Coping with Your Neighbours, Canadian Style

By Jill Snider Lum

Welcome to Canada! You’ve landed, you’ve done your paperwork, and you’ve found a place to live. Maybe you’ve moved in with friends or family from your country of origin for a while. Maybe you’ve rented an apartment, or even bought a house or condo. In any case, you’re starting to get settled into your new Canadian life.

And your new Canadian life includes… the neighbours.

Some of them are easy to get along with. They’re kind, considerate, friendly, and happy to chat when they have the time. In general, they’re the kind of neighbours everyone wants; like the kind of neighbour you want to be.

But some of the others…

Why must they own a yappy dog that barks for hours on end? Why must they play the drums at full volume every day? Why do they freak out when you step on their lawn or driveway? Why can’t they stop asking you rude personal questions? And why, why do they have to cook fried fish with fermented shrimp paste at three o’clock in the morning??

Of course, you had some difficult neighbours back home, too. They made you throw up your hands and use bad language and wish they would move somewhere else. And in your previous country and culture, you knew how to deal with them. But in Canada… what should you do?

Well, Canadians tend to avoid conflict. It’s one reason our society can be truly multicultural. So the Canadian way of dealing with the annoying things your neighbours do is usually this: find ways to keep those things from bugging you.

Play music when the dog is yapping, so you can’t hear the little monster and he won’t drive you crazy. Figure out how to close, or block off, your apartment’s kitchen vent at night, so the fish-loving night-shift-worker next door won’t stink up your place with his cooking. And as for the people who get hostile when you set foot on their property… that one’s easy. Don’t go near their precious perfect lawn or their wonderful gold-plated driveway. You don’t want to spend time with people like that anyway.

Sometimes, though, you’ll have to confront your neighbours. For best results… do it Canadian-style.

The guy playing the drums really likes the drums. Maybe he’s even a professional musician who has to practice. Maybe he’s just moved into the area, and doesn't realize how much he’s disturbing his neighbours. Maybe he’s just a thoughtless jerk, but maybe not. So when you approach him, be polite, be fair-minded, and explain the situation. You might suggest or request that he keep it quiet at certain times, so you can get a break from the noise. Or if he’s using electronic drums, he could put headphones on, so as not to disturb you and others. He ought to respond politely, like a good neighbour. But if he turns out to be a thoughtless jerk who is rude and won’t cooperate, you can talk with your other neighbours, and see if they are annoyed too. If many people come to him in a group with the same request, he will likely back down and agree, before the police need to be called in to shut him up.

As for the lady who asks you too many personal questions… she’s probably lonely and bored and well-meaning, but you don’t have to answer her. Shrug your shoulders like you don’t care, and change the subject. Or turn her question back on her: “Well, as far as that goes, Mrs. Whatever, how many times have you been married?” (She’ll tell you. Be sympathetic, then find a reason to leave.) If all else fails, make a joke. “Oh, I’ve been married fourteen times. Or was it fifteen? I’ve lost count.” She may look at you strangely. Laugh. She will, too. Then find a reason to leave.

Above all, try not to get into a fight with your neighbours. Nobody wins those fights, and your new home will be filled with stress. And there’s enough stress involved in moving to a new country, without letting your weird new neighbours get you down!