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How offbeat occupants can challenge their conservative neighbors’ assumptions

By on Apr 13th
My Fiancee, my roommate and I recently signed a year lease on a condo. It's only been two weeks since we got the keys to our new place, and we've already received a phone call and a visit from members of the Home Owner's Association claiming that we are having wild parties with loud bass, and that we have way more occupants living in the building than we claim. I am beginning to think that this is just a case of age discrimination. My roommates and all of my friends are in our mid-twenties. We are a blend of artsy, rave-y, nerdy people.

I was really looking forward to getting to know our neighbors. My roommate and I had big plans to go around knocking on doors bearing cookies, but now I am having second thoughts because I feel like it will look like an apology for something we didn't do. How are we going to survive a year here?

The short answer: Start baking those cookies.

From the print vaults

Hi, we're your new raver neighbors. He's a DJ and I edit a music magazine, but we promise we'll be quiet! (Me and Andreas circa late '90s.)

The long answer: As someone who spent a chunk of her 20s with rainbow-colored dreadlocks and a raver Ken Doll boyfriend who came with a set of Technics 1200s, hear me when I say this: when you are young and look weird, people WILL have assumptions about who you are and what you do.

Rather than see this as discrimination, I learned to view it as an opportunity to shove people's expectations up their asses. Oh, you think I'm going to be rude and obnoxious? Well, I'll show you by being the most disarmingly polite, well-spoken weirdo you've ever fucking met! Take THAT, complain-y neighbor!

This is to say, since you can't get out of that lease, you're going to have to compensate for your age and offbeatness by being twice the good neighbor people expect. The best way to get away with being a young and weird neighbor in a building full of older, quieter professionals is to be really respectful so that's what people focus on. Surprise them with how awesome you are — because when you do, you'll get twice the pay-off.

(Related to this topic: my advice for office-workers with weird hair.)

Is it fair that when you're visibly/audibly offbeat, you need to overcompensate a bit with more respectful neighbor awesomeness? Probably not, but it's reality. When you're living in a condo, the squares with their 10pm bedtimes (I say this as someone who now goes to bed at 10pm) can get away with the odd party and occasional booming speakers. You, 20-something, artsy, rave-y, nerdy type, probably can't.

Time to kick in Operation Overcompensation. Bake those cookies. Knock on your neighbors doors and let them know when you're having people over. Be proactive, apologetic, and so beyond polite that you're deferential. Turn up the charm: smile a lot, duck your head, and say thank you more times than you think you need to.

Then, be surprisingly quiet. Warn your neighbors when your two quiet friends are coming over for dinner. They'll prepare for the worst, and then be shocked when they hear the tinkling of Mozart and muffled laughter through the walls. The next time you see them, check in: "I hope that was ok. We got carried away with the red wine and next thing we knew it was 9:15!"

I'm sort of kidding here, but I hope you get the idea: you've got to overcompensate and be super, incredibly proactive in all your communications with neighbors. Who cares if they see the cookies as an apology: bake even more.