There has been a fair bit of discussion on the network lately about neighbours and it has inspired me to share some of our experiences.
When we first moved to France, we lived in a small hamlet in Brittany. There were six houses including ours. Four were inhabited by pensioners of 80 plus. Three of these were siblings who hadn’t spoken to each other for the last 42 years, following a dispute over the sale of the fourth house. Needless to say, there wasn’t a whole lot of neighbourly activity going on. The remaining house was inhabited by a lovely couple, Monique and Michel. They were related to the warring three and were delighted when we arrived to dilute the atmosphere. They became surrogate grandparents to our three and Monique would save the milk from the prize cow (it had the highest fat content) for Max’s bottle. I howled when we left and despite being at the other end of the country, seven years later, we are still in touch.
We then moved to a series of isolated properties and as a result of their isolation, didn’t really have any real contact with our neighbours. There simply weren’t any. At this point, I made one of my worst decisions ever and decided we should try village life. I thought it would be good for us to interact more and that it would improve our French. So we dived in and bought a huge Maison de Maitre. The house was fantastic, the only problem was that we had bought in the village that time forgot. When I told my (French) friends, the reaction was unanimous, “Where? Oh my God! You do know what that place is like don’t you?”
It turned out that the entire village population was either over 80, mad or alcoholic. Or all three. Living there was like being an extra on the set of ‘Night of the Living Dead;” processions of people staggered past the door, weaving from side to side with glazed expressions in a zombie like manner at any hour of day and night. As our house fronted the street, they would inevitably bang on the door to shout “Bonjour Voisin” before continuing on their way. We took to closing all the shutters, day and night and hiding out in the back half of the house.
Even this didn’t deter our nearest neighbours who would happily ignore the firmly closed shutters if they needed us to ‘help’ them out. On one famous occasion, we caved in at ten ‘o’ clock at night after persistent banging on the side gate. They wanted James to ‘come quickly’....Fearing the worst and feeling guilty for having ignored them for the last hour, he dashed round to find Monsieur sitting cackling in the corner wearing nothing but his underpants and Madame waiting for James to remove the lid from her pressure cooker. She had forgotten how it worked and Monsieurs dinner was inside.
We moved on.
Now we are back in a hamlet and have lovely neighbours. All sane, around our age, helpful and there when you need them but not ’curieux’ as they say in French. I’ve come to the conclusion that neighbours need to be just close enough to be neighbours but not close enough to annoy you. What have everyone else’s experiences been? Is my theory right do you think? Or does it depend on the personalities involved?