Jesus Follower | Word Stringer | Avocado Eater

I Met 19 New Neighbors! It Was Weird.

 

It started five months ago with the people who share our fence.

They were nice and we were new, so the conversation revolved around our dogs, mail for the former owner, and if the HOA is strict about paint colors.

They are. 

Handshakes and names quickly moved to swim invites and baked goods, with a walk for the ladies and a beer for the guys. 

Southern California fence culture says, “That side’s yours, this side’s mine. Keep your tree limbs trimmed.”

But since I’m not originally from here, Carrie culture says, “Let’s knock the fence down and have a BBQ!”

The first thing we noticed about our new neighborhood is how it mimics deserted island living. We’ve never lived on a deserted island, but I’m guessing there’s a loneliness factor.

Around here, garage doors open, people drive in, garage doors close. 

So I asked our new friends, “Do more people come out of their houses when the weather warms up?”

Jen laughed. “Nope.”

I moved to the next house and got to know them a bit before I asked, “What do you think about inviting the whole street and doing a BBQ here in the cul-de-sac?”

The unanimous vote led us to a 4th of July block party plan, so I got to work on a simple invite. The next week Jen and I set off across the street with a clipboard, pencil, and 23 papers, ready to introduce ourselves and match names to addresses. 

 

Let the Weird Commence

One lady opened her door about three inches and looked at us like we were armed and dangerous, probably selling Amway and a side of Mary Jane in a jar.  

With a bit of food in her mouth, she suspiciously held her right arm out of sight and acted like she didn’t speak much English. 

If she had looked Hispanic I would have roped her into the fold with talk of tortillas and corn on the grill, but I’m pretty sure she’s Chinese, so I smiled and we kept our pitch short. 

Her neighbor runs a dog grooming business, complete with a mobile grooming van on the street and a tall white poodle with purple highlights. Not kidding. Paws, ears and tail… super poofy and dip-dyed bright purple.

I don’t judge though. The renter lady saved my banana bread the other day when I ran out of cinnamon halfway through. I could have driven five minutes to Trader Joe’s, but I read somewhere that asking to borrow something from a neighbor makes them feel helpful and bridges a gap. 

So I showed up in the dark with my teaspoon and a ramekin. Sure enough, she seemed thrilled to help and all of a sudden I found myself in our same floor plan with FeFe and her highlights. I walked home with a small mound of cinnamon and one less stranger on the street. 

Another home included a male owner, a live-in girlfriend, a slew of older kids and a sweet boat in the garage-turned-man-cave. Super nice people who offered chairs and a sound system, ready to pitch in and help with the impending party. 

I felt so distracted at the next house I could barely focus on the fact that calendars around the world said June. Our invitation said July 4. The warm sun cast distinct shadows. Jen and I wore shorts and tanks. It was clearly summer.

The couple appeared friendly and talkative, but perfectly poised behind their heads sat a gigantic, beautiful Christmas tree. Yelling, “Merry Christmas!” when we left could have been a great ice-breaker, but I refrained. 

‘Cause I’m mature like that. 

Lady number three told us she moved in the week before to help her ailing mother, and the fifth guy said, “This is great! I’ve lived here for over a decade and we’ve never done anything as a street.”

Down one sidewalk and up the other, not one person invited us in. Totally fine and somewhat expected, but I thought about our town in Baja and the stark contrast. The same walk in Porvenir might have plopped us at someone’s kitchen table with iced tea minus the ice, and an hour lesson about how to pick through raw beans before they go to the soaking pot. 

 

La Fiesta

A month later we welcomed all sorts of neighbors into the cul-de-sac and cranked the American country. I wrote name tags and tried to memorize names while strangers approached strangers.

I watched a man extend his hand across potato salad and watermelon to a neighbor he’d never met. 

“Did you just move in?”

“No—I’ve lived here for four years.”

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

I heard an older lady say hi to a younger one for the first time, and then realized they shared a fence. 

A woman diagonal from us brought her German dad and Austrian mom, both of whom had rad accents that made me want to ask dumb questions.

“Do you own lederhosen?”

“What comes after eight? Nein?”

“Have you ever heard the hills alive with the sound of music?

“Aren’t jokes about German sausages just the wurst?”

Instead, I offered the sweet old man apple pie and he asked me if I was religious. I didn’t want to get into the fact that I’m not, but it turns out we both love Jesus, so I told him my husband’s side is part German and we bonded over more sugar.

They met and shook and sang one line to a popular German song because that’s all my husband knew. 

The whole thing was cool. And weird. But mostly cool. 

