faith, Luxembourg

neighbours day

June 1, 2012
On being a good neighbour

I grew up in a little cul de sac in a small village in Oxfordshire. In our little street there were roughly 20 houses. I think I knew well the occupants of at least fourteen of them.

As a child I played in the street until the sun went down with the others from the street – Sarah, Mark, Jason, Marty. When I got older I babysat the younger children. We played tennis and badminton on the road, I learned to cycle by free-wheeling down the gentle slope at the top of the road. The day before one neighbour’s wedding, a friend and I picked flowers (weeds, really) from the bank of the stream that ran through the middle of the street, and nervously presented them to the bride who lived at number two. Our wedding decorations included flowers plucked from a neighbours garden (with permission!). One neighbour was the usher in our wedding.

These neighbours sponsored me through various charity events, watched me grow up from a awkward child to a (maybe still awkward!) teenager. They were amongst the first to hear when I got into St Andrews university, the first to hear when I got accepted for a year at UCSB, the first to hear when I got a first class degree on graduating. They’ve invited me round for cups of tea and coffee, sent me letters and postcards, prayed for me, and hugged me tight when I came home to visit.

Today is European Neighbours Day. And here in Luxembourg they celebrate it as “Nopeschfest”. I found out about it just a few days ago, via another expat here in the city. And then I noticed the posters around for it too, although I’d have had no idea what they were advertising if I hadn’t already known.

The basic idea is to improve the neighbourly spirit and sense of community that many people argue is slipping away as we become less localised in our lifestyles – travelling for work, for shopping, for school, to see friends. It’s rarer, in cities especially, to have friends living just around the corner, and that can leave a sense of isolation or feeling a little like a stranger in your own neighbourhood.

For us young professionals, it maybe doesn’t feel like a big deal because the ease of moving around is so natural and we’re so used to living half our lives over the internet, that the disconnect is not so apparent.

But it’s not the same for everyone. Think of the old lady who struggles to clear her pathway in the winter and is overwhelmed by all the changes happening around her. Think of the young mother who is new to the country but doesn’t know where to go or how to meet new friends. And even for us who feel relatively independent, it’s kinda nice to be able to tell someone, “by the way, we’re on holiday next week so if you see anything suspicious will you check it out?”

Our neighbours have not always been the people we might have chosen to hang out with. The guy who lived across the corridor from us in Brussels was an alcoholic lacking in awareness in social situations. The first time I met him was when we discovered him unconscious outside the gate and needed to half-carry him up the stairs. No, I would not have naturally spent time with him. But underneath all the problems he was a kind and well-intentioned man, who was always grateful for any friendship shown to him.

Now our neighbours are much closer to who we might naturally spend time with. They’re friendly and well-travelled and interesting. But maybe the point is that being neighbourly is just the right thing to do. We’re maybe not morally obliged to do more than say “bonjour” if we happen to pass on the stairway, but taking a little more time to get to know the people living in our immediate surroundings feels like a small way to buck the trend of increasing independence, isolation and onlineness (yes I just made up a word).

Maybe having the neighbours round for an after work aperitif every now and then is a good way to remind ourselves that as humans we exist together. There’s a South African philosophy, ubuntu, which states: “I am what I am because of who we all are.” We don’t exist as islands, we exist as communities, as neighbourhoods. My well-being is always linked to your well-being. Maybe that should start with showing some interest in the people next door.

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  • I love it! I used to play with my neighbors, too. And since I went to a public school a lot of my friends from school lived right next to me.
    Sadly we’ve had some problems with some of our neighbors here. We do have a good relationship with the others though!

    • Sidenote: you went to UCSB? That’s so cool! My dad use to teach the summer session there and we went to Santa Barbara almost every summer. The summer day camp the university organized was awesome. I miss it so much. I can’t believe I used to go there every year for 6 weeks or more and now, it’s been 6 years since I last went! My parents still go though. That’s why we’re including Santa Barbara as a stop on our West Coast honeymoon! 🙂

      • fionalynne

        I did my junior year at UCSB, it was fantastic! One of the most beautiful places I have been to. I loved escaping campus for a hike up in the mountains, or driving over to Santa Ynez for the wine tasting… you will have a wonderful time being back there!

  • fed

    hear hear.

    And neighbourliness, being embedded in the community physically around you (not just online or other communities) is a key form of physical and social protection and can remove elements that would otherwise be vulnerabilities. Your neighbours know you, so they know its not you when they see someone breaking in… your neighbours know you don’t move that well on your own, so they know to tell the ambulance/firebrigade etc to attend to you first in the case of a fire etc etc.

    • fionalynne

      I fully agree. There’s so much safety and security wrapped up in knowing our neighbours and being known…

  • Mum

    Cassington is a village where people move in and rarely move again! Of the 13 other houses which were in our street when we moved in 25 years ago 8 are still occupied by people who have been here longer than us.

    Good neighbours day is a good idea although I suspect the jubliee parties and picnics for today will be a little dampened by the weather…hoping for dry intervals later

    • fionalynne

      I’m a little sad to be missing out on the Jubilee street parties. The one for the Royal Wedding last year was such fun! I think it should become a much more regular thing, not just for royal special occasions.

  • We just had our neighbourhood street party last Friday. We’ve been doing it for about 5 or 6 years now and it’s always a big hit. There’s a hardcore group who are there every year, but there’s also always someone new who’s just moved in. People bring home made food, and since we have a real mix of nationalities in our street that makes it even more enjoyable (last time we had Japanese okonomiyaki and the best Spanish tortilla I’ve ever tasted).
    In fact people like it so much that we’re thinking of doing it more than just once a year.

    • fionalynne

      I love okonomiyaki! I have Japanese friends at uni in California who used to make it for me. Need to make some more Japanese friends. 🙂 The food must be one of the best parts about living in an international city! I’ve benefited from Jamaican, Pakistani, Italian, South African, Guatemalan…!

  • Hi!

    I just found your blog and got excited because you grew up in Oxfordshire…so did I! Abingdon to be exact 🙂 We also lived on a cul-de-sac with good neighbours. I live in Edinburgh now in a flat and although we are know our neighbours I wouldn’t say we are friends with them and thats a shame.


    • fionalynne

      What a small world 🙂 We lived just west of Oxford! I love Edinburgh too – I studied in St Andrews so had lots of excuses to pass through. It is hard to get past the “knowing” stage to the “friends” stage with neighbours I think. I have so many good intentions with our downstairs neighbours but still haven’t got around to inviting them over…