I know, I should've listened to my wife
August 3, 2010 8:39 PM   Subscribe

I was nasty and petty to an unpleasant neighbor, and now I feel terrible about it. How do I improve my confrontation skills, apologize to my neighbor and stop beating myself up? Painfully self-conscious guilt fest below the fold.

I try to be a good person, but very occasionally, I get hot-headed and do or say stupid things. This week was one of those occasions. Sorry in advance for the length, skimming is encouraged!

To make a long story short, my next-door neighbors put a row of junk furniture on the curb back in May. A month and a half later, after a citation from the city, it had dwindled down to a single huge pleather recliner, fading and rotting in the rain.

After a week or so of considering it, and against the advice of my very diplomatic wife, I went over there on Sunday, knocked on the door, and asked if I could take the furniture to the dump. The neighbor said “sure,” but asked why, and I told her: I was tired of looking at it from pretty much every window in my house, and I was embarrassed by it during a recent visit from out-of-town family.

She said I was being an asshole, and I responded by asking her and her husband to please stop piling trash in their yard or on the sidewalk (this wasn’t the first time they’ve done this, and it drives the whole street nuts). I then backed my truck up to the curb, and my wife and I loaded the waterlogged chair and took it to the dump. After 10 minutes or so of feeling like a neighborhood hero, I was overwhelmed with guilt for a.) letting the junk chair get to me so much in the first place; c.) most likely breaking the bounds of neighborhood civility; and b.) totally failing in my attempt to be nice about it. I didn’t raise my voice, and I used polite language the whole time, but I was very nervous, and for some reason compelled in the heat of the moment to sound forceful, and I know I came across as contemptuous, shallow and mean.

The neighbors left us an angry note, claiming, rightfully, that I came over to her house “with an attitude,” threatening trespassing charges if my wife or I ever step foot on their property again and advising us that we “could take our Christmas fudge,” which we make and deliver annually to all of our neighbors “and shove it.”

I feel like I do these sorts of things – say what I’m thinking even though I know it’s rude, unintentionally make my displeasure very obvious – too often during confrontations, and hence I avoid them. Over the years, I’ve practiced pending difficult conversations, such as having to deliver bad performance reviews or feedback to an employee or even something as simple as requesting repayment for a faulty product. But inevitably I let my frustration show and frequently regret things I say or the way I phrased them later. I’d appreciate any advice on how to not let anger get the better of me – I think it would serve me well in my career and otherwise to be able to elicit desired outcomes or approach interpersonal problems in more positive ways.

I’d also like honest feedback on whether I overstepped neighbor-relation ethical boundaries in offering to dispose of my neighbors’ trash, and how I could have gotten my message across more politely. Or really, if I’m just an asshole. I guess I want some perspective.

Finally, I’m also trying to decide whether I should write a letter of apology (and send it through the mail, ‘natch) for the way I acted.

A little context: I’m just shy of 40, in graduate school, work as a freelance writer and web designer, happily married and generally very happy with life in general. I really, really strive to be a good person – recycle, commute by bike, try not to be judgmental, etc. Through my 20s, I was kind of an immature, self-centered guy prone to saying things without thinking and other boorish behavior. I’ve learned a lot in the last 10 years. I put a lot of effort toward overcoming my less pleasant personality traits, and think I do an OK job. I try extremely hard to not flip off bad drivers or other pointless, escalation behavior. I have good relationships with my loved ones, colleagues and supervisors. I generally think that people should be allowed to do what they want in their homes, but as I get older, and especially since my wife and I bought a 60-year-old home in a lower-middle class, inner city neighborhood in 2004, I feel pride in places looking nice.

The neighbors, both in their 50s or 60s, have been difficult for years, and though we try to be nice to them, we’ve had less dramatic arguments before and we don’t like them much. The husband, in the wild throes of opiate withdrawal, once tearfully begged my wife to take him on what became a crazy adventure to Wal-Mart for his prescription painkillers. Their dogs, frequently loose in the streets, have chased and frightened people, and we’ve both threatened to call animal control, though we never did. We frequently are treated to loud fights and/or late-night howling at the moon, as well as a constant cloud of cigarette smoke.

Thanks for reading.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (56 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I see nothing wrong with asking people to get trash off the street in a reasonable amount of time. Especially if the trash collection services have been by and left it. Honestly, the only thing I see that you did wrong was not give them a chance to get the chair out of everyone's site after you asked them to. That being said though, if they're the cranky neighbors that you say they are just don't worry about it. And don't give them fudge, fudge is only for cool people.
posted by theichibun at 8:55 PM on August 3, 2010 [19 favorites]

You did the right thing. Stop beating yourself up.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:59 PM on August 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

Umm, I'll preface this with the fact that I am currently in my 20s, and kind of immature and self-centered.

