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Miss Conduct | globe magazine

Cutting in: Noise-makers next door

Dealing with neighbors’ loud and unending hedge clipping. Plus, avoiding a toxic friend.

Illustration by Lucy Truman

As summer approaches, a problem has reared its head again. Our neighbors have hired someone to cut their hedges on weekends. This man comes nearly every weekend and will work all day Saturday and Sunday. Needless to say, the noise is extremely disturbing. Is it wrong to politely address our concerns with these neighbors?

S.B. / Scituate

Daytime noise is part of summer. Be grateful that your neighbors’ is a byproduct of property maintenance rather than, say, the noise of domestic discord. What, specifically, do you want your neighbors to do about the hedge trimming? When you say “address concerns,” are you asking them for a particular favor, or pointing out that you have a problem and expecting them to solve it?

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If you’re planning an outdoor party, you can certainly work with your neighbors to reserve a quiet day. It’s not wrong to bring up noise concerns, whether the sound is of piano practice or yardwork. But it’s best to be realistic: People have lives to live, even those who reside in thickly settled areas, and life can be a noisy proposition. And you’ll forgive me for doubting your tendency toward absolute realism, given your description. Can your neighbors possibly be getting their hedges trimmed “nearly every weekend” for two full days at a time? It seems to me that if that were so there wouldn’t be any hedge left.

A young woman who is like a niece to me invited me to a celebration of her new marriage and baby. Her mother has been alternately friendly and hostile over the years, and is currently hostile. Although I love this young woman, I am uncomfortable attending because her mother has a very strong personality and is capable of making her (negative) feelings known. I think I cannot attend, but I am wondering how to word my refusal.

J.G. / East Falmouth

Is it possible for you to contact the mother and ask her if she can put her feelings aside for the day, to make the celebration as nice as possible for her daughter? If the young friend in question actually were your niece, this is how you would probably handle a difficult sister. Or could you assume a “strong personality” of your own at the party, even if it isn’t your natural style, and counter any insults with steely courtesy?

I’m not saying you are obligated, understand. And it certainly doesn’t sound like a very fun way to spend an afternoon, being all noble and Barbara Stanwyck-like and never letting your guard down. But you could do it if you wanted. You don’t have to let the Monster of the Bride scare you off.

If you still feel it would be best to abstain, write a note that is kind and utterly noncommittal (“I’m so sorry I won’t be able to attend your celebration. I shall be there in spirit and wish you a joyous day!”).  Don’t offer reasons or excuses. Call your friend after her event and ask if you can treat her to a celebratory lunch or dinner. If she hints around for the reason you couldn’t make it, trust your instincts on how to respond. My hunch is that your young friend will have a good idea of why you didn’t come, but given that she’s got a new family of her own to cope with, she’ll not be particularly interested in stirring that pot.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at missconduct@globe.com. And read her blog at boston.com/missconduct.

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