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It is nice to have a recreation area within reasonable distance, such as the Laxenburg castle park. "Back home we have to travel one hour out of town to come to such a place", an international colleague told me, as we spent a quiet morning walking through tree alleys and crossed the lake with a ferry boat to the small castle. That's one example for "good news" in the neighbourhood!
Southern Fantasies. One day a colleague from the South joined me for breakfast. He was in an unusually good mood, apparently he had overcome his sleeplessness in hotel beds. He even slowly overcame the fact that during our travels for weeks I had been "the last thing he saw in the evening and the first thing in the morning". So it was morning again and I was just talking to the owner of the place. Both of us had that frown on our face, we were totally serious. The newcomer asked me, what had happened, still joking, whether we had been discussing any business processes.
Network Opportunity. What really had happened was that I had asked about "news in the neighbourhood", a simple question to start up a conversation and yet so far beyond my colleague's belief. Unexpectedly, the most recent local news was a terrible murder in the same village, the slaughter of a whole family, which we discussed in disturbing detail. Media people had stayed at the same family hotel we were at, the tragic incident had been on the TV news.
New Business Idea. Weeks later, if not years, my slaphappy and at that time speechless colleague would still tease me about the importance of socializing and leading by example. Next he suggested me to start my very own social network called Neighbourhoodbook, which would soon bypass Facebook in popularity, for establishing global contact by asking the most simple and yet so dangerous question: "What's new in the neighbourhood?"
Faceoff-Comments for Wedding Anniversary. As our new business idea would not stop family members from participating in traditional social network platforms (which will be overrun, soon), the wife achieved more "Likes" than ever for the following posting: "Husband working in Poland again this week. Guess my anniversary present will be a pen from the hotel!" Nasty comments from alleged online friends included: "With a pad of paper wrapped up in a plastic logoed laundry bag?! How romantic! " or "He might snag some towels depending on the size of the suitcase." And there was also a lonesome, hopeful response: "Bet he surprises you..." On the following weekend, the resolution to the riddle around the anniversary present didn't fully meet gleeful expectations: "He just got back with two pens, some chocolates and the small white packet containing what I thought was a shower cap turned out to be an amber bracelet!" Only one encouraging comment followed: "Lucky you! Great to have your expectations exceeded." It had been one week since our daughter had explained us the three rings of marriage: The engagement ring, the wedding ring, and then comes the suffering.
In Need of a Friendly Neighbourhood
Near Farmers. After years of detailed analysis, I have come to the surprising conclusion that we are not alone on this planet. And apart from the millions and millions of people all over, some are close, others closer, and yet others right next door to us. The etymology of the English word neighbour is connected to the word stem of the German word "Nachbar", describing the nearby farmer ("naher Bauer"). Just for the records: The word "neighbour" is definitely not derived from "neigh", the sound a horse makes in English. Which in case of a German horse would equal "ii-ha-ha", almost like laughter, while a Chinese horse would say "si-si", similar to a cheerful agreement in Spanish. But animal sounds we have already discussed elsewhere, no need to get into further detail again. "Neighbour in Need" is the name of an extraordinary Austrian fund raising campaign, which was originally established for victims of the near war in former Yugoslavia and ever since supports people in need, be it due to natural catastrophes or armed conflicts. For refugees and strangers could also be neighbours in need of your help and support in order to be able to do the most simply thing... survive. A famous Bible quote comes to mind: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." The whole point of the story of the Good Samaritan was to answer the question "Who is my neighbour", which made it clear that the statement did not exclusively mean people living close by. To be a neighbour to someone therefore means more than living next door. It encourages us to help people in need, no matter whether we know them or not.
Staircase Gossip. Neighbourly help is something wonderful, be it lending a screw driver, an egg or a helping hand. Otherwise, a lot of information can be passed through neighbourly talk and information exchange on the floor, on the street or over coffee. Rumours spread easily in the neighbourhood, if there are talkative residents around with a tendency to useless chatter that makes Facebook look old. Kind of exploring the popular question about "News in the Neighbourhood". On the other hand, Sir Paul McCartney would praise "Peace in the Neighbourhood" and sing of "Helping each other out". Only towards the end of the same song, he would admit: "Then I woke up from my dream to see things as they really are: People struggling to survive."