What do you care if they don't want your Christmas fudge? These people have repeatedly disregarded behaving as proper neighbors, and it's not like you were delivering some surprise with your statements that the city's citation hadn't given them already.

Yes, people are allowed to do what they want in their own homes, as long as their actions' effects actually stay within the confines of that home and don't adversely affect those around them. This does not seem to describe these people. ALSO, the trash on the curb is on public property, most certainly not in their home, and if it has been there for a whole month and is molding on the street, there is no argument for not calling it trash, accepting the fact that it is now your trash, and dealing with it.

That said, a more diplomatic and less "Please please throw a brick through my window the next time you have an opiate relapse" response would be to nag the shit out of the police until they make your neighbors remove the trash. However, I think I wouldn't have resisted the urge to say something either, so I wouldn't say you're an asshole at all.

I would say write them off and if you are worried about some sort of escalation/retaliation, notify the police of the situation immediately and tell them they may need to expect some peace-disturbance-related calls in the near future.

And if you're worried about to whom you should give their portion of the Christmas fudge, I'm a willing and able volunteer.
posted by hoperaiseshell at 9:00 PM on August 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Aw, you. Take your fudge and shove it! is hilarious, but also, since we're being serious, totally dickish. Clearly, for some reason, your local trash detail won't pick up furniture - which, clearly, they failed to realize despite the many weeks that have passed since May. Maybe they don't have a vehicle that could take it to the dump (in which case a call to Goodwill or the equivalent was in order)... or maybe they just don't see the harm in piling trash outdoors... but while I'm generally of the gah let it go who cares tribe - I think it's reasonable to be upset about Big Trash hanging out for months in front of your house. If it helps - I don't think you're a bad person, and I bet they'll dig on your fudge come the holidays.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:00 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't beat yourself up-it sounds like you were very patient about the whole thing. The last time a neighbor down the street left something on their curb, I gave them five days and then called the city to come get it and send them a bill. And I couldn't see it from my house at all. So I think you were perfectly justified in what you said to these people and I do not think you owe them an apology. If you want to give them one to preserve neighborhood harmony, that's up to you.

As far as tips for staying cool go-I find that it's easier for me to keep my cool when I consider that it drives people freaking crazy when I am super nice, but very insistent about my perspective. So in a way, not flying off the handle is not only more effective, it also drives the truly useless people bonkers to be unable to get a rise out of you. So I wallow in smug self satisfaction over being cool and still get what I want. I also smile a lot. When you feel your temper rising, smile big, take a deep breath, and then talk. It's hard to be pissy when you are smiling like a lunatic.
posted by supercapitalist at 9:00 PM on August 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Your neighbors sound like jerks, and it sounds like you behaved appropriately and did nothing that requires an apology.

Re-read your question. Your neighbors sound like the blights on the neighborhood who everyone else hates. You totally took one for the team by moving that chair. Who cares if they hate you and your fudge? They're jerks! You are not the asshole in this situation.
posted by apricot at 9:03 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

You didn't do anything wrong here. This sounds suspiciously like a tone argument on their part - if only you had come over there asking them politely to move it they would have apologized and done so. Well, if the city citation didn't move it then I doubt politeness would have either. Don't let them shift the wrongdoing over to your conscience.
posted by Paragon at 9:04 PM on August 3, 2010 [7 favorites]

Your neighbors sound like irresponsible, annoying assholes. You are most certainly not one.
posted by pecanpies at 9:07 PM on August 3, 2010

People like this love being offended. They act like assholes and when you call them on it they act like you're the problem.

You may be a jerk (I don't know), but don't play into their little "I'm ever so offended and we don't want your fudge" bullshit.
posted by milarepa at 9:09 PM on August 3, 2010 [17 favorites]

I kept waiting for the part where you did the asshole thing....

If the worst you did was show "attitude" (you didn't scream, throw things, hurl insults, or threaten) I really wouldn't worry about it. If a citation from the city was more or less ignored by them, I don't think you being any more polite in your interactions would have made a bit of difference.

Chalk it up to a learning experience (humans show feelings -- you did, they did -- it's what separates us from lizards and ottomans), don't write any more letters or engage them any more about this, and keep your yummy fudge.
posted by pantarei70 at 9:10 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

If their dogs are loose, call the cops. If their dogs are keeping you up at night, call the cops. You have a right to live peacefully. Your neighbors sound like assholes, and frankly, I would suggest you just adopt a zero-tolerance attitude to them.
posted by Slinga at 9:13 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Finally, I’m also trying to decide whether I should write a letter of apology (and send it through the mail, ‘natch) for the way I acted."

