Etiquette: Nosy neighbor’s questions don’t deserve answers

Q. My mother has always been a very private person. She rarely discusses anything personal about herself with her immediate family, much less others. That goes for her religious beliefs, her political views and especially her health. We kids have always respected her desire to remain private about those subjects.

She has not been feeling well the last several months and one recent day when I went to pick her up and take her to another doctor’s appointment, the neighbor next door happened to be in her front yard and literally dashed over to say hello to me. Then she asked me how my mother was and that she hadn’t see her outside working in her flowers very much this spring. She also said she had seen me come a lot more often to see her and take her in my car. Was she sick?

She caught me off guard and I told her Mom had been a little under the weather but nothing to worry about. She then went on to ask me more questions about what specifically was wrong with her. She also said she would be checking in on my Mom in the days ahead. I cringed. Just what my mother would not want. I again told her it was really nothing; that she would be fine. I thanked her for being concerned, but added that it would not be necessary for her to check in on my mother. She again came back at me with “What is wrong with her?”

I excused myself at that point and went inside to get my mother. The neighbor must have been watching for us when we got back, because she jaunted out of her house and came over as we were walking up the sidewalk. She almost yelled to catch us with “What did the doctor say?” “She’s fine,” I said, and we went into the house. My mother was upset and so was I because I think the neighbor at this point was rude and nosy. What’s you opinion? What do I say to her the next time I am at my Mom’s and she tries to corner me with questions that are none of her business?

A. Yes, I agree. Your mother’s neighbor surpassed the point of being just neighborly and friendly. Repeated and specific questions to anyone about her personal health or about someone else’s health are inappropriate and rude. While it is good to have friendly and nice neighbors, this neighbor was being nosy.

Next time she approaches you with more personal questions, simply thank her for asking and tell her she is doing fine. Repeat the same statement a second time, if necessary, and then excuse yourself from the conversation.

Comment from a retired teacher regarding last week’s column: I read your advice to the eighth-grade graduate and agree that thank-yous should be written. However, I cannot imagine that her teacher really told her that writing notes was not necessary. That is contrary to the many areas of what teachers do as professionals.

A. Thank you for your comment and for reading my column. All I can tell you is, I provided the question in the exact words received.

Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Patrick Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to