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A Retiring Attitude

Good fences make good neighbours
– Mending Wall, Robert Frost

I wonder how many expats living in Thailand make like “Tim the Tool Man” from the popular US TV series of a while back, and talk to their neighbours over their walls or fences every day. Not many I’m afraid. I ask this because I have been hearing a lot lately about expats having troubles with their “bad neighbours”. You’ve heard the stories too, about the expat being rudely awakened by his neighbour’s burning of his garbage, trouble with the neighbour’s animals, and of course, the countless complaints about the noise. Often the expat has never met his neighbours and the first interaction they have with them is one of confrontation. That is probably not the way to make a good first impression.

I don’t know how to turn a bad neighbour into a good one. But I do have some suggestions that might help things to go more smoothly with the people we live next to.

Get to know your neighbours. They’ll be wary of “the farang” so you have to make the first move. You don’t speak Thai? No matter, that’s what hands are for. Do lots of smiling. Ask about their children. Bring your own kids over if you have any and have them offer your new neighbours a deep respectful wai. Occasionally bring them some fruit (a neighbour just dropped by with some mangoes from her garden which gave me the idea for this topic). Quite often you’ll be asked to share it with them. Thais socialise over food.

Sometime later, during dinner preparations, make a little extra and bring it over to your new “friends”. They will surely do the same soon. When you see them on the soi say “Have you eaten yet?” They will say yes because if they say no then you then must ask them to join you for a meal, which they will have to politely turn down. If it is early evening you can say, “What are you having for dinner?” Then you tell them what you are having. All this is “the good neighbour dance” that is performed by Thai neighbours every day.

So next time you see your neighbour in his yard, say hello, making liberal use of your hands and sign language if you have to. Weather, the garden, kids, and of course food are good topics of discussion. You’ll be surprised at how many “bad neighbour” problems will go away.

Check out Hugh’s new blog at retire2thailand.wordpress.com.

Hugh’s advice for the month: Favourite places where ants like to make their nests: CD cases, air conditioners, water pumps, electric motors, behind picture frames, draws and closets. But it won’t do any good. The ants will win in the end.