No sir, you should NOT. If I was that neighbor, I would be ashamed to live for being so shiftless as to not only leave furniture out on the sidewalk for weeks on end, but having the additional humiliation of a more responsible neighbor offering to take it to the dump for me.

The only thing I might have done differently, in your situation, is to not ask the lazy neighbors if it was "OK" to take the chair to the dump. If I felt nice, I would just take it there unasked. If I felt mean, which happens from time to time, they might find it right in front of their front door.

You'll laugh about this soon, trust me. "Take your Christmas fudge and shove it," indeed. That right there is a story in just one line.
posted by HopperFan at 9:17 PM on August 3, 2010 [10 favorites]

I would assert that your neighbors are more likely to be the assholes. You might have been a bit testy when you were telling your neighbors that you planned to remove the chair, but these people seem like they are the type to not care about others opinion's very much but only when they don't have to hear them. They could have just told you that you "had an attitude," and to let them deal with their own issues, but instead they escalated it with threats of trespassing charges, which seems a bit extreme, unless you were threatening them (which I certainly hope you weren't doing!). Asking why you were offering to throw away the chair seems like a real mystery to me--looking a gift horse in the mouth!

In terms of being able to always deal with things calmly, that's certainly a tricky thing. I have tried to get into the mindset of only getting upset about things that I have control over (and hence can make myself no longer upset through fixing them), but sometimes I still get upset and grumpy (my big weakness is having to wait for an unspecified amount of time, such as for service at a restaurant, or a long wait at the doctor's office). Just realize that the person you're interacting with is also a person who gets testy and angry and has to wait for things and doesn't always get what they want. Conversational tone, no accusing language, etc. etc.

"Hey, this chair has been out on your lawn for a while, do you need help getting it to the dump? I have a pickup truck and can do it easily."
If someone responds negatively to that, just say "Alright" and leave, and if they ask "Why do you want to do that" say "I just thought it was trash because it had been sitting out here for a while, and I figured I could help you out as your neighbor! It's really no trouble."
If they refuse and you want that chair gone, just . . . sneak it away when they're not looking!
posted by that girl at 9:17 PM on August 3, 2010

It seems like part of what's going on here is that your issues -- your desire to manage confrontations differently -- are intersecting with their issues -- being irresponsible neighors and mouthy jerks. I would try to walk the line of being accountable to yourself while not letting their behavior exacerbate any regret. Their reaction is more about themselves. In their shoes, I would have felt terrible and sent you the apology note, regardless of how grouchy and mean you were. However, they might've sent you a mean note, regardless of how nicely you asked. So, disregard their reaction. Judge yourself on the basis you would have judged yourself if they'd done nothing. If you would have judged yourself as being too harsh, apologize regardless of whether their behavior was equally horrible. If you would have judged your behavior as basically appropriate, sans note, then ignore them and their reaction. In the end, neighbors will come and go, but you have to become the person you want to be.
posted by salvia at 9:18 PM on August 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Let's say you did have an "attitude" when you went to their house. An attitude that lasted the whole three minutes of your conversation with them. You offended them for a whole three minutes.

So what?

They created an eyesore that offended you and trashed your environment for six fucking weeks! And they have succeeded in making you feel bad about having an attitude because they had trashed up your neighborhood!

You have NOTHING to feel bad about.
posted by jayder at 9:21 PM on August 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

It's probably also worth noting that your neighbors were almost certainly violating a handful of local ordinances by having the trash out for that long.

You probably could have called city hall, and have had them slapped with a sizable fine or citation. That would have been a dickish move on your part (but, again, not completely unreasonable)

What you did was the nicest possible way to go about it. The fact that they reacted poorly to it speaks nothing about you, and everything about them. Stop beating yourself up!
posted by schmod at 9:30 PM on August 3, 2010

You didn't do anything wrong. Seriously.

BUT, if you and your wife agree that it would be best to patch things up, feel free to send a note apologizing for having offended them and hoping that you can remain civil neighbors.
posted by desuetude at 9:44 PM on August 3, 2010

I don't quite agree you are blameless here. Depending on the exact words you used, saying they embarrassed you in front of your guests could definitely come off as having an attitude. Especially, if you're better off financially, I could see them feeling resentful and looked-down on.

That said, it sounds like they way way overreacted. I would apologize, but not grovel.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:49 PM on August 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

You were incredibly patient. You saw that thing on the curb, and you said nothing. Then, you saw it again, and said nothing. And then, amazingly, you saw it again, and said nothing. This went on for six weeks? You probably saw it a hundred times, if not more, and said nothing 99 of those hundred times. That's a 99% success rate in diplomacy!

