If you can believe it, I’m not the uptight neighbor in our building. Yes, if someone is playing their music too loud I will politely go to their door, ring their bell, and ask them to turn it down. The last time I did that was September, so it’s been 10 months. Not a regular occurrence. I do grouse about the neighbor who chain-smokes on the patio, but seriously, it’s summer and there’s no air conditioning, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to keep the windows open and not have his smoke blowing in. There’s another resident that wins the award for wanting people to get off his lawn. Like, kind of literally.
But First, Bicycle Culture in Finland
Finland, like most of northern Europe, is a bicycle culture. The only time you won’t see people out riding is when it’s snowing and the plows haven’t started running. It can be 20 below zero, in the middle of the Long Dark, and you’ll see people on bikes. Kids, adults on their way to and from work, old people headed to the market, everyone. All shapes, all sizes, all backgrounds.
Because of this, you will see bikes parked everywhere. There are a lot of designated bike parking areas around stores and apartment buildings. We have an actual bike house, which is a sort of garage-like structure just for people to keep their bikes in. It’s locked up, and lit 24/7 for safety, and you don’t have to worry about your bike getting buried in snow. But that doesn’t keep people from parking pretty much anywhere. Visitors, for example, can’t get into the bike house, so they’ll park near the front door, along the side of the building, anyplace that seems out of the way of pedestrian traffic and cars.
Back is Front is Back
The entrance to our building is in the back. A lot of Finnish buildings do that, even stand-alone homes. The front door isn’t on the street, it’s facing the yard. Homes are built facing the “back yard”. The views are nicer and it makes living quieter. There’s a driveway along the side of our building that allows delivery vehicles, maintenance men, and people moving in and out to get closer to the entrance. This also means that people, usually visitors, will park their bikes there, usually against the side of the building so they’re not in the way.
Okay, one more phenomena that needs to be explained before I get to the point of this story. Because this is a university town, and one with a lot of foreign exchange students, there are tons of abandoned bikes. You’ll find them all over town. A couple of years ago the city put tags on all of the bikes parked downtown, which number in the hundreds, saying that any bike that still had a tag on it in 30 days would be removed. Pretty simple, right? All you need to do it pull the paper tag off to show you’re using the bike. They do that same thing at apartment complexes periodically. They badly need to do so here. The bikes that get removed are refurbished and sold.
Oh, the reason there are so many abandoned bikes is that students will come to town for a semester and buy a cheap used bike to get around. When they leave, rather than sell it or give it away, they just abandon it. Wasteful, right? And the next perosn to come along can’t just take it, because many bikes have built-in locks on the frame, which freeze a wheel or prevent the handlebars from turning. Some are also abandoned because they’re broken, and the student can’t be arsed to repair it. A few are stolen and abandoned.
Get Off His Lawn
So anyway, this uptight neighbor lives on the ground floor. His patio (which has a wall around it) faces the front of the front of the building, and the driveway to the entrance runs next to it. In the front of his patio is a brick-paved area that’s not part of the driveway, and not in the flow of foot traffic. At about 2 meters square, it’s the right size for a couple of bikes. It’s a perfect out-of-the-way place for visitors to park.
This drives the neighbor absolutely mad.
Now, to be clear, the only bikes I’ve seen parked there were standing upright on kickstands. It’s not as if people are leaning the bikes on the outside of his patio wall, which would still be no skin off his nose. It isn’t as if they’re chaining the bikes to his railing or something. People coming and going aren’t congregating outside his patio and making noise. He’s just ur-territorial.
He’s printed and taped up some really ugly paper signs, demanding that no one park their bikes there. Which, culturally, is a huge faux pas. Did I mention that this guy is a foreigner? It really explains a lot. It’s not his patio, it’s not part of his apartment, he has no right to tell people where to park their bikes. The landlord doesn’t care if people park there. I’m sure that if he’s complained to the landlord, they’ve told him so (if my neighbor can sit on his patio and blow cigarette smoke in my windows, I’m sure they don’t care that there are bikes harmlessly parked near his patio).
If This Happens, It Wasn’t Me
What I have been tempted to do is gather up the abandoned bikes around the complex. We know which ones are abandoned, because we watched them get buried in snow last winter, and saw them reappear during the spring thaw, and to this day they’re still in the same places. I want to park them all around his patio, in defiance of his signs. Maybe add a new one every day. See if he moves them — which, not knowing they’re abandoned, is beyond a social faux pas here. I expect that his reaction will be to post more signs. It could be a fun little game for a while.