Miss Conduct

Advice: How do we politely tell our nosy neighbors to buzz off?

The people next door wander over and interrupt our yard work — and even ask the contractor what we’re up to.

Submit questions for Miss Conduct here.

My husband and I moved to a “fixer-upper” a few months ago. We have neighbors who wander into our yard, ask a ton of questions, and don’t leave! When my husband does yardwork he has to expect being interrupted for at least 20 minutes. Recently, they tried to talk to our contractor about what we are doing. How do we tell them to buzz off without being rude?

C.R. / Boston

Your choices are not either to be perpetually at the disposal of other people or to be rude. Please don’t make that mistake! (Especially if you have kids, you need to teach them the difference.) Your neighbors are the ill-mannered ones. Being outdoors does not mean a person is available for endless conversation.


If not for the contractor, I’d recommend a slower behavioral reconditioning. But as his current employer, it’s your responsibility to provide good working conditions, such as protection from awkward situations and having his time wasted.

Visit the neighbors (call first to see if it is a good time to come over — model that good behavior!) and ask them to please not distract your contractor. And while they’re at it, honestly, you’re so busy these days it would be better if they called you, too, before dropping by. You should have mentioned it before, so they mustn’t feel bad! If this reasonable request upsets them, well, you can’t control that, and at least they’ll leave you alone.

Having had this conversation, you can more easily cut off conversations before they start: “Parker! Hey buddy. Now’s no good, catch you later!” Keep your voice cheerful, slightly louder than normal, and stay in motion at all times.

Don’t freeze them out entirely, if you can help it. Instead, take control of your interactions — initiate contact with them occasionally, ask them for advice or practical help. (They might just love it if your husband handed them the hedge clippers and asked them to give him a hand.)


Tell your contractor that if they come over again he can tell them he doesn’t discuss his clients’ projects and needs to return to the job he is being paid for. If the neighbors get angry, you’ve got his back. And ask his advice on privacy fences with sturdy locks. I guarantee he’s seen your problem before.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology. Send questions to missconduct@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter@BostonGlobeMag.