Wet, Thin Walls. Sometimes neighbourhood disputes are unavoidable. Usually a neighbour conflict starts with noise and in some cases it turns into a sad but almost never-ending story. Just like mobbing at one's work place can make life to hell, so can a permanent argument within or right outside of the own four walls. In my first apartment I came to know my neighbours following a bursting of pipes (on my side) and a wet wall (on both sides), which kind of set the tone of our neighbourly relationship. The question is simply, what do you do if you are bored? The childless elderly couple enjoyed spying out of their door viewer, for lack of other entertainment. And they regularly helped me not to miss the news on TV every night at 7:30 PM, which is exactly when the news signature tune coming from their TV set would be echoing in my own four walls. My knocking at the wall would then occasionally motivate them to turn down the volume and over time hurt my knuckles, which in the meantime as a result of the unusual exercise are covered by something you could easily mistake for elephant skin. The usual explanation helped me understand but not endure: "You know, I'm a little hard of hearing."
Very many Neighbours: A Chinese Shopping Street, similar to the one
depicted in Tintin's Blue Lotus adventure.
Wrong Number? So we moved into a new flat. As we started hanging up pictures, the phone rang. Surprised that anyone knew our number already (which we had taken over from the previous owner), the conversation went like this: "Do you hammer and mortise? (Haemmern und stemmen Sie?)" Reply: "No, my name is...!" On another occasion, almost the opposite happened. As I nicely answered the phone, asking back: "And how are you today (and so on and so forth)", it took us almost five minutes to find out that we didn't know each other and our conversation ended with a disappointing: "Sorry, wrong number!"
Noise'n'Smoke. Rather than just picking on others, we should also reflect our own shortcomings. Another chapter of neighbourly tolerance would open for us in the book of life, when we were noisy ourselves. We would face the other side of the medal, when a jobless neighbour lady upstairs found an occupation in complaining about the noise our own kids would make, especially when going to bed. It was not as much the fault of the children but of our upbringing, lacking a dependable bed time ritual, reliably regular guidelines and clear milestones. In return, the lady tortured us with her biting cigarette smoke, which would visit us - silently but intensively - through the air shaft in the bathroom.
Beyond the Sonic Wall. As the nice elderly neighbour next door started facing severe health problems, she would turn the TV volume up to the noise level of a rock concert, turn off her hearing aid, and fall asleep, while the earth was shaking. Anyway, the TV program became known two stories upstairs and for us - on the same floor - there was no more mercy unless the former janitor was in-house, who kept a key to the neighbour's door to be able to assist in case of an emergency.
Remember the Good Times. At the same time we have had wonderful neighbours, who even watched our little ones in the evening until both baby and -sitter were asleep. The kids were welcome to go by any time and we have not often experienced such a warm friendship as we found with such a nice neighbours. We often tend to take the good things for granted and just go on railing against the bad things. While it is always nice to think of the good times, often things that have hurt us seem to be remembered more accurately. As part of a natural defense instinct, we tend to allocate more attention to negative experience, in order to avoid it from happening again in the future.
Ridiculous Exaggeration. Sometimes, taking things with humour helps. Carl Barks has been known as a master of observation of aspects of human interaction, including conflict. He would introduce Donald Duck's cranky Neighbour Jones, and let them fight over little things until the situation would escalate to ridiculous heights. Typically, Mr Jones is always in a bad mood, whenever he sees the duck living next door, a feeling of antipathy too often found in real life. The situation usually gets out of hand, when people frighten or even threaten each other.
Usually crowded Neighbourhood: The Chinese Tower
in the English Garden of Munich is surrounded by a Beer Garden.
Too Silent Neighbours. The Austrian pop singer Kurt Ostbahn would describe the ideal neighbour next door as following: "Discreet and quiet, decent and clean - that's how a neighbour should be." Only to provocatively vary the text towards the end of the song: "Discreet in dying, not loud, very fine - that that's how a neighbour should be." Which sadly reminds us of those, who pass away quietly and lonely, with no one noticing for some time, not even the neighbour living next door.
Outstanding Outlook. There are many aspects that can make life happier and good contact with neighbours and a good working environment seem to be among them. As so often, our future starts with us, our very own decisions and behaviour, in interaction with our immediate environment. This very general statement was hopefully supported by enough facts and tangible examples to put some meat behind the claim, as I like to say. Which reminds me once more of the same colleague, who had teased me up front, and his unmistakable way to sum up our dedication to deliver the best possible quality and even more: "Things are going outstandingly, which is very good. I think if we look carefully around the neighbourhood, we might hopefully see some meat soon, too."
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