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Sunday March 16, 2014

How to love thy neighbour in Spain

A British expat told me that she had reached the end of her tether with her Majorcan neighbours. Apparently the children screamed and tore about the garden all weekend, the dog howled late at night and the cockerel crowed from the crack of dawn. Furthermore, the pyromaniac husband was always making bonfires early morning causing stifling smoke to waft into her garden and the wife swept and bleached the front patio so obsessively that the cloying aroma hung in the air all day.

It seemed that the couple’s boisterous chickens flitted unchecked onto the shared track and many a noisy al fresco dinner party was held late into the night. Triumphantly the weary expat told me that enough was enough and that she had come up with a cunning plan. She had discovered that a small casita on the couple’s land had been illegally constructed and so intended to denounce the family to the local town hall and police.

It’s a funny old thing but whenever I hear about tiresome neighbours here in Majorca and about proposed revenge fuelled solutions, I tend to urge caution. Let’s face it, we’ve all had problems at one time or another with pesky neighbours whether back in the UK or abroad but most squabbles – where possible – are better solved amicably. I have an assortment of Majorcan neighbours and most of the time we get along very well. We don’t hang out at one another’s homes but we always stop to have a chat, occasionally share celebrations and often participate at the same local events. We keep a watchful eye out for transgressors and happily share fruit from our orchards.

When I first arrived on the track my elderly neighbour Margalida seemed somewhat concerned that we were foreign and stood sentry outside her house whenever we drove by, eyeing us warily. But everything changed when I dared to chat with her in my appalling Mallorquí one day and later brought round home-made chocolate muffins. Doggedly she repaid the compliment with a huge bag of oranges – even though she knew we had our own. She declined to visit the house at first but in time we became unlikely friends and spent many a happy time together. When she died, well into her nineties, I was full of grief, but consoled myself that her family remained on the track. We’ve never had a cross word, although admittedly another local has caused us angst a few times. On that front we have always allied with other neighbours and tried to resolve any rogue issues with dialogue and a hint of a threat. Put it this way, we don’t need to ‘denounce’ as so many Spanish are wont to do. We know where the bodies are buried – in this case, the extent of our neighbour’s illegal building work – so prefer to keep this information as insurance. He knows, we all know, and everyone cooperates.

The matter of noise, howling dogs and crowing cockerels –and I’m as guilty as the next neighbour when it comes to lively feathered fiends in a corral – a certain degree of patience is required, followed by reasoned argument and as a very last resort a denuncio. Living in the countryside it is impossible to avoid the sound of baying animals and in Spain, especially during the summer months, al fresco dinners and celebrations late at night go with the terrain. Somehow I’ve managed to shut off from such sounds and have only ever knocked on a neighbour’s door when loud music ricocheted along the track well beyond midnight. The volume was immediately turned down.

In our valley as soon as the summer is spent, bonfires seem to be de rigueur and wispy smoke curls up into the heavens as if from countless invisible wigwams. In the same way, dousing doorsteps in soapy water whiffing of bleach and sweeping away the remains is par for the course early morning in Soller. To ask a neighbour to desist on either front would cause serious discord and offence.

So I did advise the exasperated British expat to consider her options before resorting to filing a denuncio against her neighbour. After all, was her property whiter than white? Could her neighbour in tit for tat fashion denounce her too in the future? More to the point I suggested popping round with some English cakes and engaging in conversation and at least trying to reach some friendly accord. Though unlikely that she’d be able to put a stop to her neighbour’s bonfire obsession, she might at least end up with a conciliatory gift of organic eggs from his hens and who knew, one day they might even end up getting on like a house on fire.

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