Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
An elderly chain-smoking woman lives in the house next door. Her cigarette smoke comes directly into my study. One day I went over to ask if she could stand somewhere else in her huge yard while she smokes. She went ballistic. She repeatedly told me to go back to my country and said I don’t belong here (I am an expat in Malaysia). And she threatened to have her sumo wrestler–looking grandsons come over and mess me up if I say anything again.
Why am I the bad guy for wanting fresh air? I love my rental and don’t want to move (been here 10 months). But she refuses to discuss the issue.
You are not the bad guy, but you are the guy with a neighbor who gets to do whatever she wants, and I think you may be out of luck. I have friends who live on an acre of land in the middle of nowhere and that initially seemed a bit excessive to me, but I guess it really is the only way around the horrors of living near other humans who are entitled to use their space in annoying, inconsiderate ways.
The threat of violence that accompanied your neighbor’s comments doesn’t seem super serious to me—I don’t think her grandsons are actually going to hurt you. In fact, they may actually be the ones you need to negotiate with. I’m making a huge generalization here, but often (not always!) younger people are a little less grouchy and suspicious of perceived outsiders than their grandparents. If that feels true to you based on your interactions with the sumo wrestlers, maybe you could approach one of them—with a neighborly baked good, bottle of wine, or whatever is culturally appropriate in Malaysia in hand—and very nicely ask if he might speak to his grandma about moving her chain-smoking location. She’ll probably take it better coming from him than she would from you.
If that doesn’t work out, it’s time to start looking into moving when your lease is up. After all, you need to be able to breathe while you work. So, in the meantime, close and seal that window (but keep the blinds up so you can glare at her every day).