When I interviewed expat writer and blogger Ellen Hawley recently, one thing we talked about was the reason for her to move to England. It wasn’t just the beauty of Cornwall, but also the friendliness of the locals living there. This is one thing I didn’t actually expect to hear! Where I come from, it is perceived that British people are cold. That they live more or less in isolation and don’t know their neighbours. Is this so?
Today, I’ve decided to focus on just that question: are Britons good neighbours? Ellen and I will exchange views on this (so look out for the link to her blog post in a few day’s time), and we do invite our readers to join us: warmly and with great curiosity!
My modest observations are based on living in England for just under fifteen years, at two properties, in two different neigbourhoods. It didn’t happen overnight, but we did get to know our neighbours and make some friends for life. The kind of friends you may not see for years, but who you know will support you when you need them. Who will take you our for coffee if you give them a call and say: “Hey, let’s meet up”. Which, I am told, is a pretty rare thing for English people.
But hang on a minute… The person I am referring to is actually Scottish. And now that I have mentioned it, the neighbours I have made true friends with are not actually English either. Which probably defeats my point. Damn.
I hear someone interrupting here: “Define ‘good neighbour’!” Which is a fair question to ask. If you measure it by friendliness, being nice to each other, taking our parcels while we are at work, feeding our fish while we are away, helping me unlock my bloody steering wheel: I couldn’t ask for better ones! Or, if the measure is going round each other’s places for tea, dinner or just a chat, then my Eastern European neighbours are the ones to do this with. So, we have the best of both worlds, don’t we. I consider myself lucky.
But, here is the “twist”: something that (sort of) shook me recently. Which proved to me that, admittedly, we only know our “immediate” neighbours, and have no idea who lives just a few doors away. Proof of that so much talked about modern world’s alienation?
Here is what happened. A few weeks ago, my husband was working from home. He was expecting a delivery from a particular courier company – whose driver that day was also Bulgarian. (May I remind my readers that this is my nationality, right.) So, that particular van was also delivering a parcel to someone else in our street, literally about five houses down the road. You have probably guessed by now what nationality he was.
So, it turns out, a Bulgarian couple from our home town (I know, what are the chances!!) have been our neighbours for over six months! Had it not been for that magical parcel, we wouldn’t have known – ever, most probably.
Which is where I sulk. Obviously, we really do live in a small closed circle of friends and neighbours, as people in my home country say. Going down memory lane, though, I remember that back home this is how we lived anyway: in a huge block of flats inhabited by easily a few hundred people, and we only knew the ones living immediately around us – with a few exceptions. Everyone had their friends from school, work, wherever – who weren’t necessarily from the same part of the city.
So, how is this different to life here, in England?
I am not sure. I don’t think it is. Whether this is what modern world is about… Or maybe just my own experience. What do you think??