Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I are renting a nice home in an upscale neighborhood outside Washington, D. C. Since moving in, at least a dozen neighbors have approached us with the off-putting welcome of “So, you are renting this house?”
We both find the question to be rather forward and rude.
Without knowing our reason for renting, it puts us on the defensive for not being “able” to buy a home, when, in fact, we are more than able to; we just choose not to in this current market.
Could you help us with an appropriate comeback that lets them know that yes, we are renters, but that in no way makes us second-class citizens and we don’t appreciate having to defend our status?
Gentle Reader: Don’t you want to get the curtains up before you start sparring with the neighbors?
Miss Manners is not at all sure that you have any cause. She has no tolerance for pure nosiness, real estate or otherwise, but surely you understand that neighbors have a legitimate interest in what is going on in the neighborhood. Maybe they hate your landlords and hope they are gone for good. Maybe they like you and are hoping you are there to stay. Maybe they also rent.
Besides, don’t you know that nowadays, seeming rich is considered more offensive than seeming poor?
Everything about this is really weird. If this woman was trying to make her neighbors look intrusive and boorish, she didn't inject nearly enough drama into her rendering of their question. Although the details of their finances are of course private, and should be, whether a house in a neighborhood is owned by you or someone else is not. And an "upscale" neighborhood seems especially likely to be conscious of these details. Aren't property holdings public information? Maybe not (I invite any of my readers with knowledge about information policy to weigh in).
Even without digging into local records, the neighbors have probably seen the "for rent" in front of the house, or knew the previous renters.....there are so many clues that make "Are you renting this house?" a perfectly reasonable question to ask.
Not to mention that, according to this writer, the question is not "Why are you renting?" but simply "Are you renting?" They are. Why does that require offering any explanation at all?
I think it's fair to say that when someone reacts to an innocuous question this way, it's usually because THEY have a problem with the situation being asked about--not that the inquirer does. Perhaps her husband made the call that "this market" was not the time to buy a house and she disagrees, or perhaps she's bitter about paying out years of rent in a particularly pricey neighborhood if they want to be prepared to buy a few years down the road. Or maybe it's just a neighborhood attitude thing--perhaps she expected the residents of this neighborhood to be snooty and look down on her, so that's what she's seeing. Or maybe she's new to big cities where many "first class" citizens rent their entire lives.
There could be countless reasons....but whatever the issue is, it seems to lie with the renter, not her new neighbors.
Maybe she should fill her house with really expensive furniture and throw a fancy party, so they'll all understand that, whatever her situation, it's NOT because of the money. At least not her own.