My first night in a new apartment by myself, the door didn’t work. I tried my key every which way and…nothing, shoving my shoulder into it and all. It was a Friday night and I was supposed to chaperone 17 high school students on a trip leaving early the next morning.
I’d just moved to New York City and would be sleeping on the floor that night. The super wasn’t responding to my calls (and of course my phone’s battery was low anyway). Who could help me? There was only one neighbor in my apartment building who I’d met at this point. He and his wife had helped me lug a few things up the stairs when my parents had helped move me in.
Timidly, I went downstairs to their apartment and knocked. I could hear their adorable one-year old wide awake on the other side of the door while I waited. Thankfully, my neighbor answered the door and, after a brief explanation of my problem, went back upstairs with me to try the door again. When he couldn’t get it — and the building’s maintenance supervisor couldn’t either– he brought me back to his apartment so I could charge my phone and call the super again.
During that hour and a half that I uncomfortably imposed on my new neighbors waiting for the locksmith, I gradually felt at ease and incredibly grateful for their kindness. My key issue was resolved with a new lock installation and I’d made new friends right in my building.
I ended up babysitting for their daughter, borrowing some flour and even hosting them for a home-cooked dinner when they told me they were pregnant with a second child.
In an age when people don’t know their neighbors nearly as much as they used to and where in-person communication often takes a backseat to social media, it’s rare to meet and befriend strangers the way I did. But I’d argue that we need more of this, perhaps now more than ever. I didn’t plan to meet my neighbors, but I’m glad that fate intervened and showed me all there is to gain from getting to know others outside of our own circles.
Our neighbors are a great place to start. Here are some ways to get to know those who live closest to you:
1. Knock on someone’s door.
If you live in an apartment building like I do, this should be easy. Introduce yourself and maybe even bring a baked treat like your mom taught you. I actually began my neighborly friendship when I was the one asking for something. You could begin this way, too, the next time you need to borrow sugar or you run out of ziploc bags.
2. Offer your service.
If you notice a mom on your street or in your building with young kids, offer to babysit for her the next time you see her wrangling them.
I didn’t plan to meet my neighbors, but I’m glad that fate intervened and showed me all there is to gain from getting to know others outside of our own circles.
3. Pick up the mail.
This also goes for people in apartment buildings, but could also work for those who live on streets with houses close to one another. When I lived in Chicago, we were always getting packages stolen off of the front steps of our walk-up. If you notice a next-door neighbor has a package lying out for a while, you could grab it to keep it safe and then knock on the door once you see they’re home.
Once you’ve gotten to know a neighbor, offer to cook dinner or host her for an evening in. Hospitality is a fading art that older generations knew well. Lay a beautiful table, maybe even get fancy and make calligraphed name cards, and cook your favorite meal. You could even do a recipe exchange!
Find ways to offer acts of kindness. You don’t need to expect anything in return, but you never know when you might need a favor, as I did. Take out the trash for your neighbor, shovel the walk or bring over some cookies on a regular Tuesday.