This is where an HOA would come in handy. Someone else gets to be the bad guy. Of course, then you have the HOA.
posted by kindall at 9:58 PM on August 3, 2010

Your neighbors are assholes. You always thought so, and now you have proof. Stop feeling bad and cherish the thought of never having to be nice to them again. Give your fudge to someone you like, call the cops on the dogs, call the city about the garbage and let them be miserable all by themselves in a neighborhood where everyone hates them.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:09 PM on August 3, 2010

You were definitely acting well within your rights and with what most people would consider a reasonable manner. Even if you did get a bit testy, I think their behavior would frustrate pretty much anyone living next door to them with the least amount of civic pride (or whatever the correct term would be). It sounds like a huge test of patience and good will just to live next door to them.

With that said, I can understand how you feel a bit uneasy over how you handled it. So many times I've felt completely in the right to speak to someone with an angry tone, and then later felt upset that I did that. If you want to send a note of apology I think it would make you feel better and might smooth over relations with these neighbors that you do have to continue to live next to. Apologize for offending them and wish them well and maybe even use some self-deprecatory humor ("yeah, I understand about the fudge, I'm not the world's best cook"). You don't owe them anything but responding to the situation with grace and kindness will at least make you feel better, and at best might provoke a bit of civility (or even humility) from them.

But stop feeling guilty, you sound like you are extremely hard on yourself whereas an outsider looking at the situation is mostly amazed at your restraint.
posted by JenMarie at 10:24 PM on August 3, 2010

Try to deal with irritating things before they drive you crazy. Not telling someone that something is annoying you whilst slowly stewing, and then venting in frustration weeks later is unfair to the person who had no idea they were pissing you off.

That being said, this was probably always going to end badly, because your neighbours sound horrible. An "I'm sorry I offended you" note could help. Probably won't though.
posted by kjs4 at 10:25 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm kind of shocked by the responses you're getting. I would not go so far as to call your neighbors assholes. Sloppy and irresponsible, perhaps, but it sounds like they have problems of their own, and are aging and ailing.

If you just want to be right: Yeah, okay, you're right and they're wrong. People should be clean and take pride in their neighborhood and be preppy and bouyant and not smoke and not stay up late and not let their dogs loose. Yep, you're definitely a more upstanding citizen. Congratulations! (I would like to note, just in case this is misunderstood, I am a neat freak myself)

But are they actually assholes, and are you actually a Nice Guy? I mean, you can be right, wrong, mean, and nice, and it seems to me that the best thing to be is both right and nice.

I would suggest you try to just zen out a little more. You can dislike that they are sloppy and messy, but at some level, you have to step back and realize, hey, an asteriod could hit earth at any time. I mean, pick your battles. You don't know everything about them. Maybe the guy was a hero in 'nam. Maybe they have kids. I mean, just remember that humans are human, you know? Try to keep it in perspective that neighborhoods are not kept clean for the sake of being kept clean, but because people like to live in harmony with each other. Don't get the horse before the cart and make a bad situation worse.

Also: people can change. See yourself for an example. But they respond better to honey than to vinegar.
posted by Nixy at 10:28 PM on August 3, 2010 [7 favorites]

Yeah, agreeing with everyone that you definitely were within bounds as a neighbor.

To answer your other questions about confrontations, one thing that it helps to keep in mind is that nobody likes being embarrassed. As soon as you humiliate someone, they now feel like an enemy. Even if they were planning on cooperating with you before, they will likely now refuse, just to spite you. Because of that, I most likely would not have told your neighbor the truth about why you wanted to take the recliner to the dump. It probably hurt her to feel that you were embarrassed to live near her. (Though who knows; judging by your comment, she isn't the paragon of a good neighbor.) Perhaps if you had told a "diluted" version of the truth - "the recliner's been there for a while and I'm heading to the dump anyway" - she wouldn't have felt the need to lash out via letter.
posted by estlin at 10:40 PM on August 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Your neighbors are asses. Shove the fudge in the general direction of someone who is more likely to appreciate it. (Or, in a funny way, you may even want to give it to them anyway, come Christmas. Seriously, let them decide that they're REALLY NOT GOING TO EAT ANY OF THIS DELICIOUS FUDGE THAT OUR STUPID NEIGHBOR WHO HAULED OUR SHIT TO THE DUMP HAS GIVEN US, NO SERIOUSLY, THIS WILL SHOW HIM HOLY SHIT THIS FUDGE IS GREAT, MAYBE NO ONE ELSE WILL NOTICE THAT I'VE EATEN A PIECE TWO PIECES OKAY, NOW THREE AND THAT'S IT)
posted by scody at 11:34 PM on August 3, 2010 [22 favorites]

You've gotten a lot of good advice, but I do disagree on one point: the Christmas fudge. I think that come December you should show up at their doorstep wearing your finest Christmas sweaters, bearing a comedically large platter of fudge.
posted by kitty teeth at 11:37 PM on August 3, 2010 [11 favorites]

You've gotten a lot of good advice, but I do disagree on one point: the Christmas fudge. I think that come December you should show up at their doorstep wearing your finest Christmas sweaters, bearing a comedically large platter of fudge.

