Guest post: The Case of the Mocked Meows (Reader question #100)

Bead in a box
I'm in a box!

My good friend Major Mishap kindly took on this question about a loud cat and the neighbors who mock it.  I am mostly excited to have an excuse to spam you all with photos of my cat, who I think you’ll agree, is the world’s cutest animal.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I guess I’m apparently the most annoying neighbor ever, because this is the second time that I have to deal with something like this.

Just yesterday, I was walking up my apartment building’s stairwell when I heard what could only be mimicry of me and my cat coming from the apartment directly below mine.  My cat has a very distinctive and easily mimicked meow, and I’m certain that the neighbor was mocking various things that I usually say to her when I walk in the door every day.  My boyfriend had also preceded me up the stairs, so I’m sure the neighbor heard him up there, assumed I was with him, and was probably anticipating my normal greeting.

I am by no means a noisy or shitty neighbor, and my cat is only loud when I get home and at feeding times, but this is a problem I dealt with once before where a previous downstairs neighbor started periodically mimicking my calling to my cat.  My response was to pretty much stop speaking in my apartment at anything above a whisper, but he still progressed to frequently mimicking her meow and then mimicking my laughter, which he rarely would have heard.  That was the last straw, and I confronted him about the passive-aggressiveness.  I told him that, if he had a problem with me, he should tell me to my face.  He denied mocking me and refused to tell me what, if anything, I was doing to piss him off.  The next day, I overheard him complaining to the apartment manager about my cat, which she dismissed as something outside of her and my control.  The mimicry did at least stop until the day he moved out.

So now it’s two years later, I’m living in a new building on the other side of town, and I’m dealing with this crap again.  It’s been my experience that passive-aggressive people like this hate being called out on it.  In my dealings with my former neighbor and others, I’ve found that they will not own up to the behavior, although calling them out on it can sometimes make it stop.  Do you have any suggestions above and beyond what I did last time?  I really don’t want to deal with this at all, but I also can’t live in another hostile situation again.

Thank you so much in advance.

-Cat Fancy

Dear Cat Fancy,

I suspected that answering questions for an advice column was going to be difficult. I was correct; your email is a doozy. But Major Mishap is into challenges and so I will do what I must to deconstruct the problems at hand here.

Honey, I am on your side. Let’s face this stuff together:

1. You live in a community but you think that your neighbors aren’t going to be assholes. Major Mishap moved last year. Why? There were many reasons, but chief among them were my neighbors. Their list of attributes included yelling at me from their porch every time I went outside and I do mean every time; walking in my house when I accidentally left my door unlocked to ask for a ride to the store/cup of milk/to borrow my dryer; getting offended when I built a privacy fence (“what, you don’t want to see my anymore?”), and so on. Why did prehistoric man scatter to the four corners of the earth? Because everyone else is annoying and getting far away from them is the only remedy. You can probably see the problems inherent in the hermit’s life, though.

It's a trap. IT'S A TRAP!

2. You expect privacy when you and your cat aren’t offering any. Just last week Major Mishap visited a friend, and as I walked into the house I heard a disturbing scream from what I thought was an infant. This concerned me. When my friend opened the door it was the first thing I asked about. My friend was obviously quite irritated when he replied that it was the neighbor’s tropical bird, oh how much he hated that bird. The thing I want to say is that even though your cat is inside and, seriously, it’s just a cat meowing every now and then, who would ever have a problem with that? It’s just a cat! Some people are so sensitive!

Except it’s not just that. It’s a loud noise that has found its way through the walls and into someone’s ear canal. It’s a loud noise produced by your cat. It’s a noise that cannot be stopped and isn’t a great big deal in the grand scheme of things, but neither is your neighbor hollering at you every single time you drive home after a long day’s work/take out the trash/pick up the newspaper. I can imagine that you wish I had not compared the occasional meowing of a cat to annoying old people, but I could not avoid it. Every living soul on this planet is obnoxious, sometimes.

3. You do not understand why others might make fun of your cat. When Major Mishap sneezes it sounds like a goose is honking. It is unattractive to say the least, and has been pointed out many times over the years. I spent so much time being offended when people laughed at my sneeze that I forgot: my sneeze is really…memorable. Eh, what can you do? You learn to accept it. My sneeze is weird. Your cat is loud and obnoxious. If anyone has a problem  with either of those things, then they can write a book about it.

