I have always respected the conclusions of the administrators of this site. The recent post about the girls on the bus has shown me that my initial reaction to a situation is not always the right one and that I still have much to learn about situational etiquette. With that in mind, I would very much like some perspective about a minor incident that happened earlier this year and whether there was any etiquette breach by either party.
My husband and owned a house in a relatively compact neighborhood. The general pattern is that each house has a two-car garage off-centered on the lot. This means that each house effectively has a yard on one side and a driveway with a smaller patch of yard on the other. Our plot was situated such that our yard-half met our neighbor’s yard-half and the driveway-half met the other neighbor’s driveway-half.
During this time, I was between jobs, my husband was in school, my dad was between jobs, and my mom was a fulltime homemaker (as a follow-up, we’ve all landed excellent jobs since then). Given the amount of free time we had among us, we decided to take a week and build a privacy fence along the two remaining sides of our house. During the day the setup would be as follows: my car would stay in the garage, the second-half of the garage and the driveway would be filled with the building materials and tools, and my parents’ truck and/or mid-size SUV would park in the street along the yard-side of our house. They would either bring one or two cars depending on our needs for that day.
This meant that my husband, who still had to come and go for classes, sometimes had to park in the street along the driveway-side of our house. The curb here was just long enough that a single car could park without blocking a mailbox or a driveway. If you followed the property line, the car was about 2/3rds in front of our yard and the rest in front of our neighbor’s. When the weekend came, my husband was no longer coming and going, so the car stayed in this space for about 2-3 straight days after that.
It was on the third day then that we found a note on his car from our driveway neighbor. It stated, in what I could only read as a very passive aggressive tone, that our car had been illegally parked in front of her house for over a week, she was tired of looking at it, and we needed to move it immediately.
As a little background, my previous interactions with this woman are limited to one single occasion where our overly friendly Labrador wandered over to her yard while she was spraying weeds. We grabbed him immediately and apologized for letting him get away from us. She literally said nothing, simply glared at us, so we left it at that and went back to our business. It was a very strange interaction.
Back to the note, I believe this woman was wrong in several ways:
1) It was factually incorrect that the car had been there for a week. Whenever possible we would his car on the other side, but I do admit we would not relocate the car if one of those spaces became available.
2) The street space does not belong to any individual house. While it is convenient and courteous to only park in front of one’s own house, it does not cross any legal lines to park anywhere along the street so long as it does not block a driveway. (For what it’s worth, plenty of people regularly park in the street in our neighborhood, but I’ve always observed that everyone follows these courtesy guidelines. Even during a crowded party, no one ever blocks anyone else’s driveway and the street is always cleared the next day.)
3) We were clearly only using the space for a very limited purpose. A reasonable individual would be able to assess the situation and understand the car would not likely stay there after our work was complete.
4) The manner in which she relayed her request left a very bitter taste in my mouth. If she had come to our door or simply caught us outside and politely asked if we could move it, I certainly would have. A note simply felt rude and passive-aggressive.
Ultimately, I just rolled my eyes and moved the car because we had the space on the other side at that time and I really didn’t want to find that our car had been keyed or something. (I don’t have any reason to believe this is something she’d do, but I was not interested in tempting fate).
But let’s say I had chosen to stand my ground, would I be within my etiquette rights doing so? Am I wrong about the rudeness of her behavior? Was there fault on both sides? Should I have preemptively spoken to her and all my other neighbors with baked goods and apologized in advance for inconvenience we may cause them while we worked?
Again, this was a minor incident that was easily handled, but I can’t help but feel there is something to learn from the situation. I humbly acknowledge that my perspective is limited and probably skewed by time. I will submit to whatever judgments are placed upon me. 1227-12
I am a big fan of forthright communication and not making presumptions, to the best of my humanly ability. I would have communicated to the neighbors the plans to add the fence which will result in your car being on the street for a few days during construction with the added hope that this will not inconvenience anyone. It alerts the neighbors to what is happening and gives them a time frame for when the project will end and everything on the street resumes its normal status. It’s just being courteous.
Basically you assumed the goodwill of your neighbors based on your understanding of the unspoken, unwritten “courtesy guidelines” of the neighborhood. Your neighbor probably has her own interpretation of the neighbor guidelines and when both parties presume to know it and therefore enforce it, misunderstandings and conflicts arise. I believe if you take the initiative to be a good neighbor (or co-worker or employee or in-law), the onus then falls to others to be responsible for their own part to play. You can then sleep at night knowing you behaved to the best of your abilities. As we’ve said here before many times, you cannot control how other people will act but if you do the best you can, that’s really what etiquette and manners is all about.