And wearing those long-johns with flaps on the back. "Did you want me to unbutton these. or can you get them?"

My wife gave our neighbor about a week of an old toilet sitting in the parking strip before she started putting notes on it. "Please throw me away!" and the like. It was gone a couple of days later. She was also not shy about telling the people from mid-block that hauling an old, stained mattress to the corner and putting a "free" sign on it wasn't the same as disposing of it.

You did fine. Estlin has some good advice, too.
posted by maxwelton at 11:57 PM on August 3, 2010

Sorry, didn't read all the comments above me but frankly, I don't think you did anything wrong. You actually sound like really cool neighbours and your neighbours were being selfish and rude to leave their crap out to rot. I mean, if it was bad enough to be getting citations for it, that should have given them a clue. If I were them, I would have apologized profusely and been terribly embarrassed the moment you started to mention it and would have paid you to cart it away.

I think your "issue" here, if there even is one, is that you feel guilty for being "mean" when you had every right to be. You're allowed to be a little pissed off at them and, in my opinion, it's better that you confronted about them honestly than to play the passive aggressive role and leave a nasty note or bitch about them behind their backs but within hearing distance.

Damn, I wish I got Christmas fudge--our neighbours have such sticks up their asses that when I smile at them and say "hello" they just stare at me and walk away.
posted by 1000monkeys at 12:31 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your neighbors were wrong about the chair. Honestly, leaving a chair out on the street to rot? That is not neighborly. You did the right thing by removing the chair and telling them you were tired of them leaving junk out for everyone to "enjoy."
posted by fifilaru at 12:37 AM on August 4, 2010

Granted, I live in a college town and any furniture left on the curb is typically yoinked within a couple days, but. Really? Six weeks? Come on, man, nobody's gonna take it after that long.

It seems really petty of them to say 'IF YOU EVER TOUCH OUR LAWN AGAIN WE'LL HAVE YOU ARRESTED'. Maybe you could've been a bit more tactful (says the one with tact kept in an untouched sealed jar, hah!) about it but I think they went overboard. Here's a thought -- you might not be the first to Say Something To Them, you just said it in the way that finally set them off the deep end.

'AND YOU CAN TAKE YOUR FUDGE AND SHOVE IT'? Seriously?! Sounds like everyone else on the block is getting a larger batch this Holidaymas. Or just keep the extra plate for yourself. Holidaymas chocolate doesn't count toward your calorie limit, after all...

(or you could just send it to me, i like fudge and i promise i'm not a jackass)
posted by Heretical at 1:01 AM on August 4, 2010

I don't think you're actually feeling guilty about this interaction -- and therefore I don't think it will make you feel better to hear everyone tell you that they think you were in the right and your neighbor in the wrong.

I think you feel angry and ashamed for the way you made yourself vulnerable to your neighbors by asking them if you could take their trash to the dump for them.

I think the best move would have been for you to talk to your neighbors and tell them how you felt about their garbage being on community property, and then taking the conversation from there -- hopefully to a solution upon which you would all agree, and would not involve you needing to "rescue" your neighbors from their own incompetence -- an action which makes a victim out of everyone.

If they were indifferent to your feelings at this point, or antagonistic, I would tell them what you were willing to do to solve the problem, and then do it, without the need to seek anyone's permission.
posted by macinchik at 1:05 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

You did the right thing. They did the wrong thing.

I'm wondering what it is about your neighbors that makes you beat yourself up for getting real with them? Is race involved?

Also: if the stuff is on the curb, it's on city property and anyone can take it and do whatever with it. You didn't need their permission to clean up your street. What you did was to wait so long that you got all nervous about it. Don't do that anymore.
posted by kidelo at 5:09 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

At times I've been "that guy" who has stuff on the curb or in my yard too long - exacerbated by the fact that I live on the corner of a tiny terrace where the occupants of 4 houses put their "free" stuff on my curb so it's actually seen. And at times my husband's been too injured and I've been too pregnant to move on it as fast as I'd like (we don't have a dump). One time, we had the city called on us after a water heater and some other construction stuff sat in our side yard during a long dispute with our contractor - but I didn't fault the neighbors, they shouldn't have to look at that crap. My MIL, who owns the house but doesn't live onsite, was super huffy that they did it, but honestly I'm still nice to them and they're still nice to us. I realized we were wrong. Your neighbors are just total assholes.