I’m still thinking about the fact that his name is Gert and his wife is Gertrude. What are the awesome odds?

“This is so nice,” said a lady who rarely comes out. “I’ve lived here since 2001 and I don’t know anyone.”

A month earlier I introduced two women to each other who’ve lived two houses apart for four years but never met. Now they chatted and snacked at the same table. 

Between telling me about his daughter’s boyfriend and his church attendance guilt, one guy got a tad sentimental. “Thanks for putting this together. I keep my garage open every weekend but no one ever comes over.”

It all seemed so strange to me, but I don’t blame SoCal natives. My hometown sits 430 miles away and feels nothing like this southern part. Same state, different culture.

 

The Neighborhood 411

Knowing what’s going on with your neighbors and being a busybody are two different things. We’ve all met people who love to be in the know and then spread it like butter. 

Gag. 

They’re probably either bored or lonely, and though they may have good intentions, they usually just end up causing more divisiveness. 

But showing up and seeing how people are truly doing brings compassion. 

How’s the military wife with little kids? Could you grab her some groceries so she doesn’t have to tote toddlers to town?

Does your pasty white population include a family of color? I lived as a minority for a dozen years; being ignored/avoided gets real old real quick. 

Did the young couple down the way just have a baby? If they don’t go to church or have a group of friends around them, they probably aren’t getting meals. No need for gourmet—pizza and a bagged salad could help them get through the week with less stress and more sleep. 

Is the old guy next door in the hospital? He might be alone.

Has anyone moved into your neighborhood lately? Don’t let them assume your street is one big clique. You’re already sharing trash service and water lines; might as well share food and conversation.

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

 

Besides the most basic act of kindness (introducing ourselves), here are a few easy ways we can make outsiders feel like insiders.

  • Give them a 3×5 card with your name, address and phone number. 
  • Tell them to call if they ever need to borrow anything. 
  • Take them a treat. Doesn’t need to be homemade or fancy.
  • If they’re going out of town, offer to babysit their kids plants. 
  • Ask to borrow something. Start small with something free, like a can opener or lemon zester. If that goes well, move on to something more exciting, like a peach or a cup of spinach. 

My takeaway? I learned how stepping outside my comfort zone to knock on doors proved beneficial. We may not all become best buddies, but I now have way more houses I can barge into in case of an emergency. 

Or a chocolate emergency. 

 

“Go often to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“All will concede that in order to have good neighbors, we must also be good neighbors. That applies in every field of human endeavor.”  Harry S. Truman

 

Have you ever invited neighbors to do something?

If so, was it a hit or a flop?

Is your neighborhood full of friends or strangers?

 

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11 Responses to I Met 19 New Neighbors! It Was Weird.

  1. Woohoo! Way to meet everyone!

    In the past we’ve invited the neighborhood over for Sunday morning breakfast. In our current neighborhood, s’mores and beer work well.

    I have friends who host a neighborhood Tuesday soup night. People can bring bread, salad, beer, whatever, or nothing but there will always be soup.

    Have you read about the turquoise table? It’s worth a google search. It’s a group of folks who are trying to be “front yard people” and offer a common place for neighbors to gather.

    • I like your Sunday morning breakfast idea. S’mores and beer are a hit in our area too. 🙂

      Love your soup night concept too; that would be fun.

      Yes–I love the turquoise table lady! Kind of hard in the summer with our high temps, but I keep thinking about getting an old picnic table one of these days. Thanks for chiming in, Amber!

  2. GREAT STUFF!!!! Let me add a practical spin on your thoughts…..

    As a City Councilmember, and former Mayor, in Northern California, I have routinely told people the critical importance of getting to know your neighbors. The next time “The Big One” hits there won’t be any use in calling 9-1-1 and relying on public safety personnel. Many of those that are off-duty live outside the areas in which they work and those that are on-duty will be overwhelmed. Surviving in a time of crisis, be it earthquake, fire, storm, etc., will require neighbors coming together, serving each other. The time to get to know one another is now….not then.

    • Thanks, John. Yes–that’s exactly how I feel! I mentioned that at the end of the post, but don’t think most of us give the concept enough credit. Hope we never have a massive disaster, but better to be prepared than sorry. I should probably go buy some emergency preparedness supplies too.

