050 – Help! I have a horrible neighbor-TRANSCRIPT

Neighbors can be great friends, but let’s face it: sometimes they can be absolutely horrible. But what do you do when you’re stuck living next to a neighbor who you just can’t get along with, no matter what you try? In this episode of Better at English, Lori introduces you to the “How To” podcast with Charles Duhigg. It’s a conversational podcast that covers ways to deal with all kinds of life problems, and does so in an entertaining and fun way. And best of all, it has free transcripts that you can use for your English learning. Lori plays some extracts from the conversation, and looks at some of the interesting language.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT
Hi English learners! Lori here, your teacher from betteratenglish.com. So nice that you’re here! Come on in, kick off your shoes, sit back and get ready for some English listening practice.

Today I’m going to play you some bits of conversation from one of my current favorite podcasts. It’s not a special English learning podcast; it’s a podcast for native speakers of English. But if you can follow along with the conversations in my own podcast, you should be able to follow this one as well. Just like I do, they have free transcripts available on their website, so you can use them to support your English learning. I’ve put links to everything in the show notes.

The name of the podcast is “How to with Charles Duhigg”. If the name Charles Duhigg is familiar to you, it could be that you’ve heard of his book “T he Power of Habit.” If you’re an upper-intermediate or advanced learner and you’re interested in psychology, I can highly recommend it. The Power of Habit is one of those books that teaches you something useful and just makes your life better. Charles’s podcast is the same: it’s entertaining, of course, but it also teaches you useful strategies that you can apply in your own life.

“How to” is an interview show, so it’s very conversational. Charles helps people figure out how to deal with difficult or awkward problems. He usually has a co-host who is either a celebrity or some kind of expert.

In the episode called “How to confront a crazy neighbor,” Charles’s co-host is comedian and actor Tig Notaro. Their guest is a woman named Sarah. Sarah is in the middle of a very unpleasant and stressful conflict with her neighbor. Charles and Tig are going to help her figure out what to do. First let’s listen to Sarah giving some background information about her living situation:

“My name is Sarah and I’m a college counselor. I work with high school students who are low income, and I just bought a condo this year. This is the first time I’ve ever owned a house or anything. So that was pretty exciting. It’s a small building, there are just three units in it. So it’s me living on the first floor and then a guy who lives behind me and then a family who lives upstairs.”

Sara mentions that she lives in a condo. Condo is short for condominium. In the US, a condo is like an apartment or flat, but with one big difference. Do you know what it is? Can you guess from what you heard? Listen again:

“I just bought a condo this year. This is the first time I’ve ever owned a house or anything. So that was pretty exciting.“

The key word is bought. Sarah said she bought the condo, not that she rents it. So the difference between a condo and an apartment or flat is that in a condo, you own the space that you live in – the unit. You actually buy it, and you can sell it. But in an apartment you just pay rent every month. You don’t actually own an apartment unit. So buying a condo is a much bigger deal than just renting an apartment because it’s such a big financial investment.

In Sarah’s condo building, there are three living units – it sounds like they are all attached. She shares a common front porch area with the other people who live there.

So you’re probably wondering, “What’s the problem?” Sarah had bought a plant – a fern – to hang on the front porch, but she didn’t ask the other neighbors if it was OK. That was the start of the whole trouble. Let’s listen to what happened. You’ll hear Tig, Sarah and Charles in this little extract.

TIG: …what happened?

SARAH: So one day I got this note in my mailbox from the wife who lives upstairs and it said, “I am done trying to communicate with you. It is clear that you, um, are just going to, like, disregard my feelings and you don’t care about anybody but yourself. So from now on, I am only going to communicate with you through condo meetings.”

Charles: Whoa! Did you have any idea what she was talking…like, this is literally the first…?

Sarah: No.No. So this is what was so wild about it, was that I just got this letter and I had no idea what it was about. And it just said, “I’m anti power trips. Don’t involve my family in this. If you have any frustrations, you need to bring it up in the condo meeting.”

Tig: First of all, when somebody says “I’m anti power trips,” the translation is “I am all about power trips.”

Wow, I don’t know about you, but I would feel pretty upset if I got a note like that from a neighbor. The language is just so confrontational. Did you notice Sarah’s tone of voice as she read the note? She used a very angry tone of voice. She probably imagines that her neighbor felt very angry when she wrote the note.

And what about this:

Tig: First of all, when somebody says “I’m anti power trips,” the translation is “I am all about power trips.”

Power trip. If somebody enjoys controlling other people, or showing that they have power over them, you can say that they’re on a power trip. Or that they’re power tripping. The feeling of having the power to control other people makes them feel good somehow. They often exert their power in inappropriate ways that make other people feel bad.

Let’s go on and see how Sarah feels about this note.

