New Neighbors, Vol. 17, Issue 8

Dear Etiquetteer:

My husband and I recently moved into a house in a small, and what we understand to be a relatively close-knit, neighborhood. In an earlier era neighbors might introduce themselves to newcomers with the stereotypical casserole or pie, but that era has passed. Accepting this, but wanting to be friendly neighbors, what might be a Perfectly Proper way(s) for us to take the initiative and introduce ourselves other than waiting for random chance such as shoveling snow at the same time? Or are proactive gestures considered too intrusive today, and waiting for
shoveling-type scenarios is the wiser course?

Dear Moved:

Etiquetteer was about to say that queries like yours recalled the days of the Welcome Wagon, when the burden of introductions fell on established residents rather than on newcomers. But when you read the history, that turns out to be a wee bit mythical; the Welcome Wagon hostesses weren't actually neighbors, but paid employees of Welcome Wagon International. So never mind about that. Back in the Dear Dead Days Beyond Recall, when visiting cards were in use, it was expected that established residents would pay a first call (also known as "leaving cards") on new neighbors, and that those calls would be returned within a limited time frame, usually something like a week. (And if no further acquaintance was desired after these initial introductions, so be it.)

Etiquetteer thinks you are wise to take the initiative now rather than waiting to be thrown together during a weather-related crisis. One thinks of the English guests of the Pensione Bertolini in Forster's A Room With a View, of whom he wrote "Generally at a pension people looked them over for a day or two before speaking, and often did not find out that they would 'do' till they had gone." In urban environments in can take years to meet neighbors, and then more years to get on speaking terms. What's that Old Joke about the two Englishmen marooned on an island for three years, who never spoke to each other because they hadn't been properly introduced?

We can do better than that. And since you recognize that waiting for a line of casseroles at your front door is No Longer the Way, we're off to a good start. Finding a balance between being considered pushing and standoffish is the real key here. Present, but not omnipresent. Pleasant, but not obsequious.

Here dog owners have the advantage. Doggie's walk four or five times a day will inevitably invite Sociable Contact with Other Dogs and Their Owners. If you have a dog, you've won half the battle already. If not, instituting a Daily Constitutional at l'heure des chiens may create an opening for you. It helps enormously if you like dogs. Otherwise, grin and bear it until you've met your neighbors, then change your walking hours.

The first time you and a new neighbor make eye contact - while you're unloading the moving van, even, or going out to the mailbox - walk over and introduce yourself. Be forthright, but not too famliiar. Invite them over for coffee once you're settled in. Ask about neighborhood hot spots and how to get engaged in the community. Ask about how long they've lived there and what they like about the neighborhood. So many people enjoy the thrill of power when appealed to, more likely than not your new neighbors will appreciate your initiative.

Otherwise, by all means bake the cakes yourself and bring one to your neighbors on each side of your new home. If the community is as close-knit as you say, the word will spread that the New People Will Do.

Etiquetteer wishes you and your husband a long, happy, and Perfectly Proper domestic life in your new home.