When we moved to Westport a year ago, an area known for its prosperity and many “stay-at-home wives,” several people wondered if our new neighborhood would be similar to the 1990s’ “Desperate Housewives” series. I was excited myself, and a little anxious about what I would experience.
Various factors made us choose to settle in this affluent city of Westport in Connecticut, a beautiful place on the eastern coast of the United States. The neighborhood we ended up in was more random.
The only advice before we tried to find a place to live came from Aunt Tove. She is married to our American Uncle Pat. Her whole family lives in Minnesota. “Just keep away from the areas where the most wealthy people live. These people, in their huge houses and gardens, have usually enough with themselves,” she told us.
The other day, a Spanish friend and expat told me, “Many people in Westport do not have neighborhoods, at least no knowledge or ties to their immediate surroundings. They hardly know their closest neighbor. We only know one neighbor because we have children at the same age.”
I usually describe the big houses of Westport as “castles ” and “mansions.” Several of these homes are amazingly beautiful, but when some of them are hidden behind tall fences or hedges, or are far from the road, it is not easy to create the unpretentious, random and often good contact with neighbors. Many of these large homes are on busy roads without pedestrian areas too. It is difficult to meet neighbors while driving back and forth to your garage, which is part of your main house.
An English girlfriend knows only 2 of her closest neighbors. They had to introduce themselves because there were trees they wanted to chop between the gardens. “We have been invited to a party once,” she said. “That was nice. Despite that, we never see any of our neighbors.”
There are some close neighborhood in Westport: those living near the sea, places with little traffic and where the distance between the houses is not too big. It also means a lot if homes have a common meeting point, such as a beach, playground, etc. If you can walk along the road in the neighborhood, you are also more able to chat with others. I often talk to other dog owners when I go for a walk in our neighborhood. My English girlfriend, on the other hand, cannot walk in her neighborhood because there are no sidewalks. She must play with the dog in her own garden, or drive elsewhere.
Camilla’s friends and neighbors.
The neighborhood we ended up living in was picked by coincidence. The house seemed nice, the rental price was within our budget, it had enough room for a family of 5, and seemed to be in a quiet, beautiful area with hiking opportunities not far from the sea. The meeting with an older woman on a bike, originally from the Netherlands, also meant a lot.
This Dutch woman had lived in Westport for 20 years. When I explained that we had the choice of moving to Darien or Westport, she gave a very convincing answer: “Westport is the best place, no doubt about it. It is lovely with all kinds of people, from artists to people working in investment banks. It is a very diverse community with a lot of nice, open minded people.
Now, one year after moving to this little neighborhood on the coast of Long Island Sound, I admit we have been very lucky with both the choice of Westport and our neighborhood. Even if the houses and gardens are smaller here near the sea (much more expensive per square meter due to the location) and there are fewer pools and tennis courts (sounds wild and maybe a bit disgusting, but I am not complaining about it!), it is wonderfully cozy.
A cozy neighborhood.
Neighbors gather on the beaches or at each other’s house. There are barbecues, we share some wine, people invite you for coffee and we all enjoy a more relaxing life, especially during the summer. The kids cycle or run between the houses, play basketball in the driveways, kayak, paddle board, and go out boating. It all reminds me a little of the life we lived back in Norway.
I like to chat with someone jogging or passing by, and with the mothers who each day follow their children to the school bus. Some nice neighbors invited us for lunch, and we`ve been drinking wine and coffee at someone else’s house. My husband has been taught how to play paddle tennis by one, and we have made some of our best American friends not far from here. We do not have family here, so these people are important for our well-being in our new country.
What I like about Westport in general, and our neighborhood in particular, is that people of all ages with different backgrounds live here. There is a stand-up comedian, a talented musician and producer, a wonderful lawyer couple, and many “stay-at-home moms” like myself. Even Olaf lives here. He is a charming Norwegian who started to work here several years ago, married a beautiful American woman and never returns to Norway except on holidays.
For creating a good neighborhood and communities, you need engaged and enthusiastic people. We find them all over the world, including here. These are people who take initiative to create and maintain traditions to meet. They care about the community and their neighbors.
In our neighborhood people open their houses so all – old and young, veterans and newcomers – can meet for a Christmas party, etc. Everybody brings something. We also meet on our little local beach to greet the summer, and were recently at our very first clambake, with whole lobsters, corn and other delicious food. We also saw photo albums that showed how our little “Association” has developed over the years. Fun!
It was a real nice clambake.
Aunt Tove was right that it is easier if you move to an area where people live closer to each other, and not high fences between the gardens. Whether people are rich or not has nothing to do with their kindness as neighbors, unless they choose to hide in their own home and garden.
What makes a good neighborhood is the people. Here, the people are accommodating and kind. I have so far not found any intrigues like in “Desperate Housewives” (in Norway called “Frustrated Housewives”). I have not seen a handsome “pool guy” like the one in this series either. Unfortunately, some would say. But without a pool, how can you have a pool guy?
Of course, I have to admit I am often frustrated –- whether because of the political debate and governance of this country, or being a stay-at-home mum with all those duties, and what that life lacks at times.
It is natural to be frustrated sometimes – both for you back in Norway, and for us here in Westport and in the rest of the US. On the other hand, I do not think most of us are desperate, as the English title of the series indicates. At least not that I am aware of, and at least not for now.
(Click here to read and subscribe to CamillaBlogg.com)