Like a Good Neighbor

June 30, 2011 at 9:34 am | Posted in Transylvania | 19 Comments
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We share our floor with another apartment. They’re number 2; we’re number 3.

I walk past their door, their porch, their back balcony, every day. The woman who lives there has gorgeous potted plants on the ledges of her kitchen’s bay windows. Their leaves are lush, thick, and green like emeralds. She has the same drying rack we do, and she hangs out her towels and sheets on Tuesday afternoons. She and her mother listen to opera in the mornings. They drive a Subaru Outback.

One day last week as I was heading to the market, the woman came out onto her porch. “Scuzaţi-mă, Domnişoară,” she said. I knew she was talking to me, so I turned. She rattled off some very fast Romanian, and I shook my head sheepishly. “Nu înţeleg,” I said. “Engleză?” She pursed her lips.

We stared at each other silently. She tried to come up with the English words for whatever she wanted to tell me. I longed to speak more Romanian because she seemed pretty earnest — like maybe our leaky shower had leaked its way into her space or our kids were waking her up at 5:31 a.m. every day, too. We kept staring at each other. Seconds? Minutes? A long time.

Finally, she raised her hand in a half-wave and said, “Okay.” Then she went back inside. And I went on my way, worrying that maybe she was trying to tell me not to park next to her anymore because she’d seen me try to back out of the driveway. Whatever it was, it was a barrier we couldn’t break through, and it reminded me that I am the stranger, the newcomer, the interloper here. I am the one who doesn’t know, doesn’t understand, doesn’t blend.

We met the woman’s daughter the other day. Her tiny Russian Blue cat was hiding under our car, and she helped us coax him out with a piece of cheese. She’s 20-something with a blonde pixie haircut. She speaks a little English. She’s in a wheelchair.

Whatever put her in the wheelchair must have happened recently because the landlord just installed a ramp for her. Yesterday, Bun and I watched from our window as her mother and grandmother eased her chair down the ramp and situated her in the front passenger seat of their car. It was raining.

I wanted to help. I wanted to hold the door or the umbrella or something. But I didn’t know if I should. And I didn’t know what to say. Or how to say it.

So I bounced Bun on my hip and watched and wondered. About them. About their story. About how our story would become part of theirs over the next year. I imagined asking them to keep an ear out for the kids while I ran down to grab the mail. I imagined loaning them an extra ethernet cable or some WD-40. I imagined baking them loaves of banana bread and cranberry bread for Christmas.

I imagined knowing them. But will I? Can I? Should I?

Do you ever feel like the one who doesn’t belong? How well do you know your neighbors? And do you have any suggestions for taking the first step?

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Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
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See the photos.

19 Comments »

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  1. Nice post! I always like getting to know our neighbors; who knows, maybe she’ll help you along the way in learning some Romanian, too. Perhaps you can offer her a small potted plant or a good loaf of fresh bread as a hello gesture?

  2. See, when you think about the kind of adventure you are on you don’t think about these things. I always assume that wherever I go I’ll just fit, which is ridiculous. Of course you need to learn to fit in, or find a common ground when in a different place. Add the language barrier and you certainly have a challenge. But what a fun challenge!! Think of the possibility, the opportunity and the challenge of finding a way to get to know them. I’m certain you will. I can just feel it.

  3. For some reason this post brought tears to my eyes. Maybe it’s thinking of the daughter in the wheelchair and imagining the accident that put her there. Or maybe it’s thinking of you feeling like you don’t quite fit.

    Isn’t it interesting how little kids don’t ever seem to feel like they don’t fit? My kids will talk to anybody and think everybody is their friend. I wonder what they’d do with a language barrier.

    xo

  4. I love your reflection & emotion in this post & the flowers are beautiful!

    I do know what you mean- only we don’t have a language barrier. I am not friends with my neighbors. We have tried- they remain how they are. They had a disagreement with the owner of our home years ago & have been rude, disrespectful & hot headed with every family that has lived here- us included. So- we just keep to ourselves & deal.