Defending the territory of Desk against the scourge of Printer.

I want to issue to you a challenge. The next time you come home and you hear your neighbor mocking your cat’s meow, I want you to ignore it. Your neighbor is trying to make a point to you and it obviously worked because you’re irritated. Let them blow off a little steam and keep living your life like it never happened. Can’t live with that? Put a NICE sticky note on their door that says, “Sorry about my cat! Fluffy sends his warm regards.”

If that doesn’t work and the mocking continues, prepare to move. This issue either resolves right now or it turns into a screaming match between you and your neighbor in a year’s time, probably with restraining orders and witness accounts. So, try killing this problem with kindness first. And let me know how it goes.


Major Mishap


32 thoughts on “Guest post: The Case of the Mocked Meows (Reader question #100)

  1. I’m certain that the neighbor was mocking various things that I usually say to her when I walk in the door every day.

    Behind the neighbor’s closed door? In hir own apartment? HEAVENS FORFEND.

    Okay, that was a little snarky, and I apologize. But I’m a city dweller by choice and inclination, and part of that inclination is pretending that anything said behind a closed door, floor, ceiling, or wall is “private.” Yes, even if I can hear you through that door, floor, ceiling, or wall. The mocking is not actually about a problem with you as a human being or neighbor, but a way to diffuse the frustration of “I hear this ritual every day,” without making it a problem for anyone else. It wasn’t a passive-aggressive attempt to shame you. I bet you were absolutely the LAST person that neighbor wanted to have hear that.

    I’ve found that they will not own up to the behavior, although calling them out on it can sometimes make it stop.

    Of course they won’t own up. It was in “private,” you weren’t the target, and they thought you weren’t anywhere in earshot. If they know you heard them, they’re probably very ashamed.

    Oh, the times I have mocked the tap-dancing elephants who lived upstairs! “Shuffle-ball STOMP! And tappita-STOMPITA-JAZZHANDS!” I would say, to make my visiting friends giggle. But did I ever go upstairs and ask them to not stomp? Or hassle them personally on the stairs? No. Because they’re just doing their thing, and I’m just doing my thing, and since there’s no serious disruption (cannon fire, 3AM House Party, etc.) that’s fine. We both acknowledge that doors and floors mean “I’m not listening to you.” But sometimes you acknowledge the weird off-hours banjo playing as being a weird, unaccountable part of your life.

    Maybe my neighbors make fun of HusbandLogic and me talking back to OUR cat. Let ’em.

    Major Mishap’s advice is awesome: The next time you come home and you hear your neighbor mocking your cat’s meow, I want you to ignore it.

    Because their mocking is your banjo music. It’s nothing to do with you personally.

    1. Personally, I quite enjoyed the snark.

      Why do people buy special exhaust pipes to make their vehicles louder? I can only conclude that they want me to purchase firearms with which to outlouden them. But instead I concentrate on slow, deep breaths and feeling superior. Ahh.

      And then I sing the Noms-In-A-Box song to our cats.

      1. One of my ongoing things with the Loud Bikers is to comment to myself or bystanders, “They really need to get their muffler checked!” Also, if it is CLEAR that the loud is very much on purpose, I imagine to myself that RRRRNNNNINNNG!GGGGRRRRGNNNNNGGGRRRRAAAAAWWWWP! is a translation of what the Biker would like to say at top volume. Namely “Pay attention to me! Please? Please? Lookit, mom! Lookit! I ride a BIGBOY bike! You’re not even looking!”

        I have no beef with motorcyclists in the aggregate. Just like I have no beef with all people who enjoy other loud pursuits. But there is a reason Hiram Maxim invented the muffler, okay?

        1. Part of the reason for loud bikes is so that cars can hear them. “Pay attention to me, so you don’t hit me!” Loud pipes save lives.

          1. “Loud pipes save lives.” There doesn’t seem to be any actual evidence for that. Some people just like to make really loud noises.

            For the record, my neighbor drives a Camaro, not a bike.

          2. I know this was posted months ago, but this is way too important for me to let go.

            No matter how loud your pipes are, that cager will still hit you.