Charles: Sarah, let me ask you this, has this been, has this been bothering you a lot? Like, is this something that that you’ve been thinking about?

Sarah: I mean, at the beginning, it was horrible because, like, I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping well, I was just worrying about it all the time.

Sarah: Like when I first got the letter, I cried. I was just sobbing because I was just like…

Charles: Awww (sympathy)

So the letter made Sarah really upset…it actually made her cry. She uses the word sobbing:

Sarah: Like when I first got the letter, I cried. I was just sobbing

Crying is a general word, but sobbing is a lot more precise. If somebody is sobbing, they are crying very hard, and making a lot of noise. Did you notice how Charles reacted when he heard that the note made Sarah cry?

Sarah: Like when I first got the letter, I cried. I was just sobbing because I was just like…

Charles: Awww (sympathy)

He says, Awww. That’s a sound that shows sympathy. When you’re listening to conversations, you can learn more than vocabulary and grammar. You can also listen for other sounds people make, and things like their intonation. All of these things work together to create meaning.

So let’s think about this situation. Do you think a normal person would write a letter like that? About something as trivial as a plant on the porch? Why was the neighbor so confrontational? The language in the note gives us a clue. Let’s listen to the first part of the note again:

Sarah: It said, “I am done trying to communicate with you…”

I am done trying. What does that suggest?

It sounds like the neighbor has tried to tell Sarah about the problem before. Maybe she left an earlier note that Sarah didn’t see. Maybe even more than one note.

So if the neighbor feels like she’s leaving notes and not getting any response, that could explain why this note is so confrontational.

But let’s think about this. Did the neighbor have the full story? Does Sarah sound to you like somebody who would intentionally ignore a note from a neighbor?

I think you’ll agree with me that the neighbor was making assumptions. An assumption is when you believe something is true or is a certain way, but you don’t have proof. You don’t have good evidence. You just kind of make up a story in your head and fill in the blanks based on the little bit of information that you have.

We haven’t heard all of the details yet, but based on the language of that first note, we can make some of our own assumptions. I suspect that the neighbor had tried to contact Sarah about the plant before. Sarah suspected the same thing. She checked her mailbox and, indeed, found a small note that was hidden in the back. Let’s listen:

Sarah: So it’s this tiny note and it’s it seems like it was stuck in the bottom of my mailbox for a while. And it says, “Sarah, love the garden. It looks great. Just, I’m not too sure about the fern on the front porch. You know, it’s your front porch, but it’s mine, too. And I really think we should communicate better about our common space. Just a thought for the future.”

Notice that the tone of that note is softer than the one we heard first. The neighbor starts with something friendly:

Sarah: Sarah, love the garden. It looks great.

But then she’s still basically complaining:

Sarah: Just, I’m –not too sure about the fern on the front porch.

Saying that you’re not too sure about something can be an indirect way of saying that you don’t like something. In this case, “I’m not sure about the fern” actually means “I don’t like the fern.” But it’s indirect, which makes it seem more polite. Saying things in an indirect way is one of the main ways we try to be polite in English. So to the neighbor’s credit, she at least started off more politely.

So what do you think Sarah did next? What would you do in this situation? Here’s what Sarah did: she sent an apologetic note to the neighbor. The note said “I just saw the note about the fern. I am so sorry. I did not intend to disregard your feelings.” Very soon after this, she got another note from the neighbor. This note said, “Thank you for the kind words. That was very thoughtful. I just think it’s so good for all of us to recognize our boundaries.”

So, then, thinking that the problem is basically solved, Sarah writes another note back to her neighbor, just to be sure. This note says, “Again, I’m really sorry. If you have any other concerns, please just let me know.”

Do you think this is the happy ending of the story? If you do, then I’m sorry, you would be wrong. Let’s listen to what happened next.

Sarah: Almost immediately I get another note like I mean, I think within like an hour, I hear like something and I go outside and there’s a note waiting for me and it’s really short. And it just says, you know, “I got your note about concerns about your garden. Why would I have any concerns? I really do not want to be involved in these little dramas of yours. If you have concerns, bring them up at the condo meeting. But I really do not care what you do.”

Oh dear. I think it’s safe to say that Sarah has a really difficult neighbor. If you listen to the full podcast episode, which I hope you will, you’ll hear a lot more details about the conflict. T o summarize, it got to the point that the neighbor was completely ignoring Sarah. Even when they were together in the laundry room, four feet away from each other, the neighbor would pretend Sarah wasn’t there. And as you can imagine, this made Sarah feel terrible. Let’s listen:

Sarah: Now, like, when I go out to garden, like, I, I get nervous because I think, well, what if I’m doing something wrong that’s going to get her wrath again? What’s going to happen? Is it going to, is it going to escalate? Is it going to be to a point where I can no longer live here happily?