You can't get everyone to like you all the time. It's not like you had a warm, sunny relationship with them prior, they seem to just be real dicks. They're most likely just embarrassed someone called them on their BS, so their reaction was denial/anger rather. Some people get really angry when someone dares criticize them.
posted by kpht at 5:58 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not wrong to tell someone, "I'm annoyed by that annoying thing you did." I mean, there might be a better way to get what you want, depending on who you're dealing with (some people respond to "do you need some help with that?" while others respond to "that annoying thing you're doing? Please stop"). I do think it was passive aggressive to ask if you could take the chair to th dump: either take it without saying anything or approach them and say, "please take care of the garbage on your lawn" but asking if you could... throw away their garbage for them? Pretty passive aggressive when what you really want is for them to be more responsible about their trash. Next time, if you want them to deal with it, ask them to; if you're willing to take it yourself, do so without commenting on it.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:10 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Standing up for yourself (and the entire neighborhood) is not an asshole move. Your problem neighbors do not deserve a letter of apology from you because you did nothing wrong. They were clearly in the wrong for months and you finally said and did something about it. Do not justify their indignation with a letter of apology. I actually think you showed a lot of restraint in the things that you could have said.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:19 AM on August 4, 2010

most likely breaking the bounds of neighborhood civility

Dude, if anyone was breaking any bounds, it was them.

Especially, if you're better off financially, I could see them feeling resentful and looked-down on.

It doesn't take any money to not be trashy and ignorant. Leaving garbage on the curb to rot for weeks? Letting their dogs run wild and harass their neighbors? Come on. Appropriate behavior is free.
posted by crankylex at 6:19 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think you did anything wrong.

However, it's worth sucking it up and apologizing or making a peace offering. Being able to go outside without sending and receiving icy stares from ones neighbors is worth quite a bit, IMO. Fighting with neighbors just ain't worth it...
posted by pjaust at 6:28 AM on August 4, 2010

It sounds like you neighbor was the one that lost her temper, not you. At worst, I'm guessing you may have had a tone of superiority perhaps, but, really, I think your approach was totally reasonable. In my neighborhood, I would have had nastygrams from 5 neighbors, in addition to the city fine and a condo assoc. fine within 15 minutes of leaving trash in the wrong place at the wrong time of day.
posted by Pax at 6:31 AM on August 4, 2010

Actually I tend to disagree with a lot of what has been said here....You do not have the right to go up and blow up at a person AFTER 6 weeks, while you do have the right to be bothered by the trash in the curb, you did not have to wait this long to voice your concerns. Because it was the first time you were going to talk about this issue it was up to you to keep your calm in order to get what you want. Had you established a line of communication earlier and somehow that would not have worked, then it is perfectly ok to then be mean. Frankly if you come to my house, screaming at me even if you were right I would fail to apologize because you are NOT the boss of me......
posted by The1andonly at 6:36 AM on August 4, 2010

Ultimately whether you are in the right or not (and I think you were) it's extremely difficult to tell someone they're being trashy and making the neighborhood look bad without making them feel angry, defensive, and embarrassed. is there a way you could have handled it that wouldn't have provoked that reaction? Maybe not since even the city citation wasn't getting them to deal with the chair. The only thing that comes to mind would have been telling them you're doing a dump run and would they mind if you took the chair, too. Even if you weren't actually taking anything else the cover story might have allowed them to save face a little bit. They could have been privately embarrassed instead of publicly so.

But load their batch up with a shitload of chocolate laxatives.

And potentially get charged with a felony. Not a great idea.
posted by 6550 at 6:45 AM on August 4, 2010

"You do not have the right to go up and blow up at a person" and "if you come to my house, screaming at me"

Hello? Did you read the question? He didn't blow up or scream.

"even if you were right I would fail to apologize because you are NOT the boss of me......"

I haven't heard that in a long time - say about 4th grade. You know why? Because I'm an adult.

Are you the lazy neighbor?
posted by HopperFan at 6:59 AM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

I also am somewhat surprised by a lot of the comments here. I see a distinction between whether you were right in what you did (I think you were) and whether you ought to try reconciliation or be smug in the confidence of your own rightness. I've seen a lot of weird neighbor disputes in my day*, and don't think it's worth it to escalate or even continue the neighborly feud just because you know you're right. I think it's probably a decent idea to send a very short note that says simply "I apologize for being unnecessarily confrontational when I came to your house last week. I still think I was right about the trash issue, but agree I could have approached you earlier instead of waiting until weeks had passed, and then we could have dealt with it more civilly."

So yeah, you were right. But you still have to live there.