            They will never know you were there until it’s too late, even if you are wearing neon green pants with blinking red lights on your glow-in-the-dark helmet and a bright orange safety vest to go with your loud pipes and the horn you stole from a freight train. If you like the sound of a muffler-free exhaust, that’s fine by me. But don’t pretend it makes you safer – the only person that delusion is going to hurt is you. Ride like you’re invisible (and silent), because as far as most of the people on the road are concerned, you are.

    2. I am with you. There are a zillion noises I’d rather not hear in my building, and I’m not crazy about seeing the “HotBoyChicagoXX” wifi network listed every time I log on to my laptop, but that’s what city dwelling is like. The neighbors probably have not put together the pieces that hey, if they can hear your cat, you can probably hear them meowing. There’s a zone of privacy everyone has to agree on in a multi-flat building, even if it’s a communal fiction.

      The one time I did confront a neighbor was when I was taking a multiday qualifying exam at home, and the party boy upstairs at that time had decided to blast techno at 10 am. I just went up and said, “Hey, you had no way of knowing this, but I actually am just about to start this really really really important exam which I’ll be working on all weekend, and your music is so loud I can hear it with headphones on.” Party Boy was extremely apologetic and asked me when my exam would be over so he’d be quieter for that time. It was actually an extremely pleasant conversation–but it also was based on an agreement that we had to adjust the terms of our communal fiction of privacy for a limited time.

      If Cat Fancy does feel moved to confront the neighbors, I like the suggestion of framing it not as “I hear you mocking me” but “Hey, I know my sweet little cat is really loud and you can hear him. Sorry!” They’ll get it, and they’ll probably feel less like blowing off steam when it’s out in the open.

  2. OK, so, I think your ex-neighbor was being a total passive-aggressive jerk. He was mocking you. His continuing and intensifying mimicry of your cat, your laugh, etc. was weird and not nice at all.

    But, this new neighbor is not your ex-neighbor! It’s a completely different person in a completely different part of town. Their motivations are not likely to be the same ones your jerkface ex-neighbor had. That meow might have come out of their mouth before they even had time to think about what they were doing. I think you can assuage your fears of the same pattern playing out all over again by getting to know your new neighbor just a little. Go down, say hi, introduce yourself, mention that you have a cat he’s going to hear now and then. Normalize things. It is normal for you to have a cat and talk to it; it’s normal for your neighbor to be a bit annoyed. Everyone should still be able to talk and meow at a normal volume inside their own apartment.

    This advice comes from my experience living in an apartment of boisterous college students, right next to a couple who have two kids. It’s like, yes, sometimes our music is audible. And sometimes, your kids throw a screaming tantrum at 7:30 AM on a Saturday and wake up our entire apartment. SURPRISINGLY, we get along great with the neighbors. We even have emergency keys to each other’s apartments. We’re not friends or anything, but we cordially tolerate each other’s bullshit.

    Humans and our animals, we’re loud. It’s natural. We can deal.

  3. Oh no! My neighbor’s cat has a extremely loud, very distinctive meow, and when I am outside and I hear the kitty talking inside, I always meow back to her because I love her silly voice and think she is the cutest thing ever. It never occurred to me that my neighbor might think I was mocking his cat.

    Maybe your new neighbor is a passive-aggressive asshole like your old neighbor was, or maybe your happy noisy kitty is a ray of sunshine in their daily routine. How much would it change your day-to-day interactions with your neighbor if you knew one way or the other?

  4. IAWTC.

    I own possibly the loudest cat in all of existence. I live on the third floor, and there are days when I can hear her yowling as I walk into the BUILDING. (She is also neurotic and hates being alone all day — I assume she yowls once she hears/smells me coming, and not all day, every day. I hope.) I am genuinely sorry, neighbors! But she is a cat, and cats can’t really be reasoned with. She is well cared for! Not abused! She is just loud and neurotic.

    Then again, my neighbors have dogs. Their dogs bark. Sometimes they bark in the middle of the night. My roommate and I just hear a full minute of barking, then dogs running around loudly and frantically, and then more barking. We refer to it as the Box Of Puppies, because it really sounds like a bunch of tiny dogs have been dropped in a shoe box and are being shaken around.

    Also some of my neighbors have babies. They cry. As babies do. And children who scream sometimes. As children do.

