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Carolyn Hax: Shrug off neighbors’ snarky remarks

Hi, Carolyn: We’ve lived in our house about a year, and have a lovely family next door, except when they are not so lovely. For instance, the mother likes to comment, fairly frequently, about how much TV my kids have watched that day, because she can see our TV through her kitchen window. (For the record, my kids really don’t watch that much.) Their oldest child, clearly repeating things she’s heard from her mother, will ask whenever we order in, “Do you EVER cook?”

What’s the graceful way to handle this? – Anonymous

If “lovely” is the way you’d describe a rodent infestation or a full-body rash, then I agree you’ve got lovely neighbors.

Given that, I can see why you’d want to preserve the veneer of civility between you, just as I understand your impulse to take a hammer to it.

But neither will make you feel better, since neither addresses the underlying problem: those exposed nerves of yours. Do you realize you just defended the amount of TV your kids watch? To us?

Of course, it’s important to be conscious of your family’s TV use and nutrition and environmental impact – but not to the point where you forget who’s in charge and who most decidedly isn’t. Just as we aren’t the ones you need to impress with your kids’ TV habits, neither are these neighbors.

Just as their attention to your lives is misplaced, your respect for their opinion is misplaced. “Do you EVER cook?” doesn’t deserve a reaction.

As for a response, that depends on what you feel you can carry off. They deserve “How is that your business?” But you’re the one who has to live next to them, so deflecting with shrugs is OK, or humor. “If there’s something you’d rather watch, call, and I’ll change the channel.”

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.


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