Further to my previous blog, I am also a fan of the other Sam blog on the SMH. All Men Are Liars, blogged by Sam de Brito, is the male’s take on issues. The below is what he posted today.
Neighbours: what are we so afraid of?
Last year one of my uncles told me about an incident that brought home the sad state of community that exists in our big cities.
He was at home and there was knock on the door and he opened it to a drag queen gasping, claiming she’d poisoned herself by drinking something she shouldn’t have.
She’d already had a spew on the landing, but whatever it was she’d ingested was still tearing up her stomach and esophagus and she desperately needed milk.
My uncle promptly brought her a carton and, after drinking it, she calmed down said she’d had three neighbours in the building slam the door on her before he’d come to her rescue …
A distressed, vomiting transvestite might freak you out if you reside in suburbia, but my uncle lives in a cosmopolitan inner-city ville; the people in his apartment block shouldn’t have been too wigged by a bloke in fishnets with false tits.
After the drag queen retired hurt, my uncle cleaned up her chunder and when he saw her in the foyer some days later waved and said "hi".
Suzie Spew? She averted her eyes and said nothing, scurrying into the lift.
My uncle was a bit peeved by her snub, but reasoned she was embarrassed by what had happened. This is probably true up to a point but I think her behaviour ran a little deeper.
Like the neighbours who’d shut the door on her, I reckon the drag queen was afraid of making a connection with someone.
Why? Because it would imply future obligation.
I believe this is why a lot of people avoid befriending their neighbours; because they’re worried it’ll mean years of boring small-talk, being invited over to watch their Christmas holiday video or midnight knocks on the door when they’ve bashed the missus/husband and they’ve got nowhere else to seek refuge.
The picture of chumminess we see on a TV show like Neighbours might reflect some suburbs and towns, but I reckon the average Aussie would prefer to watch a neighbour who’s lost their housekeys sit in the rain waiting for their flatmate, rather than invite them into their apartment and risk … obligation.
Magazines, newspapers and TV tell us how important it is to avoid dependence (emotional, financial, chemical), with the state of independence held high as the golden rung for which we should all reach.
In reality, independence is a whistle-stop on the way to the highest peak for humans: interdependence.
It’s no news flash that humans are social animals; we need interaction with each other to grow and be happy as individuals and that requires the skills to deal with hurling drag queens and slide-night bores.
People with a healthy sense of them self are able to say hello to their neighbours and know how to shut it down when they bang on a little too long. They can also navigate those unwanted invitations to dinner if they’re not appropriate.
There’s nothing wrong with saying to a neighbour: "Jimmy, I love ya, and you’re the only man I’ll ever lend my step-ladder to, but I’ve got enough on my plate seeing all my friends and relatives. Burn your trip to Broome onto a DVD and I’ll have a look at it on the weekend."
It’s all about being able to say no, and there’s no shame in telling someone that their friendship is not your number-one priority. If they can’t deal with that, it’s their problem.
Seeing the bloke up the street and giving him a wave, kissing an old lady at the bus stop, heckling the skatie kids in your neighbourhood by name — these are the great pleasures of community and we shouldn’t run away from them, even if it means having to clean chunks off your stoop every now and then.
My comment to the blog:
Having lived in a high rise apartment building for the past 6 years, I can honestly say I miss the neighbours I had before I moved to my current abode.
I grew up in the northern suburbs of Sydney, where my neighbours were treated like an extended part of my family. Having no other family members in Australia (aside from my immediate family of parents and sisters), it was always comforting and reassuring to have good friends in our neighbours.
I will never forget the great times I had in the Mr & Mrs McKenzie’s house making shortbread and marshmallows, or the afternoons spent swimming in Jenni-Lee & Kim’s pool and playing Marco Polo. Nor will I forget any of the afternoon teas and long chats with Mr Turner, the Moyas, the Scullys and the Hos.
I loved knowing all the kids in the area and being part of our little community, when after school activities included gossip sessions on my front lawn with the girls, friendly games of touch footy on the oval across the road and the local boys showing off their skateboard skills in my driveway.
When I moved out of home at the ripe old age of 24, I was lucky enough to score some really great neighbours in a small apartment block, who took it upon themselves to ensure I was well looked after, watered and fed. I made fast friends with my mature-aged neighbours Christine & Gordon and Ron & Maureen, and enjoyed spending time with them over lots of cups of tea and biscuits. Christine always made sure I had food in my fridge, Ron became my handyman and Maureen my trash-mags buddy. When Gordon passed away, it was the saddest, saddest day – it was like losing my grandfather all over again.
Since moving to my home in a high rise apartment block on Sydney’s north shore, I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of officially meeting any of my neighbours on my floor. When I first moved into the building, I tried to introduce myself to some of my neighbours – the immediate next doors, the ones further down the hall, the ones opposite my front door, and other random ones who I’ve met in the foyer or shared lifts with. You know, in case I needed a cup of sugar or something. To say that I’ve had doors slammed in my face is to make light of my friendly and harmless introductions.
Although I’m not good with names, I’m good with faces, and tend to remember the faces of people I meet more than I do their names. I’ve seen some of the neighbours on my floor, and I’ve remembered their faces, so in case they wanted to be friendly to me at a random outing outside of the building, I will at least be able to introduce them to my mates. But, from time to time, when I have seen my neighbours and shared a lift with them, I’ve smiled and tried to strike up a conversation with them. And what do I get for my troubles? You guessed it – the cold shoulder treatment. Imagine how awkward that is when we have to ride up 8 floors together, exit the lift at the same time, walk in the same direction, and put keys into doors that are right next to each other.
I really miss my old neighbours. I wonder if anyone would come if I was to hold a “Getting to Know You” thing one weekend?