Monday, February 20, 2006

Silence please!

This evening I found a note posted to my front door. Our 20-something neighbors downstairs have written to complain at the noise His Holiness makes, on Sundays in particular, but the letter included a general and lengthy statement of disapproval about the way he is being parented. “Our parents raised us to be quiet” was one of the statements and “We pay a lot of rent - an apartment is no place for a child” was another.

As we speak His Holiness is hog-tied in his bed, with a gag in his small mouth. We have rugs stuffed under the door to prevent the escape of even the slightest bit of sound. There is still a faint and somewhat annoying whimper of struggle that you can just make out if you press your ear to his bedroom door and of course there is that awful whooshing sound of air being sucked in and out of his little nose as he struggles to breath with the gag in place. I haven’t decided if I should leave all of this apparatus in place overnight for fear that he might wake at 2AM and cry out for a glass of water thereby disturbing the serenity of the young singles who live downstairs and whose well-being means so very much to me.

We will just have to play this one by ear. Those of you with toddlers out there may have some advice for me – a relative new hand at child rearing. The physical restraints will stay in place until we can figure out another way to keep him from making any unacceptable sounds or I devise some way to bring about the permanent evacuation of the third floor of this building – and believe me boys and girls – I am putting my agitated mind to that very task.


Blogger Lisa said...

I've an idea "to keep him from making any unacceptable sounds" while you "devise some way to bring about the permanent evacuation of the third floor" of your building. He can come over and spend the night with mini-G until you get this thing solved. G'll love the company. They can jump on the bed, play in the park, and like I said before, I've got a big lap. I've also got plenty of books, a showerhead that squirts a good six feet before the pressure begins to wane, !and! chocolate pudding.

Serious advice for you, Dad = ignore them! They deserve it.

10:32 PM  
Blogger christina said...

I can't believe that. Well, actually I can, because that's the way it is here, but I don't WANT to believe it. How petty. Just tell those neighbours to stuff it. Actually, don't tell them anything at all, just ignore them, as Lisa suggested, and don't let on that you even received their charming note. They don't have a leg to stand on anyway - legally, regular "child noise" is permitted and must be tolerated, and the only time one should attempt to be a bit (but only a bit) quieter is in the "Ruhezeit" from 1 - 3 p.m.

I think you need to get HH a toy drum or some cymbals or something and let him go for it. If the neighbours don't like it, they can move. :-)

11:59 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

My suggestion is that you place a letter on THEIR door....something that might go like this:

"Dear Apartment Dwellers....
The parents of said child have placed a formal complaint against you to the owners of this apartment building. We are concerned for the health, safety and well being of ourselves and our child for having to put up with such foolishness and having to live in such a stifled and miserable environment. Were you not children at one time? And if your parents made you be quiet, this is quite obvious by your sad and miserable attitudes as adults.

Yours respectfully,
the best parents a 2 year old has ever had the pleasure of having (so say our friends)"

But seriously....
Smile and wave, boys, smile and wave (the penguins in Madagascar)

Really seriously...
These people are idiots. So continue on with your lives and do not let them ruin any smidgeon of your happiness.

Miserable Shits! Scheissenkopfs!!

12:11 AM  
Blogger Signora B. said...

Richard ,that is utterly appaling.
Cathys advise sounds great.
I know how this must upset you .
I remember taking my 3 very nice ,happy children back to see the german side of the family.I was told they where to noisy ,disturbing the neighborhood etc,
Let the truth be known they where happy children ,a lot happier then I was at that age .I was forever told not to make noise ,not to talk etc. I look back now and am surprised they let me breath.Its part of that mental state over there.
But I also know they cant all be like that.
Do not let them get to you .They are rude and have missed out on a lot of fun as children.
By the way ,I cut short the trip to Oma with my children.
I really feel for you .Take care .

1:45 AM  
Anonymous lillian said...

Thank God we moved to Thailand. We had a situation like that for years. We tried not to shout around after 8pm, tried to keep the kids from stomping around on Sunday mornings and everytime I saw Fr. Meyer I appologized for being so noisy and how hard it must be for her and how glad we were that we could live in that appartment and how nice her flowers were.. you get the idea :-) The rest of the time we ignored her...

3:50 AM  
Blogger Signora B. said...

I am still mad ,just read that post again .
How dare they give you advise on parenting.
You ,who should be given the title
"Best Father to a little Boy"

3:54 AM  
Blogger Sharon said...

I agree with Signora... you seem like the ultimate father...loving, caring, nurturing... Just ignore ignorant people like that. If it was so important to them, why did they leave a note instead of talking to you in person? Have they met you and your son? Have they ever been around children? They are the ones in the wrong!!

4:58 AM  
Blogger J said...

