In this almost post-COVID world that contains both a lot of outdoor entertaining and an increasing amount of summertime heat, what are the best practices for staying comfortable and respecting other people outside? For example, can I sit in front of someone else’s house to get more shade? Can I have my friends sit on a neighbor’s stoop to visit with me outdoors? How much noise from an outdoor party is acceptable?
As a non-native Philadelphian, I am not qualified to speak to the finer points of the ethics of stoop sitting. However, as someone who has had the vast majority of my human interactions outdoors over the past year, I have some ideas. And as hard as it is to reacclimate to other people and being part of society and navigating social experiences, the most important standard to keep in mind is whether the people you’re interacting with and impacting are comfortable with your choices.
Generally, sitting in front of someone else’s house won’t be your best plan. Unless you have an agreed upon arrangement with that homeowner/resident, they might want to use their own shade, they may be distracted by hearing other people’s voices outside their door and, whether we’re talking about rowhomes or suburban lawns, having anyone hanging out near your home uninvited can be unsettling and intrusive. Instead, plan to set up some shade outside your own door, or arrange your visits for a cooler or shadier time of day.
Rather than having friends sit on neighbors’ stoops, consider getting some folding chairs or a simple bench to keep in front of your own home. Depending on how organized these visits are, you can encourage friends to bring a camping chair or similar. Occasionally, stopping on a neighbor’s stoop may be fine, but it shouldn’t be the entirety of your entertaining plan, and you should be prepared to switch gears quickly and apologetically if the neighbor comes home or asks you to move. If you’re offering your friends any food or drink, plan to offer it to neighbors as well, as a good will offering for any inconvenience you’re causing them.
Be respectful; really, that’s what matters. Whether you’re the one hosting the party or the one being bothered by noise, find ways to communicate with your neighbors with respect and with the understanding that everyone is managing their re-emerging social life in different ways. If you’re hosting, consider giving your neighbors a heads-up and let them know how to reach you if the noise gets out of hand. You should also work with your guests to limit the noise, especially after dark. If you’re the one bothered by the noise of an outdoor gathering, invest in white noise machines and cultivate your own patience.
None of these issues are actually pandemic-specific, though outdoor entertaining certainly is having its heyday. Use your questions as a motivation to connect with your neighbors and to assess your own priorities and tolerance for discomfort — whether that be sitting in the sun, hearing someone else’s party or having a difficult conversation with a neighbor. Try to be grateful that we are even able to ask these questions this year, and try to be understanding that everyone is approaching this moment the best they can.