matters is one’s ability to argue – not to be right, mind you, just to argue.
I knew it, yet I stubbornly tried to apply logic and common sense in my interactions with crazy lady downstairs. Until that one day… when I wasn’t going to hold back or be civilized. Coming home after a long day, all I needed was her nonsensical demand followed by empty, illogical threats. I had a voice too, my non-smoker lungs were stronger than hers, and I could certainly hold my own. That day, my voice overpowered hers and she went home in a huff. That day was also the moment I was accepted in the building as an equal, someone you respect and whose opinion you take into account.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say my downstairs neighbour respects me, because she’s one of those toxic people unable to respect any soul, going through life convinced the world revolves around them, aiming to please and serve their needs at any cost. Everybody avoids her for good reason. She will scream at children for laughing loudly; she will throw things at stray cats and dogs and curse people for entering “her” garden (part of the building’s garden she has abusively fenced); she will call the police when people from the electrical company need to fix something; she will be incredibly rude to guests and then yell at you for daring to have guests. And the list goes on and on… A bad fight is absolutely necessary about once a year, then she behaves as civilized as she can. I now know not to take it personally, I’ve seen her treat all the neighbours this way. Many of us just walk away when they really can’t be bothered to argue with her, and she’ll be left behind, yelling by herself in the empty hall for several minutes. Like I said, every building has one of them…
Two more acrimonious exchanges with two other neighbours established my position in the building. One of them moved and the other one, the neighbourhood busybody, is now genuinely friendly, even when she’s not fishing for gossip. She tells me about her family and she’ll show up at my door whenever she needs her remote control set or advice about purchasing some new furniture; we also bonded over a shared interest for decorative plants, and once in a while I offer her “babies” from my own plants. She and the harpy downstairs will also show up at my door when I’m renovating, hoping to catch a glimpse of topless construction workers, offering them ice-cream on a hot summer day and chatting them up until they become uncomfortable, because the ladies are about their grandmothers’ age. Hmmm…
I remember my grandmother saying that women in this part of the country are bitches. Personally, I loved how assertive and pushy they seemed to be, not as mild-mannered as the ones in my native town, who used more subtle and patient methods in order to get what they wanted. By comparison, the “bitches” were a force of nature, and they were more likely to reach their goal, even when they weren’t right, especially when dealing with outsiders.
What my grandmother failed to notice was that all people were that way in this part of the country, more outspoken, often ruder and cruder in their directness, targeting the same goals, but never apologizing for it. They had a rougher shell and they often took kindness for weakness, trying to take advantage of those who seemed nice and soft too early in an interaction; when getting to really know them, though, they could be just as soft and generous, they simply didn’t flaunt that side of their nature. I also learnt immediately that in many cases, it’s the loudest person who is accepted as the winner of the fight, not the person with the best arguments. I may not like it, but I will use it when all else fails. It certainly worked with my neighbours.
What can I say… living in an urban area is often like a nature show. We cannot choose our neighbours, we can only try and make the best of it, that’s a matter of urban survival. The relationship between neighbours can be a delicate balancing act, and whether we like it or not, we have to accept both the necessary symbiosis and the absolutely mandatory boundaries. There will be those we like better, the ones we let it, we choose to befriend and help. Then there will be those we simply need to accept and let be, yet avoid when necessary – yes, that can be done. The same goes for certain tiny uninvited visitors, another kind of neighbours – I don’t mind or fear insects, but I don’t particularly like them either. Their role in the garden outside is tremendously relevant, but I don’t want them in my home…
Thank you, Tina, for providing inspiration for this post (Lens-Artists Weekly Challenge – Around the Neighbourhood).