A good neighbour is better than a distant friend

The old Dutch proverb says: ‘Beter een goede buur dan een verre vriend” [it’s better to have good neighbour than a distant friend]. In the past, in times of trouble neighbours were the first to help out. But in the last twenty years, especially since the rise of social media, we now have friends all over the world, but don’t even know who is living next door or downstairs from us. One of the reasons for this is that we spend much less time at home (and a lot of that time staring at our cellphones). Now, since the lockdown, we work at home, we go to school at home, we exercise at home, and in the past summer, we also vacationed at home. Sure, working from home has some great perks. Employees, in general, are more productive and there is less commuting, so we have reduced CO2 emissions. But while this might be great for employers and the environment, for others – our neighbours – it is not. This year, complaints about neighbours causing too much noise and quarrels between neighbours shot up to 20,000 a month (in the same period last year it was only 13,000 a month).

Before the lockdown, most of the complaints were about noise coming from restaurants, cafes and bars. Now, since the lockdown and the recommendation for employees to work from home, the major source of noise pollution and disputes between neighbours is screaming and crying children, vacuum cleaners, couples fighting, loud music and DIY, such as drilling, sawing and other construction activities. It might sound petty, but if someone is in a conference call or trying to concentrate, any kind of sympathy that might have been fostered for a neighbour quickly evaporates.

During the summer, a new factor was added to the noise pollution matrix, namely neighbours vacationing at home. Normally, during the summer vacation period, most people don’t have issues with their neighbours because they are away on vacation, and most likely their neighbours are too. But this year changed all that. In early January, 73% of the people who planned to go on holiday this year intended to travel abroad. By early June, only half still wanted to go abroad and the rest preferred to either vacation in the country or simply stay at home. The last group has been a significant source of noise pollution, especially children screaming and playing outside in the daytime, and balcony and garden parties hosted at night.

According to a recent study from the Dutch Bureau for Statistics (CBS), after the lockdown many employees will continue to work from home, so that neighbour noise pollution will not disappear. The police recommends to not let irritations escalate and encourages everyone to become more proactive in discussing with their neighbours when they make noise. It’s perfectly reasonable to make agreements to be quiet at certain times of the day, and to allocate your neighbours time for their noisy activities. It is a give and take situation, but neighbours will have to be able to live in peace and harmony with each other. However, if things get out of hand, the Dutch Centre for Crime Prevention and Safety (CCV) recommends contacting a mediator, paid for by the municipality, who will help neighbours come to a peaceful resolution.

With the end of Covid-19 nowhere in sight, working, schooling, exercising and vacationing from home are the new modus vivendi. Neighbours will have to become more considerate of each other, and agree time restrictions for drilling, sawing, playing music and relaxing in the garden. While on the one hand the lockdown has distanced people from their direct colleagues and fellow pupils, on the other, it has brought neighbours closer together. It is a new ‘old’ relationship which we need to reestablish. And after all, having a good neighbour is not a bad idea. If your house catches on fire, all those social media friends on the other side of the world are not really much help.

Written by Benjamin B. Roberts