Dear Etiquetteer: I live in a condominium building. I am blessed with very considerate and quiet next door neighbors, our building is extremely happy for its diversity, a mini United Nations. We have people of every race, a dozen countries, every creed and no creed at all, gay, straight, and a lovely range of ages from newborn to retiree. And even here in blue state Massachusetts we find two Republican neighbors living amongst us, who are included in parties and dinners! Imagine what a happy lot we have mostly been. So, wherein lays the problem, you might ask? It seems to be the under-disciplined and often unaccompanied five- and seven-year-old grandchildren who frequently visit one of our retired couples. The chief complaint is not noise but the physical damage they are allowed to make to our recently redecorated common areas. Once in an elevator I saw the indulgent grandpa look the other way when the youngsters dropped candy wrappers on the floor, and wiped their sticky hands on the walls. Yesterday the two of them dragged their feet along freshly painted walls leaving black sole marks that we could not remove. My husband spoke to the grandparents, who we are usually quite friendly with. The grandmother responded in a quite wounding manner, "Well, since the two of you have no children, it's no wonder they bother you." To another couple who nicely asked the grandfather if he could keep an eye on the boys while they are in the lobby and corridors, he just chuckled "You know, you were a kid once yourself, too!" Many of us are at our wit’s end. A recent $50,000 freshening up of our five-year-old building already shows great wear and tear thanks to these undisciplined little guys. While our building has been among the happiest (and loveliest) places we have lived, it is turning into a nerve-wracking experience. Your advice is eagerly awaited. Thanks. Dear Scuffed and Blackened: Oh, those jolly old people who like to say, "Well, we all used to be children." One could so easily retort, "Yes, but we lived to be adults! Will your grandchildren have the chance?" Etiquetteer does not encourage such a response, of course . . . but it’s so satisfying to think of it. Respect for one’s neighbors and their comfort remains an essential part of any neighborhood, especially when the neighborhood exists within one building. The neighbor underneath who has to listen to your step-aerobics every day may be the closest person on hand when you break your arm. It sounds as though you have tried to handle this in a neighborly way that didn’t take. Next time you have to bring the children’s behavior to the attention of their grandparents, emphasize the depreciation of your common investment in the property that could only increase condo fees or require an assessment. And if that doesn’t work, Etiquetteer will allow you, always with a tone of Infinite Regret, your sorrow that they respect you so little that they don’t care what impact they have on you or the others in the building. Then walk away. But if "many of us" in the building are complaining, as you say, then "many of us" in the building needs to tell these neglectful grandparents exactly where they stand. The time for talking amongst yourselves is over!And where, Etiquetteer is compelled to ask, are the trustees of your condo association? You are going to have to bring out the big guns if the grandparents won’t listen. Complaints to a condo association of your size ought to be submitted in writing and documented with evidence (e.g. a list of the damage). Enough of these from more than one source ought to convince the trustees that they themselves will need to take action. Of course Etiquetteer hopes it won’t come to that. Condo associations can make rules and regulations, and they can enforce them. But they cannot legislate the heart, and that is where neighborliness grows and flourishes.
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