After multiple moves and the comings and goings of other military families both on and off installations, I’ve had quite a variety of neighbors. Not all of them have been favorable experiences, but I’m currently being spoiled. Maybe it’s because all of my neighbors are the only Americans in a village of German citizens. Maybe it’s because all of my American neighbors are far removed from family. Or maybe it’s just one of those special bonds that come with living at an overseas location near a small installation. Either way, it got me thinking about what makes an ideal military neighbor.
Get to know your neighbors! It’s nice to live close to someone you trust so you can ask for help when you need it, whether it’s with your pets or your children, or even to borrow a cup of sugar. If it’s your first PCS and your first time around new neighbors, you may be a little shy or unsure of introducing yourself. (Try these tips! If you just aren’t good with making conversation with people you don’t know so well.) We have ideas for house warming gifts and even a great way to introduce yourself with the gift of cookies and information. Greeting your neighbors with a quick hello and a smile is also nice.
If, for some reason, you find you’re having problems with your neighbors, be sure to talk to them about it. Don’t call the military police because of the noise from your neighbor’s party, pop over and have a polite chat. If a neighbor’s trash can is overflowing outside, don’t report it to housing. Instead, ask if you can help them drop it off somewhere.
Take others into consideration
We all like to enjoy our space, but with some military housing, we don’t always get as much space as we’d like. We may have a party that must be partially outside to fit everyone. In that case, take your neighbors into account and either invite them to join your party or keep the outdoor noise to a minimum after 10 p.m.
When you’re having -- ahem -- "special time” with your spouse, keep your noise to a minimum and maybe move the bed to an unshared wall or a few inches from the wall (you may laugh, but it’s true). It’s okay to indulge here and there, but try to keep the windows closed and/or the noise level down at least some of the time. Exceptions for parties and -- ahem -- “sexy time” with your spouse can and usually will be made for redeployment, R&R and a return from TDY. By all means, overindulge then!
Keep an eye on your pets and children
This should mostly be a no-brainer. Be sure you know where your kids are and, if playing outside, be mindful that your children are not playing near a neighbor’s vehicle or taking the neighbor kids’ toys (unless your neighbor has told you that the children are welcome to play with any outside toys). It can be an awkward situation if your child accidentally damages your neighbor’s possessions.
The same thing goes for pets. Try to keep them in your yard and be sure to clean up after them when they do their business. If you have a dog that’s a digger, make sure your dog isn’t digging in your neighbor’s flowers. Be aware if your dog is an excessive barker and bring them in if the barking isn’t stopping.
The flip side is also important. Remember that accidents happen. Dogs get loose and so do children! If your car gets scratched or dented, try to be understanding and then contact the insurance company if you need to. If you find dog poop in your yard or a freshly dug hole, pick up the mess and refill the hole. Remember that dogs do bark. Certain breeds may bark when finding a scent or when strangers walk by the house. You can chat with your neighbor about it if those things become problems, but try to be understanding in the beginning and not overreact.
Help how you can when it’s needed
Life throws lots of curveballs: Deployments, TDY, new babies, the loss of family members, injuries, surgeries and more. If you can help, always offer. Or better yet, depending on the situation, don’t offer. Simply say to your neighbor, “I want to bring you a meal. When would be a good time?” A simple meal goes a long way. I’ve had three children and my husband away on TDY and nothing was better than knowing my fridge had a bunch of meals that I only needed to heat in the oven. If a new neighbor moves in, offer to bring them a meal for the early days in their house, especially if you’re at an overseas location.
It goes further than meals. You can cut your neighbor’s lawn, wash their car, pull weeds, or even pick up groceries. If your neighbor is a close friend, you could even offer to help clean their kitchen or living room or help with laundry.
This should be a basic rule of military life (or life in general), but try to avoid gossip. Your neighbors may not be associated with the service member’s unit but depending on the size of the installation, they may know who you’re talking about. Don’t make your neighbors question what you’ll say about them behind their backs. If your neighbors are the ones gossiping, remove yourself from the situation. There’s no need to participate. If you are having issues with one of your neighbors, take the problem directly to them and not your other neighbors.
And finally ...
Life catches up to us. We may be overwhelmed with a deployment, carting kids to and from school, or our own personal job. We might, at some point, not notice other things that aren’t so important at the moment. Always try to be understanding. Maybe the spouse is alone with her kids and can’t walk outside with the dog, so she doesn’t see the dog doing its business outside of its yard. Maybe the trash is overflowing because the spouse is a new mom and can’t remember when trash goes out. Maybe the yard needs to be cut, but the spouse can’t get to it because he can’t mow while his kids are in the house alone. Instead of getting frustrated or angry, consider how you can help. Kindness goes a long, long way.
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