  5. My tried and true neighborly introduction always consists of some fresh baked goodies. I think that’s a universal way to say “Hi Neighbor – I’d like to be your friend.”

  6. I am with Cathy on the baked goodies. We have some nice neighbors, but we tend to move in different worlds. I can’t imagine the difficulty that language adds.

  7. I agree with the baking suggestion. I’m sure they would appreciate something warm and yummy from your oven!

  8. Why wait until Christmas? Bake that banana bread and get yourself on over there, Stacia!!! x

  9. Do I feel like I’ve never fit in? HAHAHAHA.
    Seriously, it was called school.

  10. That said, your kids should pick it up insanely quickly, and then you’ll have a mini-translator. If you’ll take some advice though, don’t rely totally on one kid for this, it kind of puts stress on them.

  11. The language barrier seems rough. I wish you all the best in overcoming that. In the meantime, banana bread is banana bread in any language, and I’m sure she’d enjoy it. 😉

    • I’ve got some cooling for her right now! =>

  12. Language barriers are tricky, especially for adults since we’ve learned to be terribly self-conscious over the years. Kristen is right that your kids will probably have an easier time of it communicating and perhaps they’ll be a great way for you to break the ice with your neighbor?

    Hey at least you have language as an excuse to not know your neighbors. I’ve been at my new place for 2.5 months and I still don’t know any of mine and we all speak English!

  13. I love your blog. It reminds me of my time in corsica and yes that feeling of being an outsider that I will never forget. Some things transcend language though like all the things you can infer by observing how someone interacts with their space. Maybe bring your neighbor a little gift and practice a small intro for yourself. Your neighbor will not care if your accent is perfect. I have had whole dinners with people
    who I could not communicate because of language barriers. The whole awkward silence thing is odd but bearable….hug the kiddos for me. What a wonderful adventure! Tabi

  14. Something baked or even just a small bouquet of flowers…

  15. Great post. Have had similar feelings myself. Yes, bring gifts–little things like food, flowers, tuica (!) and lend a hand–whenever you wish. They may even refuse, but keep trying. Apparently it’s the polite thing to refuse gifts a time or two. If they refuse 3 times, stop–that means they really don’t want whatever you are offering. And we have a great language teacher who can meet with you individually, and/or with the whole family if you wish. Let me know by email if you want the name. Blessings on your continued journey!

  16. Stacia, I think your environment is too new for you to have feelings of “fitting” in. I know with the cultural and language barrier it seems like such a challenge to break down barriers, but as others suggested, baked goods and a smile can help forge a way into a neighborly friendship. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Your making great strides, enrolling your kids in preschool and already revealing so much of your new world to us.

  17. I can relate to this one too!! It brings back memories of those early days when I went abroad, and if it’s any consolation, it’s a self-consciousness that will actually go away before long. I used to worry SO much about breaking cultural rules, doing or saying the wrong thing, etc. But I do think that smiles and sincerity are universal. Assume they will want a neighbor or stranger to smile, say hello, initiate conversation, or offer a hand in help. If your intentions are good and the step is simple, I can’t imagine that you could offend or upset anyone. If they seem hesitant, it could be because of language, or simply that particular person’s personality. In Japan and during one trip to China, I think the only time people were hesitant to talk to me was because they were so nervous they couldn’t speak English well. I ended up making wonderful friends, some of who could barely speak a word of English. But we bonded as mothers, and there was so much that we shared even if we struggled to communicate with one another. Anyway, take a first step, and I really do think that before long you will find yourself fitting into your group (or groups!) of friends and neighbors. There are so many things like being a mother and woman that are universal, that you will find that those shared experiences, regardless of nationality, will bond you.

  18. […] to bring food and comfort to my doorstep when they heard about my accident. Our nanny. Our neighbors. My physical therapist. The list is as long as our time here is short. As winter closes in and the […]


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