Ask the Grumpies: I moved into a rich subdivision and my neighbors gave me way too much

Moved to the Southern US asks:

My husband and I (immigrants from [an Asian country]) have done very well for ourselves lately, and after living in a 2200 sq ft house in a standard subdivision with mostly people affiliated with the local university, we saved up and built our own house where the minimum allowed house size is 3,500 sq feet and there are plenty of trees and lots of land between houses.  Lot sizes are big.  According our HOA, we could have horses if we wanted, but nobody does.  On one side of us lives a surgeon and his younger SAHM wife with their two children (neither of whom are close to my children’s ages).  On the other side are a couple of older lawyers (we think) whose children are grown (we think).

We moved here mid-September, so this is our first holiday season here.

Recently the SAHM gave us an enormous box of homemade cookies.  Along with the box she provided a holiday card and a lengthy very personal holiday letter with pictures and information about their “magical” summer vacation.  There were also a lot of bible verses.

The cookies were, sadly, not very good.  Neither my toddler nor my growing pre-teen ate more than one, which is saying something.  (Our builder also gave us a tin of cookies as a holiday gift, but there were a lot fewer cookies and they were good!)  We ended up throwing them out and sending a thank-you note.  My DH initially wanted to invite the family over for tea, but thought better of it.  We thought about reciprocating, but… it seemed weird and we don’t want to encourage such gifts.

This morning [a Saturday] around 7am while we were all still in bed, we got a knock on the door and it was our other neighbor, the lawyer husband, with a box from honeybaked ham for us.  My husband groggily thanked him and took it inside.  When we opened it later, it had an entire ham in it with a price tag for almost $60(!) along with a Christmas card saying, “Hello neighbor, have a wonderful Christmas!” with the word “Christmas” underlined twice.  I’ve never met the lawyer couple and know very little about them.  My husband has not talked with either of them much either.  (We’d at least seen the cookie neighbor around the neighborhood while walking our dog, though we couldn’t tell you the names of her kids.)

Is this normal?  Do we write a thank-you note?  Are we expected to reciprocate in kind?  I don’t want to spend $60 on someone whose name I don’t even know.

We are Christian and we do like ham, so we will be eating it, but we would still have preferred not to have gotten this gift.

That definitely sounds WEIRD!  It is so tacky to leave a price tag on a gift!  What is up with that?

And who gives a HAM?  And who gives a ham 4 days before Christmas?  I may be biased a bit because I don’t like ham and we’re about to leave to visit relatives (and there is usually a lot of ham at Christmas dinner but without pineapple which is the only thing I like about baked ham so I can’t imagine coming back to an entire ham after that).  There’s so many people who can’t eat ham, not just for religious or vegetarian reasons, but also for reasons of cholesterol and salt content.  That’s just so WEIRD.  (Also, not a fan of Honeybaked ham– they somehow seem even saltier than normal.)

Let’s assume that there’s nothing overtly racist about either of these neighbors, they just can’t imagine a world where anybody wouldn’t be Christian.  It’s just easier to live that way.

I find people over the age of 25 who proselytize to not be very interesting to talk with, so I think not having tea and just sending a thank-you note was the right call there.  (My students often outgrow the proselytizing as they meet more new people–it’s just how they were raised.)

My guess with the holiday letter and cookies is that they had a bunch leftover from their friends and family giving and decided the neighbors would get the overflow.  Possibly she went to a cookie party (where people make and trade huge batches of cookies), though if that were the case *some* of the cookies would have been good because they’d have been made by other people.  So you got the letter because she had some extras printed out, not because she really wants you to know about her vacation.

As for the ham… I was completely mystified about that too until I talked with one of my friends who knows more rich people than I do.  (Technically we know a lot of Silicon Valley rich people, but Northern California rich is a lot more like upper middle class most places, and most of them are only first generation rich because of the dot com boom.)  She said he’s probably giving said hams to everyone on his list without really thinking about it.  $60 seems like a lot to most of us, but it’s like that arrested development clip with the banana.  They don’t see it as extravagant because they can’t.

Image result for how much does a banana cost meme

[This, grumpy nation, is but one reason that we need higher marginal tax rates.  Wealthy people should not be gifting each other bad hams!  What a waste!  (Personally, I’d try to give it to our local food pantry, but I don’t know they’d even accept it and they’re impossible to get on the phone.)]

So, Moved to the Southern US, eat the ham as you wish and write a thank you note as you did with the cookies.  Either they’re giving you outsized gifts because you’re new to the neighborhood and they’ll scale down next year, or these gifts are such a small part of their lawyerly budget that it just doesn’t seem over the top (and maybe you’ll just come to expect your annual ham until it’s time to move to a nursing home).  Send a thank you card and move on.  You do not need to reciprocate!