    Basically, what I’m get at is that, especially in cities where people are stacked on top of each other, neighbors are loud. It’s not because we’re jerks; it’s because we’re alive and apartment walls are thin. So let your neighbor blow off steam — if he has a real problem, hopefully he’ll be grown up enough to knock on your door and let you know what’s up. Other than that… well, he’s being kind of obnoxious. And that sucks, and I’m really sorry it’s so annoying and makes you feel bad (no sarcasm!).

    But… being annoying is kind of what neighbors do. It’s an unfortunate part of living near other humans. Try to let it roll off your back, because it is what it is, and it’s about people living near each other, and not really about you and your cat.

  5. Oh man, my cat? Totally also this cat. And my walls and ceilings and floors are so thin that I can easily hear my upstairs neighbor trying not to let her husband hear her crying after one of their screaming matches.

    Anyway, I’m lucky because my downstairs neighbors are super nice and think my cat is adorable. When a water heater explosion drove us all together, my lady downstairs neighbor came in and started talking to the cat right away like they had a relationship, “Oh, look at how tiny you are! You sound so loud when you’re running all over the place. I thought you’d be a huge cat!” but in a nice way. And I imagine that they were pretty annoyed by my cat before, but now that they’ve bonded with her, they don’t have to be annoyed. Or maybe they weren’t annoyed because they’re the nicest people on the planet, but I pretty seriously doubt that.

    I guess what I’m saying is, if you run into these neighbors, you should try to be nice to them. It’s not always possible, (fight to the death couple are pretty prickly, and I am lucky to get a grunt out of them), but having some sort of relationship will go a long way towards alleviating any resentment they might feel. (I *hated* fight to the death couple until they started grunting at me. Now I just think they’re strange but harmless, and for the most part, their noises don’t annoy me anymore. Though I certainly would prefer if they would postpone their fights until the morning, or something.)

  6. I mock my own cat’s meows, not to mention the meows of other cats. Well, sometimes I mock, sometimes I just sort of converse with them. Because cats are hilarious! I don;t feel bac about mocking them because they don;t know that’s what I’m doing, and besides if they knew how to mock me, I’m sure they’d do it all day long. In addition to being hilarious, cats are assholes.

    The neighbors mocking the letter writer were being kind of assholish, at least by mocking so loud he could be heard. But, I dunno, it’s an apartment building. What can you do? If you gather a bunch of people into the same building, some of them are likely to be assholes.

    My next door neighbor has the habit of singing tunelessly. It’s sort of creepy. Sometimes I mock it. Though I do it quietly.

    Sometimes I worry that my neighbors can hear me farting.

    I’m glad I have thick walls.

      1. Oh God, I never thought of that. My husband and I are loud with the TV sometimes, (especially my husband and his F1 racing game) but I never thought about farts. I’ve never heard the neighbors fart. I’m going to hold on to that thought for dear life because the alternative is impossible to think of.
        Not that we’re particularly farty, and I’m sure our early alarms (or my husband with that F1 game EEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeCRASH!) are more annoying, but yikes.

    1. Any time I hear a neighbor belch I am seized with fear that they are hearing all of my bodily explusions. And they probably are.

      1. I used to share a bathroom wall with a guy who cleaned out his tracheotomy tube morning and night. GRAPHIC.

        1. Please tell me you’re exaggerating facetiously. Don’t tell me it was an actual trach tube. D:

          😦 I work in a hospital. I sometimes fear that if I am bad, that sound is what I will have to listen to echoing throughout the corridors of hell after I die. It keeps me in moral check.

          I am so sorry.

        2. I had a neighbour who practiced his early morning tracheal “HORNK” daily….until I became pregnant and had to projectile vomit loudly every morning. Mysteriously, I never heard him again. I think he realized if he could hear me, I could hear him.

    2. Mocking and conversing with a cat all in one go is kind of a terrific hobby, so I don’t blame you in the least.

      My own cat has a unique meow (sounds like he’s saying “no” or “now”) and it’s nigh impossible not to either mimic the sound or conduct fake arguments with him. I’ve got to say, if I were in an apartment building with that situation and heard others mimicking it… I wouldn’t be surprised at all. Not necessarily even for the mockery aspect, but because humans like to parrot odd/frequently repeated things.

