We all know the importance of being a good neighbour, especially in Singapore, where the majority of us live side by side with multiple other households.
And if you don’t damage your neighbour’s property, verbally abuse them, cause them physical harm, or scare them enough into doing what Donald Trump hasn’t yet managed to do – build a wall – then you’re likely not an absolute nightmare to live next to.
But, just because you’re not a bad neighbour doesn’t mean you’re a good one.
Chances are, many of us fall into the category of being a lukewarm neighbour, as evidenced by a 2016 survey which showed that there were “fewer people welcoming neighbourliness around their estate and more guarding their privacy”.
So, how exactly can we step up to become a good neighbour?
The Pride devises five easy hacks for you to bring the kampung spirit back to your housing estate.
Flash them pearly whites
Smiling and greeting your neighbours when you see them – sounds like basic courtesy, doesn’t it?
Yet, doing just that seems to be a huge challenge for some.
Granted, these people might not be walking around the neighbourhood looking like they had just bitten into an exceptionally sour lemon. But their awkward attempts at pretending not to notice their neighbour’s presence – which can range from fiddling furiously on their mobile phones, to taking an unusual interest in the handwritten flyer for “Engelish tuition” services – can be equally off-putting.
When you acknowledge your neighbour’s presence by smiling and greeting them however, you immediately create a positive impression of yourself in their minds as someone who is friendly, approachable, and easy-going.
Smiling also serves as the perfect ice-breaker as it helps to cut out any awkward tension, and is usually the first step to you making a new friend in your neighbourhood.
As if that isn’t reason enough for you to flash your pearlies, scientists say that smiling can “lift your mood, lower stress, boost your immune system and possibly even prolong your life”.
Make small talk
We get it – nobody really likes engaging in small talk, especially if you’re not particularly fond of dealing with redundant questions.
“Going to work, ah?” your neighbour might ask when he spots you heading out of your home in the morning dressed in formal office attire.
While you might be tempted to roll your eyes at the inanity of the question and respond sarcastically – “no, I’m going for a run” – keep in mind that your neighbour is just trying his or her best to strike up a friendly conversation.
Much like a smile, making small talk could ultimately lead to more meaningful interactions with your neighbour.
Take the example above – your neighbour’s question could eventually lead to both of you talking about your respective careers. And who knows? If you’re lucky, this could be a casual conversation that opens doors for your career in future.
On a more quotidian basis, it would make asking your neighbour for help to water your plants when you’re on holiday a much easier conversation to have when the need arises.
Of course, you, too, must play your part in helping to keep the conversation going.
So, have a go at starting a conversation with your neighbours – even if that means having to ask if they’ve “bought dinner” when they are obviously carrying a packet of food back home in the evening.
Offer to help your neighbours whenever possible
So, you’ve broken the ice with your neighbours, you’re all on good speaking terms, and you have a cordial, if slightly shallow, relationship with them.
Time to kick things up a notch, and let your actions do the talking – by offering practical help to your neighbours whenever you are able to.
Nobody is expecting you to show up at your neighbours’ doorsteps every week offering to spring clean their house or do their grocery-shopping for them. In fact, such grand gestures may strike some as excessive, and can even come across as a little creepy.
Simple acts of helpfulness are not only easier to execute, but will also leave your neighbours feeling less uncomfortable at owing you too much.
It could be as easy as helping your elderly neighbours carry heavy loads. Or, if you’re good with technology, it could mean helping your neighbours troubleshoot their wonky WiFi signal by restarting the router for the millionth time.
Other things you can do to help is to keep a look out for your neighbours and their safety. This could mean checking in on them if you don’t see them for many days and you know that they aren’t on holiday (this especially applies to your elderly neighbours), or being on alert when you see a suspicious-looking character hanging outside their house for an unusually long time.
Having said that, do be extremely careful when it comes to helping your neighbours financially. Falling out over financial disputes is common. Money matters can ruin the closest friendships. And marriages have ended because of it. So, as far as possible, tread carefully if your neighbour comes to you with requests for help with sensitive issues like money, family, or if they ask you where where they can find a motorised sampan.
Hang out with each other
So you’ve hit the jackpot with neighbours that are neither serial cat killers, nor are they likely to be caught for trying to pilfer your drying underwear.
In fact, they are friendly, likeable, decent human beings that you’ve even started to see as, gasp – friends.
It’s time to truly cement this budding friendship by organising activities that all of you can do together and bond over.
You can start out small, like arrange to have dinner together, before moving onto organising activities which require more planning and thought. Shopping holiday in Bangkok, anyone? That could be an option, too, once you and your neighbours are more comfortable with one another.
Other activities you can consider organising are barbeques, games nights, movie viewings and even group exercise sessions.
You could also tap on technology to facilitate this, by starting a Facebook group or Whatsapp group chat for you and your neighbours.
Just don’t be that annoying person who spams the group chat with pointless videos, confusing gifs, and questionable links to “fake news”. You know who you are.
And now, don’t rock the boat
So far, we’ve touched on the ways you can be a good neighbour on the basis that you’re a decent human being.
But even the nicest and kindest of us can have our blinders on when it comes to certain things. What may seem innocuous to us might actually be a nuisance to others.
Here are some typical no-no’s to avoid.
Littering – there are cleaners assigned to every housing estate but they are far from being your personal vacuum cleaners. Don’t be the guy that makes your littering tendencies someone else’s problem. Dispose of your trash properly, lest you inconvenience others and draw pests to the neighbourhood.
Noise pollution – you may think you sing like Adam Levine or Beyonce, but even the most angelic of voices sounds galling in the middle of the night when everyone else is trying to sleep. So, keep your volume down, especially after 10pm. This doesn’t only apply to the karaoke enthusiasts, but also if you’re cheering on your favourite football team, playing mahjong, or making the most of small spaces.
Cluttering – the common corridor is a shared space, so try not clutter it up with your personal effects. And while most of us can appreciate the presence of plants and greenery, it becomes a hazard if becomes an obstruction. There’s usually an unspoken understanding that the immediate space in front of your house ‘belongs’ to you, so stick to that area, and not encroach into your neighbours’ ‘territory’.
Not picking up after your pets – the superstitious may think stepping on dog poop is a sign that they should buy Toto or 4D. The rest of us however, would rather have our footwear clean, so please, pick up your pets’ leavings.
Inconsiderate parking – self-explanatory, really. And also because hell hath no wrath like a Singaporean driver unfairly deprived of a parking lot.
So there you have it, five simple ways to be a better neighbour.
Smells like kampung spirit.