*Including one that involved restraining orders, criminal stalking complaints, and ultimately $10,000 in legal fees over a dispute that started based on where a neighbor was blowing their snow after storms.
posted by norm at 7:12 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Over the years, I’ve practiced pending difficult conversations, such as having to deliver bad performance reviews or feedback to an employee or even something as simple as requesting repayment for a faulty product. But inevitably I let my frustration show and frequently regret things I say or the way I phrased them later

You might try an opposite approach since this doesn't seem to be working for you. Try being more assertive in the beginning. If something is on your mind, learn to approach it in a diplomatic and timely manner before everything starts to build up inside. If you bottle everything up, of course it's going to spew once you pop the cork.

I used to bottle stuff up before I confronted people because it was the only way I knew how. I had to be fired up before I could speak my mind and it only made things worse. Learn to assert yourself in a calm and logical way and you can avoid escalation of conflicts on your end. You'll find you come out feeling better about yourself even when things get heated on the other end.
posted by studentbaker at 7:29 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

The only thing that comes to mind would have been telling them you're doing a dump run and would they mind if you took the chair, too. Even if you weren't actually taking anything else the cover story might have allowed them to save face a little bit. They could have been privately embarrassed instead of publicly so.

I was just coming in to say the same thing. If your neighbors didn't think that leaving the chair out was a problem, they're probably not going to care what you think. Maybe something else is going on in their life--illness, unemployment, whatever--and suddenly the chair wasn't their greatest concern. Or maybe they're just assholes. The point is, I think you could have accomplished your goal--taking the chair to the dump--without putting them on the defensive. A lot of people will say that you shouldn't have to walk on eggshells around people like this and for the most part I agree, but sometimes it's worth it to keep the peace and get what you want.
posted by lucysparrow at 7:55 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

The neighbors, both in their 50s or 60s, have been difficult for years, and though we try to be nice to them, we’ve had less dramatic arguments before and we don’t like them much. The husband, in the wild throes of opiate withdrawal, once tearfully begged my wife to take him on what became a crazy adventure to Wal-Mart for his prescription painkillers. Their dogs, frequently loose in the streets, have chased and frightened people, and we’ve both threatened to call animal control, though we never did. We frequently are treated to loud fights and/or late-night howling at the moon, as well as a constant cloud of cigarette smoke.

Wow. I would have offered to take the neighbors to the dump. I think you're fine, OP.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:58 AM on August 4, 2010

You did absolutely nothing wrong, and have nothing to feel guilty about. In fact, you have demonstrably done something very right by introducing to me the wonderful phrase "You can take your Christmas fudge and shove it."

You have decidedly improved my life! Thanks, neighbor!
posted by ocherdraco at 8:00 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think you're technically in the right, and the way your neighbours reacted puts them so far into the wrong that that's not even in dispute. You know you weren't very kind, but you can be polite without being kind.

What bothers me about this is that if your goal was to get rid of the chair, you could just have taken the chair away with you and given the explanation that you were going to the dump anyway. I think your goal was to antagonize your neighbour at least as much as it was to get rid of the chair. I also think that although your neighbour's reaction was totally psycho and inappropriate, it was pretty much the reaction you expected based on your previous dealings with him. So now you've proved that your psycho neighbour is a psycho, I don't really agree that that's something to be proud of as other posters have suggested. What if every interaction everyone has with him is intended to prove that he's a psycho? Why should he feel good about that, even if he deserves it? Why should he not give you what you want and react like a psycho?

Next time you have to give negative feedback, make sure you avoid communicating when upset and instead think about what you want to get out of the interaction. Then plan what you want to say and think about whether any of it is likely to make that particular person react in a way you don't want. Assertiveness is way too big a topic for one paragraph, but you might want to read a book called "There's Something I Have To Tell You" by Charles Foster, it's by far the best one I've read.
posted by tel3path at 8:57 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

you went over there cruising for a bruising. if it was on the curb for ages after all the other stuff had been taken AND theyʻd been cited (how did you know that; did you facilitate having them cited?), you should have just loaded it up and taken it to the dump. you knew it was trash. no need to ask if it was okay. you just wanted to tell them off (however mildly). you created the confrontation and now you feel...guilty? why?

listen to your wife in the future.
posted by elle.jeezy at 9:03 AM on August 4, 2010

This is a tricky one. In their eyes you told them they were slobs. Instead of admitting they are slobs ( as no self-respecting slob would do ), they turned it around on you. There is never an easy way to tell someone they are a slob, let alone to convince them to take a bath. You went ahead and gave them a bath. Slobs really don't like other people to give them baths. This is why neighbor relations are so tricky. Criticizing the state of your neighbors house is like telling them they are ugly. There is no easy way to tell someone they are ugly. You maybe could have simply offered to take the couch without mentioning its absurdity, but nonetheless, you did a good job for upstanding neighbors everywhere.
posted by jasondigitized at 9:41 AM on August 4, 2010

i would forget it and report the chair. From my experience being friendly with the neighbors means nothing. atleast you know they dont like you.
posted by majortom1981 at 9:46 AM on August 4, 2010

If you're in a situation where it's difficult to tell whether you've done something wrong, but you feel guilty about what you've done, it's almost always best to go to the person you're worried you've done something wrong to and apologize as quickly as possible.