Makes me glad that the only gifts we get from our neighbors are the occasional much appreciated overflow summer tomatoes!  Oh, and when DC1 was little a number of our neighbors used us as an opportunity to get rid of outgrown toys and clothes, which was also appreciated.  Also, several years ago we did get into a banana bread war with one of our neighbors– she ran into DH doing yardwork one evening and they got talking and she mentioned she had lots of extra bananas from her work and somehow that ended up with him getting a bunch of very ripe bananas, which he turned into several loaves of banana bread.  So he gave one to their family…  And then she gave us another loaf of banana bread in return.  At which point I’m fairly sure we realized we needed to stop, but it might have gone another round.

Grumpy nation– Do you get holiday (or other) gifts from your neighbors?  Have you ever lived in an upper-class neighborhood and is it different from where those who barely qualify as having mcmansions live?  Do you know rich people and do they give you hams?


15 Responses to “Ask the Grumpies: I moved into a rich subdivision and my neighbors gave me way too much”

  1. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    I think the most expensive thing I have ever given to a neighbor in my nearly thirty years of being was some fudge from the cape (which was like $10 a bar and we gave our downstairs neighbors two). But that stuff is good and not a ham. I cannot imagine someone giving me a ham.

  2. Leigh Says:

    This is all so weird, LW! I would just write a thank you note and move on. Or not so as to not encourage this. I am worried they underlined Christmas so much because they want to make sure you are celebrating Christmas instead of some other holiday they don’t approve of, which is just awful.

    We live in an upper class neighborhood but it’s in the city not in the large suburban sprawls. I feel like so far our neighbors mostly just ignore each other except to rant about the builder. My friends have all either bought houses in standard suburban sprawl or upper class city neighborhoods, but no one in the upper class HOA sprawls. The standard suburban sprawl people all seem to have very friendly neighbors and I prefer our polite ignoring ones.

  3. Xin Says:

    Well that is just bizarre. Outside of when I’ve been in school and living in student housing, I’ve never really lived anywhere where people ever really spoke to their neighbors. Polite ignoring is the rule of the day when it comes to where I grew up in the California Bay Area, and also in the apartment buildings I’ve lived in in NYC.

  4. Michael N Nitabach Says:

    One of the great things abt living in NYC is neighborly convention is to be polite & exchange pleasantries when you bump into one another, but otherwise to maintain absolute boundaries of non-interaction. The sole annual exception is Halloween, when people give candy to neighborhood/apartment building children trick-or-treating.

  5. Debbie M Says:

    I don’t get gifts from my neighbors, I’ve never lived in an upper-class neighborhood, and most of the rich people I know have known me since our grad school days and respect the different path I’ve taken.

    I will say that southerners, perhaps especially stay-at-home ladies, seem above-average likely to have traditional notions of what’s considered polite. That were perhaps whipped into them when they were young. I have two (working) southern lady friends who are always sending me flowers and cards for things. (Sometimes I get around to sending them thank-you cards. Mostly I just feel guilty.)

    I’m with the questioner finding it easier to assume the best–these neighbors are clueless about things like different religions, cultures, food preferences, and probably global warming. They are underlining Christmas because they are exciting about the holidays. They send you the same Christmas letter they’ve composed for their friends and relatives. Since they don’t know you, whatever they’re doing can’t be about you, but is about them. My best advice is to figure out a way to get a mentor from someone who gets this subculture. I don’t have the social skills to know how to do this, but if you notice clicking with anyone, you might pursue that route.

    Also, I will say that if you know how to make delicious baked goods, these are perceived as just as worthy as expensive gifts (because they cost time, which many rich people don’t have, and because they are not available in stores and are therefore special). Although, if you give cookies that are actually delicious to the cookie neighbors, they might feel snubbed?

    These are disturbing and unsettling behaviors, but at least they don’t sound dangerous. Some people are in neighborhoods with drive-by shootings. Some people in the apartments behind my back fence used to throw their used condoms over the fence into my yard (doesn’t sound very romantic for them! yikes!). Hang in there!

  6. Solitary Diner Says:

    I’m a little saddened by this post and this thread. I actually think it’s kind of wonderful to have neighbours who you interact with in some sense; for me, it fosters a sense of community and connection. I live in an apartment building, which limits that to a great extent, but we do have a lot of dog owners, and I’ll often hang out with them (read: their dogs) in the lobby in the evening when they all gather after the evening walk to let their dogs play together. I don’t currently have any neighbours who are into gift giving, but a few years ago there was an elderly woman who knit my gf and I the most hideous hats, and it was kind of wonderful and horrible at the same time.

    Anyway…I do like the idea of neighbours reaching out to each other, even if it’s sometimes awkward and overly salty. I agree that a $60 ham probably doesn’t feel like anything to the lawyer neighbours; I personally have lost most sense of the value of money since I started working as a physician. I would personally send a thank you note but not feel obligated to reciprocate.

