13 Etiquette Rules All Good Neighbours Need to Follow
Because civilization is built on neighbours being civilized to each other.
If you have a problem, talk to your neighbours first
Does your neighbour’s music keep you up at night? Are their kids bothering your dog? Talk to them. Having an in-person confrontation can feel scary, particularly if you need to say something you’re worried your neighbour won’t like, but talking things through face-to-face should be the first thing you try, says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. “Go with a polite, non-confrontational attitude and you might be surprised how well most people respond,” she says. “Also, a plate of cookies never hurts.” As a last resort, escalate issues to your HOA or local authorities.
Have a neighbourhood safety plan
“Wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes—you never know what will happen these days and if you ever get stuck in an emergency situation your neighbours are going to be the people you turn to first,” says Julie Bowman, MPH, emergency preparedness and public health expert. This is why it’s so important to set up a safety plan with your neighbours, she says. It can be as simple as printing out a map and marking where people are who will need help―like the elderly—to as complex as a neighbourhood watch program or more.
Find out which emergency items you should always have in your house.
Look for ways to help neighbours instead of seeing them as problems
Does your elderly neighbour have an unkempt yard? Does the single mom next door always leave her garbage cans out? Are the kids unruly at the bus stop? Instead of gossiping or complaining, reach out and see if you can find a way to help—for instance, mowing your neighbour’s lawn, bringing her trash cans in when you bring in yours, or offering to stand outside with the kids until the bus comes. “Often there are very simple things you can do to solve the problem and not only will you brighten someone’s day but there may come a time when you need help and you’ll want your neighbours to be there for you,” Gottsman says.
These random acts of kindness will make you proud to be Canadian.
Smile and wave
Thanks to the Internet we’re interacting with people around the world more than ever but that may mean we’re also interacting much less with the people right next door to us. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to change that, says Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette. “A smile, a wave, a brief exchange of pleasantries, can inspire a lot of goodwill with your neighbours,” she says. It doesn’t take much and makes the neighbourhood a much happier place overall.
These interesting conversation starters can also come in handy!
Learn your neighbours’ names
This is Good Neighbouring 101 but you’d be surprised how many people have lived next to someone for years and don’t know the first thing about them. (This man even lived next door to a mob boss without realizing it!) Good neighbours will make the little extra effort to learn their neighbours’ names and a few things about their lives, like how long they’ve lived in the area, where they work, or if they have kids or pets, Tsai says. The payoff can be great. It will make you feel more connected to those around you but it can also help make your neighbourhood safer—neighbours who know each other are more likely to watch out for each other. One of the best defences against a home break-in is a neighbour who knows your schedule and notices something out of the ordinary.
Want to beef up your home security? Find out how FBI agents protect their homes from break-ins.
Pick up your dog’s poop
“It’s just plain rude to leave dog excrement in public neighbourhood areas or in other people’s yards,” says Erin Askeland, certified pet behaviour expert at Camp Bow Wow. “Not only is it rude, but it’s also gross; dog excrement can transmit diseases, damage plants and grass, and, let’s be honest, doesn’t have the most pleasant smell.” Good neighbours understand that it is their responsibility as pet owners to clean up after their animals, she says.
Here are more rude habits dog owners need to stop.
Give your neighbours the benefit of the doubt
Do the teens next door have crazy hair and tattoos? Does the neighbour across the way practice a “weird” religion? Does the guy next door drive a big white van? Instead of assuming your neighbours are hoodlums, terrorists, or serial killers, give them the benefit of the doubt, Gottsman says. This doesn’t mean ignoring when people do bad things or putting yourself in unsafe situations, it simply means seeing people as people first and looking for other possible explanations for their behaviour besides negative ones. You don’t have to be their best friend but you should treat them with respect and kindness, no matter what, Tsai says.
You can also try adopting these everyday habits of optimistic people.
Maintain your fences
“Good fences make good neighbours” isn’t just a cute Instagram quote, it’s really good advice as having appropriate boundaries—both physical and personal—can head off many of the typical neighbour fights, Tsai says. “It’s totally fine to say no sometimes. In fact, saying yes to everything your neighbours ask of will likely end up negatively impacting your relationship due to resentment and exhaustion,” she explains.
Check out more expert advice on setting boundaries.
Don’t fight with your neighbours on social media
Keyboard warriors are everywhere these days, using neighbourhood apps and social media groups to share their indignation over everything from politics to teenagers trick-or-treating to dog poop. While this might garner you a lot of support, it doesn’t do much, if anything, to solve the problem and just marks you as a complainer, Gottsman says. “Hiding behind a keyboard is a very passive-aggressive way to deal with problems you may have with your neighbours,” she says. If you have a problem with a particular neighbour, talk to them offline and certainly don’t call people out by name on social media, she says. If your issue is more widespread—say a dangerous intersection by a bus stop—you’ll get better results calling the school, the bus company, the HOA, or the police directly.
Don’t miss these real life stories of how wind chimes turned neighbours into enemies.
RSVP promptly to invitations
If your neighbour is kind enough to invite you to their picnic, birthday party, game night, graduation party, or another event then you should be kind enough to give them a prompt answer, says Emilie Dulles, a protocol expert and founder of Dulles Designs. Unfortunately, it’s become very common today for people to either not RSVP at all or to hold back on responding, waiting to see who else is coming first, but this makes it very hard on hosts, she says.
Find out exactly when you should write a thank you note, according to etiquette experts.
Mind your manners
We often reserve our best manners for people we’re trying to impress, like a boss or potential partner, and let them slide when we’re at home. While it’s fine to be more casual with your neighbours than your coworkers, you should always be polite, Tsai says. This means saying “please” and “thank you” or “excuse me” and other niceties. Even if you find them annoying or rude, set a good example. Civilization is built on people being civilized to each other!
Do you find your neighbour overly chatty? These polite ways to end a conversation could come in handy.
Stay positive about your community online
Neighbourhood apps, Facebook groups, and community message boards have replaced the backyard fence of older days, becoming the main way neighbours share information. These can be a great tool, as long as you remember your manners online as well. “The whole point of these groups is to build community and camaraderie so keep your posts and comments positive and productive,” Gottsman says. “Before posting something, ask yourself, ‘What is the benefit of this?’ and ‘How would I feel reading this?’” And if someone is mean to you online? “Take the high road and simply reply, ‘Let’s discuss this in person,’” she says.
Pressed for time? These simple acts of kindness take two minutes—or less!
Do your best to follow community rules
Many fights between neighbours start over a disagreement about the rules and how someone is or isn’t following them. Most of these can be avoided by simply doing your best to abide by the standards set by your neighbourhood, Gottsman says. Whether that’s taking down holiday decorations by the end of January or not playing music outdoors after 10 or keeping your garbage cans out of sight, these were things your neighbours have decided are important so you should make a good faith effort to follow them, even if they seem silly to you. If you live in an area with an HOA, these rules were likely spelled out in your signed contract. Otherwise, you might have to dig a little deeper to figure out what the expected norms are in your neighbourhood.
Next, check out these good neighbour lessons we learned from Mr. Rogers.