It's not something we talk about much nowadays, but guilt is an incredibly powerful thing. It's almost always the case that the answer to the question "how do I stop beating myself up?" begins with "apologize right away." It's very easy for human beings to get themselves into a cycle of feeling terrible shame about the things they've done; when we do that, we tend to try to hide those things, and we never say anything about them to other people. Apologizing right away stops the cycle before it can start; if you apologize, you can stop fearing that others feel the worst about you, and you can stop fearing that you haven't done anything to make it right.

It can seem counter-intuitive – and please understand that I don't mean you should act horribly ashamed or self-deprecating when you apologize – but being comfortable with the process of admitting it when we feel we've done something wrong and apologizing for it openly is infinitely important for our own happiness.

Again, even if maybe you've done nothing wrong, it's most satisfying and most efficient just to go right over and give an apology. If you apologize for having done something that wasn't actually wrong, what's the worst that can happen? Either way, you'll know you don't have anything to feel guilty about anymore.
posted by koeselitz at 10:59 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Although I agree with 23skidoo above (in that the only thing you did wrong was have expectations that your neighbours were going to act like mature, reasonable adults), frankly, I would rather my neighbours know I think they sucked and hopefully at least shame them into never repeating the action again then to pretend to be okay with what they did and be super passive-aggressive and suck up to them. They're your neighbours, not your friends; though you should always try to be "neighbourly" and stay on good terms with your neighbours, you don't need to be their best friends. Good fences make good neighbours &c.

And hey, more fudge!
posted by 1000monkeys at 12:48 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you could have been more tactful, like 23skidoo suggests but just like your neighbour has their own story and hardships, so do you. I'm a little concerned about how concerned you are with being a good person. Of course, to be happy and healthy, you need ethics, that you can live with and be proud of it, but it seems the issue you really have is now your neighbours possibly think you're a bad person.

What your neighbours think about you is none of your business or concern. You have no control over their emotions and you need to let that go, because worrying what people think of you is the fastest way to anxiety.

Just keep on being polite to your neighbours (think Flanders) and they can go on being dicks (Homer) and that's just normal stuff.
posted by b33j at 2:09 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't apologise but maybe give them some fudge in the shape of a chair and see if you can laugh it off that way.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:57 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Write: "Dear Neighbor: I did have an attitude when I came over to speak with you about the chair. I regret this. Sincerely yours, The OP"

2. Consider: You framed your message in terms of yourself—I'm tired of seeing your chair, I was embarrassed—when you could just as easily framed it in terms of them—It doesn't look like that chair's going anywhere, so can I help you get rid of it? This really shouldn't make a difference in their reaction, but it does.

3. Speculate: Five months from now, which will bring them more pleasure: continuing to hate on you for a months-old offense, or eating yummy fudge? Be kind and forgiving (really kind and forgiving, meaning you just bring it over, you don't bring it up), or as close to it as you can manage. Fall back on Proverbs 25: 20-21 ("love your enemies, it'll drive 'em nuts") if you have to.

Maybe, come holidays, they will choose to hate on you regardless. They might hate you for daring to give them candy after they told you not to, or for "inexplicably" shutting them out of your holiday fun. ("My, what a selective memory you have!" "The better to hate you with, my dear!") Still, which would you rather be hated for?

4. Sigh: Some people just cultivate gratuitous conflict, for subconscious reasons of their own. Your neighbors may be some of those. (The loose dogs kind of suggest that. These wouldn't by any chance be a breed with a lot of drive, which they have not socialized, trained, or exercised properly? Because that's classic.) My advice #3 above is based on a presumption of good faith. (Crappy thinking skills and tragic interpersonal deficiencies, but good faith. Not much different from the rest of us, there.) But they can void that presumption. If they spend the next half year looking for reasons to be offended, feel free to do whatever will minimize your engagement with them. Nothing obligates you to throw good faith after bad. Heck, I'll argue that you have a positive duty not to, because it drains energy that you need for your wife and other real relationships.
posted by eritain at 8:38 PM on August 4, 2010

I understand why you feel bad, because I have trouble with my temper too. I don't apologize to people for them, I apologize because it bothers me and I want to feel better. Sounds selfish, but it's true. If you feel bad about the way you came across, apologize. As for handling my temper, I try to examine my motives, if that was me, I wouldn't just want the couch gone, I'd want to teach my neighbors a lesson. Awareness of my motives doesn't always stop me, but it's the best chance Ive got..
posted by heatherly at 10:44 AM on August 5, 2010

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