Tig: OK, here is another thing I want to say. I’m sorry to interrupt. I am so fired up about this person interfering with your life…

I can only imagine how stressful that must have been for Sarah. How do you feel when you hear it? Do you feel fired up, just like Tig? If you’re fired up, it means that something is making you feel a really strong emotion. It can be positive emotion, like excitement or enthusiasm. It can also be negative like anger or outrage.

Sarah: “What if I’m doing something wrong that’s gonna get her wrath again?”

Wrath is a word for extreme anger. Sarah is worried that she might accidentally do something that will make her neighbor really angry. And she is worried that the problem might escalate.

Sarah: What’s gonna happen? Is it gonna escalate?

If something escalates, it means that it becomes more serious, more intense, or that it grows more important in some way. In general, only negative things like problems, threats and conflicts escalate. You don’t use escalate to talk about positive things.

So, what would you do if you were in Sarah’s situation?

In the rest of the episode, Charles and Tig give Sarah advice about how to deal with this horrible neighbor. They also help find a more constructive way to cope with this situation emotionally. She can’t change her neighbor. But she can change the way she feels about the situation and how she lets it affect her.

They give her one piece of advice that I really really love. I want to share it with you because I think you can apply it to lots of difficult situations yourself. The advice is this: When you’re in a tough situation and don’t know what to do, picture yourself as the main character in a movie. What could you do next that would make the audience cheer for you? Think of an epic scene from your favorite movie, when a character has to be strong in the face of some incredible challenge. One of my favorite epic scenes is from the movie, the Fellowship of the Ring. Liv Tyler’s character Arwen is on one side of a river with Frodo. The Black riders are on the other side, and they want to take Frodo away from her. So Arwen is alone and totally outnumbered. You know the scene? It’s looking pretty hopeless, but then Arwen sits up tall, and says:

“If you want him, come and claim him.”

And then uses her badass elf magic to cause a flood that sweeps the Black Riders away down the river. Even though that scene wasn’t in the books, it’s my favorite scene from the whole trilogy. It’s something that I try to call to mind whenever I’m feeling small and overwhelmed.

Next time you’re feeling helpless and overwhelmed, I hope you think of your own epic movie scenes, and let them inspire you to rise up and take charge of the situation.

Instead of feeling helpless, and that things just happen to you, see yourself as an actor with agency and choices, who can do things to change the situation. To hear more about this, as well as the other great tips that Charles and Tig have for Sarah, listen to the full “How to” episode. It’s also worth listening to just to hear more about Tig and some of the challenges that she has been through. Believe me, she’s been through plenty, and she found a creative way to deal with things that, well, you just have to hear to believe.

So for some really great, authentic English listening practice, check out out the How to podcast – there are so many compelling episodes there with interesting, entertaining conversations. All with transcripts. So you can be getting in some quality English listening while at the same time learning useful things like, How to find a new career before it’s too late, How to lose 155 pounds happily, How to stop procrastinating, How not to be scared, and even How to survive a shark attack. I know I’ve always wondered about that!

I hope this episode leaves you feeling fired up about improving your English. Listening to for native speakers of English is a great way to get listening practice. Look for podcasts about topics that interest you. You don’t have to understand everything they say. As long as you understand enough so that you can basically follow along and not feel frustrated, you can learn a lot. If there are transcripts, then make good use of them. Listen to the same episode several times, and look up words and phrases that you don’t know. Do this regularly, and I think you’ll be surprised at how much your listening will improve.

That’s it for this time. If I find more interesting or entertaining podcasts in English that come with free transcripts, I’ll be sure to let you know. If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to rate it or leave a review. It’s the best way to help me spread the word about the podcast, and, honestly, nothing gets me as fired up about making podcasts as seeing a new review. Until next time, this is Lori, signing off from the Better at English mothership, wishing you an inspired and productive day. Bye for now.!

LINKS TO SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL

How to with Charles Duhigg podcast

Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, and the author one of my favorite books, a bestseller titles The Power of Habit (Try the audio book summary on Blinkist)

It’s a conversational podcast that features smart people talking about interesting things and tackling tricky problems. You can find it here: https://slate.com/podcasts/how-to

The episode featured in this episode, “How to deal with a Crazy Neighbor,” is here:

https://slate.com/podcasts/how-to/2020/08/comedian-tig-notaro-advice-on-dealing-with-crazy-neighbors

You can find the transcript of the How To podcast here here:

https://slate.com/transcripts/VUJwaTBEVHJ5WGJNQlp6eTUranpUVjdZaFlFdDFRVGprQlA4NTAxR2RsWT0=

How to deal with neighbor harassment

This is an interesting article about how to deal with a neighbor who is harassing you

https://ohmyapt.apartmentratings.com/how-to-deal-with-neighbor-harassment.html

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