Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Neighbor Paradox

You know how Dutch people are standoffish and not chatty and generally not known for their friendliness? Well, there is one major exception: The Neighbor.

In the affluent Boston suburb I grew up in, we didn't speak to our neighbors. For 35 years now. We can talk to strangers for hours, but we ignore the shit out of our neighbors. Here, it's the complete opposite.

I was reading an online forum where an American was looking for a petsitter. The overwhelming response was "Don't you have neighbors?"
No matter how unappealing or incompatable they are, your neighbors are fucking THERE and ready to serve. It's an expectation. You don't have to worry about your pets, plants or mail while you are away. If you need a ride someplace, or someone to let the cable guy in, feel free to call on your neighbors. They'll lend you a car or bike, pass out candy to your kids and help you clean the gutters.

Inexplicably, Dutch people are proud of being good neighbors. Be a bad neighbor and you risk being labelled the dreaded "asociaal." Feel free to ignore strangers, though. It's part of the maddening and puzzling duality of the Dutch.

Every neighbor we've had has been helpful to the point of our being tearfully grateful. Most recently, our newest neighbor served as an emergency babysitter for baby M at 8 a.m. and lent me her (SWEET) car to take V to the doctor when he had pneumonia. No problem. She's our neighbor.

It must be in the Dutch constitution: 1) Ignore that the monarchy is totally useless and robs you blind, and 2) Be a good neighbor.

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