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Response to "Brawling neighbors"

Posted by Robin Abrahams  October 17, 2012 04:05 PM

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So, years ago when the world was fresh and new, I posted a question from an LW who had loudly brawling, though apparently non-violent, neighbors. Since then, my show has closed, I spent a lot of money on weekend in New York which was ruined by my cthulugut, and this morning I got in a minor car accident. It's one of those weeks in which being a grownup is so annoying and discouraging that you really want to make up for it by indulging in the perks of adulthood. I'm filling up on bread before dinner tonight, by God, and so help anyone who chides me for it. 

Anyway, back to Monday's question, and my belated reply thereto. I really hated this one, because my own behavior when confronted with a similar situation was the Cowardly Denial Special with a side order of Passive-Aggressive Dirty Looks. Or so I felt at the time. Reading through your comments, and reflecting further, I think it's just one of those situations that leaves you feeling dirty, regardless of how sensible and justifiable your behavior is. 

(My guy finally seemed to resolve his conflicts with his wife, and then took to expressing his emotions by singing show tunes at a loud volume, which was infinitely preferable but still not good. And no, for various reasons, I don't think that the situation was what you might immediately assume would cause a man to have both severe emotional conflict with his wife and a fondness for show tunes.) 

Beyond calling the police when it gets too bad (noise-violation or possible-violence bad), there is nothing to do. As ash rather neatly put it, "If this is how they talk to each other, I don't think they'll be listening to you." bluemoose wrote: 

So long as it's just annoying, not dangerous, try to think of it as your own private soap opera, and tell visitors that's what you're living with. It helps a lot to make light of it (and acknowledge it) to make your guests more comfortable. 

This is an excellent point. Don't let the neighbors' dysfunction keep you from entertaining. These are the realities of city life. But don't put your guests in the horribly awkward position of trying to ignore the yelling because you're politely ignoring it. That's a dinner party straight out of Beckett. (And speaking of hellish dinner parties, get thee to "Macbeth" by Actors' Shakespeare Project. It is bloody brilliant, an almost decadent thrilling good time, a gorgeous Jazz Age interpretation.) 

impstrump noted: 

From the passive aggressive file: if you can hear them, they can hear you. So when they hit a lull in the noise, stand near the window and say about as loudly as if you were talking to someone across the room "I think they're finally quieting down." 

Or, you start playing your music loud enough to cover the noise, and keep increasing the volume as they do. These are more confrontational moves that depend on your general neighborhood vibe, your personal sense of safety, and so on. ashmama took the concept all the way:

If I were evil, I'd invite a bunch of friends over for a barbecue (okay, so it's a little late in the year, but with this global warming thing, we might have a warm Saturday in November), and then have everyone get involved in this couple's fighting. For example, if he shouts something rude, have one of your friends yell back in her defense. And be sure to throw in a bunch of outrageous remarks that have nothing to do with the argument. Maybe even put some chairs next to the fence for your friends to stand on so they can cheer on your neighbors. "Fight! Fight! Fight!" 

 Actually, what I'd do? Just for fun, if I were having a dinner party, or somehow having friends over and was afraid of my neighbors starting something? I'd pull together a selection of great fight scenes from theatrical history -- "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", "Taming of the Shrew," "A Doll's House" -- oh, a whole binder full of women -- and go out into the yard and act them out with my friends. At full projected volume, with feeling. Show 'em how it's done.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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