  3. Oh, this hits home being an out-of-stater where you grew up walking in houses unannounced… I don’t think I ever saw a doorbell, and to knock on a door would have been weird as they already heard you drive up the dirt road…. When I was first married and living here, I joined a church and a MOPS group. Then I sat at home waiting for someone to “drop by,” and waited and waited. So I picked myself up and “dropped by” at someone else’s house. They cracked the door, peeked out the slit and asked what I wanted. I was miserable, figured I was too different and that no on liked me. Starved for a relationship I stuck with MOPS. Then I met a fellow “out-of-stater.” Whew, finally. As I matured in life, I decided my house would be run my way. So, if I even half way remotely expect you to come by and you knock on the door, you will be sitting there a long while. It takes a while, but my friends know to simply “drop by” and come in. I love how long it takes for them to be comfortable enough to actually fully do it. The first time, of course, they still knock… and ring, and knock. The next few times, they ring, then knock, then come in… finally they get the idea, “hey, we are here!”

    As for neighbors, only one will use the protocol. One will do a few times a year visit, usually because one or the other of us needs an egg to finish baking. Another will see me in town and act like we are old friends, but doesn’t look up when I drive by her house. The rest pre open the garage door and close it as quickly as they can to avoid a friendly “hi!” Oh, don’t let me forget about the immediate neighbors with the hound that barks all day and night, while m son receives chemo in his brain. She thinks bark collars are mean..

    I now strive to be that house where anyone can go. Every holiday we have new faces, our regular family teases be about my homeless population. Others can’t tell who is family or who just happened to show up. We have a spare room, or parts of rooms, or garages… and there is generally an extra living at the house. I like it that way. I grew up throwing myself on the floor, couch or spare room of others trying to survive. I was thankful for the hospitality. I want to offer the same. So, drop in, make yourself at home, contribute something back and lets share a laugh, or a tear.

    I miss small town living and small town relationship. Suburbia is lonely place.

    • Wow, Debbie. Fantastic stories and points! I love how you made it clear that your home was open to any and all. I want that too. I miss small-town living, too, and your last sentence, though sad, wrapped it up perfectly. Ironic, isn’t it? Living out in the country with few neighbors seems to be the friendliest for some. But stuff 73 people into one block and then watch them ignore each other. So weird! Thanks for being a fellow friend who’s out to change that. 🙂 I know you are making a difference!

  4. You guys are awesome! Loved your blog and the timing of it made me smile. John, feeling the need to have more interaction with non-believers, printed 150 flyers and went door to door around our neighborhood inviting people to a monthly book club. Neither of us has been in a book club, but 10 people showed up to the first gathering last month. We’re looking at a possible 15-20 this coming Monday.

    The main reason people gave for wanting to come, besides loving to read, was the chance to get to meet neighbors. With the exception of two couples, no one had met anyone else. Amazing, isn’t it? We’re looking forward to seeing what God will do as the months go by!

    And last Christmas, friends from church also felt a desire to reach out to their neighborhood. Invitations to a holiday open house went out door to door and on the appointed evening their house was filled with neighbors enjoying being together, many meeting for the first time. I heard over and over “This is wonderful—I’m so glad someone took the initiative,” and “Why don’t we do this more often?” The desire for connection is strong and it just takes someone making the first move.

    I always smile with anticipation when I see your link to a new posting in my inbox—so glad you decided to put pen to paper/fingers to keys and start sharing your thoughts. There’s always a take-away nugget or two for me when I read your blog.

    Thanks so much and here’s to having a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

    • Oh my goodness, Ann… this is amazing! Thank you for sharing your fantastic ideas. I can’t believe John took around 150 flyers! You are so right–the desire for connection is strong and it just takes someone making the first move. Well done.

      Thanks for your kindness to your neighbors and me. It’s people like you who make me want to keep writing. 🙂

      P.S. Won’t you be my neighbor?

  5. Love this! We don’t have a lot of fluidity in our neighborhood. Most folks who are here are the ones who built here 15-17 years ago. While we have never done a whole neighborhood picnic (that would be fun!), we care for one another. Neighbors watch neighbors houses when they are gone on vacation. Meals are provided when someone has surgery or twin babies. Produce from gardens is shared. We have watched the children in the family next door grow up. I love to jot off a note to the young man who is now away at college to help his loneliness as he navigates being away from home for the first time. We have a couple of families who drive into their garages and close the door down, but fortunately they are rare. I have tried breaching the walls of that fortress several times, but have been met with suspicion. Recently I was chatting with a neighbor on the next street over in our subdivision while I was out for my morning walk. I learned that he is a fisherman to the nth degree. He learned that I love fish. He sent me home with 3 enormous trout from his freezer–really good eating!

    • I love that your neighbors care for one another, Sherry. That’s so cool how you share produce and provide meals. So sweet of you to write a college freshman; he probably loved that. What a generous fisherman, too! Thanks for sharing your stories. So rich.

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