Unless HH is making A LOT of noise (and I doubt he is), those idiots are out of line. However, knowing Germans, this doesn't surprise me.

6:26 AM  
Blogger christina said...

Unfortunately, in Germany children are very often considered a nuisance and a burden rather than a blessing.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Sarah Mackenzie said...

I've been on both side of this one. Firstly as the slightly (hmm... depending on how late I'd worked and how tired I felt) intolerant tenant with noisy 20 something party animals downstairs. I didn't handle that situation well and so was left having to deal with more noise as well as a bad conscience and a feeling that I was now viewed as the curmudgeonly old git upstairs.

I moved on and life moved on and then I had a baby, who turned into a noisy toddler with wooden blocks and a liking for hitting them at all times of night on a wooden floor. The poor unfortunate young man downstairs handled it in the same inept way as I had. Raging and whining. Luckily for him I had been through this suffering too and I explained that no, I was not prepared to carpet the rental flat but that we would only let K play with the blocks between the hours of x and y and that I could do no more. Kids are kids. As he had been and as I had been. And it worked out.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

Thank you all for the comments - I needed to blow some off some steam last night.

And for your good advice ... particularly about just ignoring the note. Coming from experienced German-hands like Lisa, Christina & J, I feel better ... I was getting all sorts of ideas!

Cathy ... You are a tiger! Glad you're on my team.

SB ... Thank you and I too was one of those children who was told that "to be seen and not heard" was my role in life. I refuse to raise HH in that manner!

Sharon ... I appreciate your comments and yes, they have met HH, not formally, but in the hallway as we come and go - such is life.

Lillian ... What's it like in Thailand? I'd be curious to know.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

Sarah ... That was another suggestion the neighbors made - carpet the place.
We already make an effort to keep the noise levels low before 9:00AM and on Sunday ... But HH loves to play his piano and he sings (loudly). And now that the Olympics are on he has taken to imitating the downhill skiers and attmpts to glide up and down the hall. He's not much good at gliding!

5:47 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

Hello Richard! Jeeze! Cowards! I bet they didn't even have the guts to speak to you personally before writing the landlord huh? Christ, people like that get me so angry. Yea, Im gonna go with the flow and suggest just ignoring them. On the other hand I can also tell you that one time I lived above an old lady that liked to complain every day about me. I figured that if she was going to dislike me for no reason, then I was going to make her hate me.. and I was going to give her a reason to hate me. It took about 4 months before she ran screaming from her apartment. I was so happy. And as a bonus she only moved 3 blocks away and I got to harrass her for several more months until I moved away. Life is sweet. Good luck Richard.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Indeepsilence said...

I don't wonder anymore why we are a dying nation. It is in fact like Christina said : "Unfortunately, in Germany children are very often considered a nuisance and a burden rather than a blessing."

And j, "However, knowing Germans, this doesn't surprise me."

I just want to tell you we are not all the same :-)

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Firstly, my advice is to talk to your neighbors personally - ignoring everyone and everything might not solve the problem at all. This might clear off some 'misunderstandings', and even more important, you would be the one who establishes a personal contact on this issue, thus putting you in a perfect situation. And, if the outcome of this is unsatifactory, you might consider to propose them that you would like to hear a sample of the 'noise' HH does on your own (e.g. HH does his regular playing and you listen to the announced 'noises').

Secondly, the perception of noise seems to be quite personalized in nature. Some people don't care about any noises, others are more sensitive to them. Furthermore, the noise issue depends on the local situation. For example, if you live in a rather modern building the noise level that can be heard should be generally quite low. Living in an old building ("Altbau"), the noise level is per definitionem much higher, such that every single step in the appartment above could be heard (as it is in my case - at least if you wear shoes...).

Thirdly, statements like "[...] in Germany children are very often considered a nuisance [...]" seems to generalize German people. I'm aware that in some cases children are not being treated as they should be. On the other hand, there should be a huge amount of cases where children are treated appropriately, that is, treated carefully and with love. If your neighbors say something about being educated to be "quite" I assume that they are basically well educated, i.e., that they wouldn't educate their own children badly (although I admit that they should have talked to you rather than putting a note on your door!).
Just let me give an example of a generalization: some people, e.g. Americans, are not 'in a good shape'. Generalizing those special cases would imply that almost all Americans do suffer from overweight...

Finally, just a brief remark. Don't take me wrong, I do like children very much and children should behave and play naturally...

12:25 AM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

Sandy ... Thank you for your perspective. I have considered doing a test,if permitted, where I sit in their living room while HH goes through a series of his normal activities; music making, running, singing ...