    (Of course, none of this applies if the neighbours are assholes trying to subtly force their religious beliefs on the person…)

  7. First Gen American Says:

    I guess I am the outlier here. I bake 14 varieties of cookies for my customers. It’s a one weekend marathon of baking. The overflow goes to my neighbors and other folks….but I know these neighbors well and my cookies are good. I don’t need or want anything in return and most people don’t reciprocate and I am fine with that. They just know I like to cook and I share food a lot. They’ll share plants and other things though…and it’s nice being part of such a community.

    When we first moved to our neighborhood, my son and I rode a wagon around and delivered eggs from our chickens to our neighbors and introduced ourselves. Partly self serving so no one complained about the chickens but a realtor lady who lived close by also introduced us to most of the gang.

    I also gave a gift basket of garden vegetables and stuff to our new neighbors as a welcome thing.

    My other neighbor said he got a $200 gift card from his super rich neighbor when they moved in and they thought that was weird. The uber rich people on our street don’t usually hang out with the smaller house people, though. That was the only interaction they had with that neighbor.

    So in summary, in the affluent neighborhood I live in, it’s quite common to offer a welcome to the neighborhood gift. People kept to themselves in our middle class neighborhood and were much more distant. I think it’s partly because the rich neighborhood now is filled with retired or mostly retired folks so they have a lot more time to be social. Middle class people are too busy working to do that stuff.

    A ham is an odd choice though…my theory is he got it for free from work or as a gift from a client and he’s just regifting it and probably didn’t realize the price was on it. I suspect the cookie thing may be the same. I have one person who used to give me their failed cooking experiments because they feel bad throwing stuff away…and that is kinda tacky to think it’s not good enough for them but we’d probably eat it. We did buy the worst house on the street and do a lot of work ourselves so I think some people assumed we were poor at first…or poorer than them anyway.

    My stance is, don’t reciprocate unless you want to. It’ll take some time to understand your neighborhood but eventually, you’ll know what to do and the reasons behind things.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Regifting a client gift makes so much sense! Maybe he got multiple hams this season and is getting rid of the excess.

    • Calee Says:

      Lawyers can get tons of gifts at Christmas time. My dad would bring home the stuff we liked (Harry and David pears) and disperse the rest among his staff. But if you have 5 meetings a day and each one brings something, it really adds up. If both spouses are client-facing attorneys, there could be an avalanche of corporate gifts waiting for a home.

      That said, if gifting is your new neighborhood tradition, think about something small and unique you can have on hand to hand out next year.

  8. Ewan Says:

    This thread made me (re-)realise how happy I am with our neighbours :-). On the small NY cul-de-sac there are 9 houses including ours: one is the neighbourhood grandparents (massively right-wing and evangelical, but individually delightful and able to take being teased about the biannual socialist firework displays I put on); three families that are some of our closest friends; two families that are vague acquaintances; and two that we say hi to (and occasionally interact with) but who basically keep to themselves. 16 kids from age 17 down, and our climber has had that many on it at one time.

    None of us do any form of gifts, but a lot of sharing beer, dinners, and kid stuff :)

  9. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    This is the closest to an upperclass neighborhood we’ve been in but we’ve visited a friend or two in some of those Rich People neighborhoods. It feels like a very different world!

    I have gifted our neighbors plates of cookies occasionally, to thank them for helping us out, but I only gift to the neighbors who are friendly and we have already spoken to. I feel weird about giving cookery to people I’ve never spoken to because maybe they’ll think my cooking sucks and / or they don’t want them or can’t have them. I can’t have cookies, after all!

    We have actually been given a ham once from someone we knew. I love ham but it was so outrageously large I didn’t know how to cope with it. It must have been 35 lbs, it was larger than turkeys we have served for Thanksgiving! In hindsight, I should have baked it and hacked it apart to freeze in sections but I’m not even sure we had that much freezer space and I was kind of too intimidated to try tackling it.

    I have real trouble not reciprocating gifts, I need to keep hearing that it’s ok to just say thank you and move on.

    I did have a strange encounter with a Christian person who isn’t a neighbor but works in the neighborhood who was trying to evangelize at me and wanted to persuade me to start listening to Christian radio. I found it a bit annoying that she kept pressing ME to learn about other religions (and I have!) when she hadn’t done so herself so clearly doesn’t practice what she preaches.

    I’d like to be part of a community but not if there’s a religious component to it. And I’m extra shy of having interactions with neighbors after our terrible horrible very bad neighbor seemed like a quirky but harmless grump for years and then turned on us with the death threats and all that stuff.

  10. Just a little (link) love: I tried, boss edition « A Gai Shan Life Says:

    […] This neighbor gifted ham is kind of funny, though it brings back memories of the ham that bested me. Do you and your neighbors give gifts to each other? […]

  11. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Moved sent an update– no ham this year (so far!), and she sent a box of chocolates in return along with the thank-you note last year.

    Also apparently there were Trump signs ALL OVER her neighborhood and no Biden signs (and she was afraid to put up a Biden sign).

  12. Link Love | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] Moved sent an update— no ham this year (…yet)! […]

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