Old-fashioned community stops the fear

Emilia and her whole family helping me make the woodstore for winter

A big factor in loneliness is fear – fear that we can’t cope, that we’re on our own when facing problems, that we’ve got no-one to help us.

Here in my Transylvanian village, that just doesn’t apply. My neighbour Emilia struggled up twice through the thigh-deep snow this morning – once to bring my litre of fresh raw milk she’d just extracted from Joiana the cow, and again to bring me a warm plate of chicken and mashed potato for lunch. She said again that if I needed Ionut (her 20 yr old son, all muscle and kindness) to help me with anything, just to give her a ring. Roxana, up the hill, said the same. ‘You have neighbours,’ she said, reminding me that I had no need to worry about anything.

Emilia asked if I had enough bread – we haven’t been able to get down to the shops for ten days, and it’ll be another week at least before the road is vaguely passable. I said I should be able to make bread, but my cold hands are better for pastry – my bread ends up flat or solid. ‘I’ll help you!’ she said. ‘Just ring. I’ll help with anything.’

Neighbours – vecini – are very important in villages like this, as they used to be in England when I was a child. When you have less, and it’s difficult to get more, you understand the need to help and share without being told. It’s part of the ethos here, and it’s a really heart-warming change from urban Britain, where you can go for years without speaking to near neighbours, and can die alone, unmissed.

That would never happen here – people come in and bring post, bring food, bring gossip, bring help. So the cats wouldn’t have time to start gnawing my ankles if I did keel over…

Why do you think more affluent countries have all but lost this culture? Relative affluence is certainly one factor, as is mobility – we can jump in the car and nip off wherever – so we have become independent with not so much need to co-operate, share and look out for each other. What else are we missing in Britain (and elsewhere) that has made the difference?

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6 comments on “Old-fashioned community stops the fear

  1. I wish you could tell this to my Mother – Accept help! I think TRUST is missing in Britain. We have made to feel fearful and cautious in approaching strangers. Common courtesy is generally lacking. No one has TIME any more, they say – too many gadgets and distractions. Too busy being plugged in to headsets to be able to stop and chat. But as you say,
    it’s an urban problem in the main. Would be great if we lost utilities for a while. And don’t they say that in WW2 people were never kinder to each other. Wait for a disaster to get to know your neighbours!!

    • Janet – thanks for commenting – our mothers’ generation (my mum would have been 90 now) had self-sufficiency and modesty burned into them, and the idea of accepting help, let alone asking for it, was almost anathema. Try the emotional blackmail line of ‘hurt people’s feelings when you spurn their help’ and see what happens!

  2. They are, Caroline, and it’s good to hear. You must be easy to help – charming and gracious – if people rush to you. Most people like to help, but maybe these days they are nervous of offering in case they’re rebuffed. It took me decades to realise that rejecting kind offers of help was a) ungracious and b) hurtful. I used to be bloody-mindedly independent to the point of being ticked off about it. These days I not only accept help when offered, but ask for it. Now I love it!

  3. You’ve said it all in that last paragraph. If I didn’t have my children – in particular my eldest son – I wouldn’t be able to ask anyone for help. I very occasionally say hello to my next door neighbours (other half of a semi) and nod to a couple of others, but that’s it. I wonder if, when the double dip recession bites and we all have to switch off our heating and stop using our cars, we’ll start being more neighbourly again?

    • budgeot says:

      Actually, I find that people everywhere are very helpful where they see a need – last time I went to London I had six complete strangers offer help with my wheelchair and yesterday, in my local town, I had a shop assistant and the manager of Boots rushing to fetch me a chair and to clear a path for me, then had two separate people plus one whole family volunteer help. People are truly lovely when they feel they can help…

    • Thanks for your comment, Lesley. Quite right! Living in a block of flats in London, I only ever got to know one neighbour, and that was because she came to the door as I was moving in, and offered whisky, or cake, or something jolly. I would never have imposed myself on her… We need a resurgence of Blitz / Dunkirk spirit for the 21st century. Roll on austerity.

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