I’m trying to be neighborly. Conversations in the elevator still range from pleasant to awkward, usually on account of my Croatian. Often times it is a battle of who misunderstand whom. Me or them? Being neighborly is something I’m not quite used to. So, when someone buzzed my door at 19:30, I was both cautious and excited.
As an adult I haven’t really had the chance to be a neighbor. In graduate school the people who lived in my hallway all tried to avoid each other. My friend also lived down the hall, but we were friends before I moved in, so we didn’t count as neighbors. And the one time she thought about being neighborly was when a random man rang her door and asked if he could use the phone. She hesitated, noticed his nervous sweating, and said no. Not two seconds later the police ran upstairs and arrested him.
Burning down the house
When I was a kid being neighborly was up to my parents. And I guess we had good neighbors. I mean one time the neighbors across the street put out a fire someone had set in our front yard, which we didn’t even notice until it was all over and nothing remained but black, crispy grass.
There is just no American equivalent to Croatian neighbors, and I’m trying to fit in. So, unlike lots of other people, I keep opening the door when someone rings. This act often leads to weird moments, like that guy who I think was asking if we had any old furniture, but then I think also asked for a juice and a sandwich? Or me buying a calendar that my mother-in-law says should’ve been free, and finally to me greeting the agent who works for HRT, counts your TVs and makes you pay a fee or something.
So when the doorbell rang I looked through the spy-hole and saw someone who didn’t look like she was selling something or coming to count our other appliances. I opened and SURPRISE it was our neighbor! And she needed help! This was my moment. What she needed was to borrow a phone charger for a few minutes. Yes, I thought, happy that I had that particular phone charger, could loan it to her, and that I understood everything she had said in Croatian.
After I shut the door and I heard a jingle type song in my head the sang: Neighbors. I was happy I could be neighborly. It’s a bit like when you do something as a parent that you just know is ‘good parenting.’ Well, this was good neighboring. When my wife came home, I tried to share my enthusiasm with her, but you know to her this is all just… normal.
And there I was feeling happy and proud, when a few minutes later the bell rang again and our neighbor was back. She returned the charger along with a bar of chocolate and some honey soap. What? Gifts? My exuberant mood slightly faded. If the situation had been reversed I never would have thought about adding anything more than a ‘Thank you,’ when I returned the borrowed item. I might be a good neighbor, but I’m still a bad Croat.