6:59 AM  
Blogger Chloe said...

listen to Alice Cooper really loudly, then they are going to be begging for some HH noise.
Seriously, i've been living with noisy, rude, horrible neighbours for 7 years and i've learnt to ignore a fair amount of noise. I simply don't hear it anymore. It's part of the background. So, they'll get used to HH having some much deserved fun. If not, they can always go and live in a monastery.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

R, if I may for a moment address one of the comments here... (if not, delete at your discretion, I understand)

Sandy, while I agree with your opinion that the dignified and mature solution would be to attempt contact with the offended neighbors, you must admit what they did initially was hostile, unconfrontational and didn't encourage dialogue on the matter. Rather, it was more a "we feel this way, now fix it" kind of statement.

In the past I've been in R's place, being the foreigner and wanting to show the best manners possible I've done what you suggested, more than once. What I got for my efforts each time was angry German people yelling into my face. There was no communication involved.

Chances are high the people here aren't going to react according to the familiar templates for behavior R as an American is used to, no matter what approach he takes. So behaving like a polite American may not be the best way to go. It'd be better for him to behave like a fair-minded German in this situation.

In my experience, all the German people I've interacted with are brusque, harsh, and more concerned with personal rights than courtesy or empathy. Especially when confronted with things they consider infringing on comfort and social rules. I found that hard to deal with until I got used to it. There wasn't any solving it or getting a softer reaction from them. I just had to get used to it, because this need for rules and order seems to be a part of what German people are, a part of the national personality, just as much as superficial politeness seems to be a part of being American.

Of course I could speculate forever but I can't predict what will happen in R's situation, just what *might* happen. Best case scenario would be that he talks to them, things are worked out for the benefit of all, and everything is fine. I certainly hope so.

Next, regarding noise, old building or new, my long-considered opinion is: R's family lives in this building too. They pay the same rent and also have rights. As long as they obey the general social laws concerning noise and don't go out of their way to provoke the neighbors, I don't see R having any obligation to live in such a way that would put the comfort of his neighbors over the comfort of his child and family. If these people have difficulty tolerating children, and this seems to be the case, perhaps they should seek housing that will better suit their specific needs.

Regarding your statements about blanket generalization, I have some input taken from a German news page I frequent and enjoy, I think you may find the article interesting, and the following statements specifically:

"Germany is so hostile towards children that even people without children have noticed," said Marie-Luise Lewicki, ELTERN's editor-in-chief at the study's presentation on Tuesday."
"The study found that while 80 percent of parents found understanding and support in their private lives, publicly the opposite is the case. Half of those surveyed said children were considered bothersome in stores or restaurants. The same, apparently, is the case at the workplace, the study found."
"In addition, 37 percent said it's more difficult to find a place to live with a family than without."
And lastly I'll add:
"Still, family does play a major role for Germans. A total of 89 percent of those questioned said family was the most important part of their lives. Their careers came in second -- with six percent."

From all this I gleen that while family is very important to the majority of German people, their tolerance could still use some work. I think the same could be said for all of us.

12:38 PM  
Blogger piu piu said...

ha ha ha!

welcome to europe.....

although i think italiens and spanish love noise....

6:32 PM  
Blogger mama jens said...

When you see them next time, give them the finger for me, would ya?

I, too, grew up with our German neighbors always harrassing my parents about my brother and I being too loud. Having to whisper and pad softly through the house makes for some pretty boring playtime.

Children are children. One day, when your neighbors decide to settle down and get a little darling of their own, they'll get their karmic payback.

-Mama Jens

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Megan said...

This is one of those situations where you have to shake your head and say (with a sigh), "Germans". That sums it up really.

But young people just are annoyed by children's noise. Being one of them I understand the frustration at times when indulgent parents let their angels do whatever with no correction.

But this sounds like an unreasonable level of irritation to a reasonable amount of noise.

They're just getting used to the change of having a child in the building. Let them have one foul, one immature act and wait to see if they indulge themselves again.

Until then, smile, nod, pretend you didn't see the note and rant about it online when needed.

They are Germans after all, you have to forgive them a little for being born handicapped! ;-)

5:07 PM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...


I am a bit overwhelmed by the reaction this post has elicited … but I want you all to know I really appreciate the different POV’s … This isn’t just blog-filler – this is a real issue and one that we will have to deal with one way or another, either by doing something or nothing.

We are certainly more aware of noise – it was an unavoidable response to the note – and HH is probably feeling a little reigned in at the moment. We will do our best to keep the very noisy stuff to late mornings and early evenings and if that doesn’t work, well, that will just be tough beans.

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a recent arrival here. Some other Expats I met said that there have been German court cases about this exact issue and each time the court has ruled that neighbors have to put up with Kinder noise period and living in a building with children is just a part of life. I suggest you ask a native German speaker to find any articles about these cases and chow them to your neighbors.

3:06 PM  

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