  7. Oh no! I suspect I am related to Obnoxious Neighbor. My upstairs neighbors also live in a Box of Puppies, and one of their teensy stomping elephants is a howly beagle, and I regularly go “barooo!” after he howls, because it’s funny and keeps me from being irritated. I think their dogs are adorable and I want to scritch them whenever they go for walks. Now I suspect I am probably just being a jerk…

    But seriously, LW, there is apparently a whole WORLD of people out there who just like to imitate their neighbors’ funny-sounding animals without malicious intent. Hopefully neighborguy is one of us? And I will try to keep my barooo-s to myself in future.

  8. mocking my dog is one of the chief joys of my life. if i lived within hearing distance of a distinctive cat, i would mock it too, with gusto. alone, in my apartment. then, unless it was some kind of HUGE problem–catscreams all night long, say–i would never ever complain to my neighbor. because it’s not my neighbor’s fault, or even really a problem. i’d pretend i’d never heard any such comical feline, just like i’d hope my neighbor would pretend she’d never heard my super weird cat impressions.

  9. My husband likes to howl at my parents’ dog (also a howly beagle!), gets Barney (the dog is named after the character on the Andy Griffith Show, NOT the imbecilic purple dinosaur) all wound up, running around barking and howling like mad. Awesome. Really, when your pets are super noisy the best way to deal with it is to be super noisy with them! Granted, my parents live in a house, so it’s a bit quieter for the neighbours than if they lived in an apartment, but everyone on their street knows the dog’s name. People I don’t know come up to me and say ‘Hi Barney!’ when I’m out walking the dog.

  10. Is he just mocking the cat for his own amusement or is he being a jackass in other ways to make you think it’s malicious? Because for the most part, I find there are battles worth fighting with your neighbors and ones that just aren’t. I would file this into the category of “not worth it.” Hell, maybe he’s meowing at the cat because he likes cat and he founds it amusing to call back to them. (I do this. Like, seriously.)

    My non-serious reaction to all of this is that it should be turned into a Broken Lizard sketch – meow back. “Meow are you doing today sir? Meow’s the significant other? Meow’s the job?” Create a joke out of it! Make it so absurd nobody can get angry anymore. You could make meowsic together!

  11. Yeah I dunno, who makes fun of someone for saying the same innocuous greeting every time? You want a new and exciting one daily for your entertainment?? I wouldn’t call them out on it, but I’d judge them for being a douche if such behaviour was confirmed.

    Also, don’t bark at dogs, it makes them bark back and more barky in general. Pleeease. Imitating cats… depends how you do it. If it’s actual mocking I find that weird as fuck but if it’s just amusement at the intense meow-ness that’s all good.

    In terms of actually getting pissy at meowing – unless the cat is seriously meowing for hours on end I have nothing but judgement for people who are *horrified* that they have to hear a cat, um, make noise occasionally.

    /vet nurse who most definitely prefers the most aggressive or obnoxious of animals to a vast majority of humans. 😛

  12. Maybe your neighbor thinks kitty’s meows are cute, and is mimicking them for that!

    My cat has fans who like to greet him when he’s sitting in the windowsill. People are funny.

  13. Aw geez, I hope this neighbour is doing it to be cute or funny, but regardless of intent I’d be mortified and sad if I heard someone mocking my pets or my greetings to them. I yell, “Bunny, I’m home!” every time I come in the door, and I often have conversations with my puppy in which I say, “who’s my favorite turd? who’s a turd? who’s a turd?” followed by, “YES, you’re a turd!” after her excited whining and dancing peaks. I must be the most annoying neighbour ever.

  14. My neighbors can’t hear anything I do. Also, my farts smell like roses! And no one can hear me fight with my spouse! These are the things I tell myself.

  15. It’s also possible to frame this as something more benign. Your neighbors are talking to your cat in the way they know your cat likes to be talked to. That’s nice and it provides your cat with more people to talk to.

    Even if your neighbors meant to be assholes, when it comes down to it, the outcome is your cat got talked to.

  16. Oh god.

    We live on the second floor and have an adorable balcony. The way the balconies are arranged, you can’t really see anyone that might be out on their balcony as well without doing some gymnastics to see onto the other ones.

    This is nice because you can go out on your balcony in your underwear, but horrifying because you can easily forget that other people can HEAR you just fine.

    My SOs have horrible, terrible, no good, very bad embarrassing lengthy conversations out on our balcony without remembering that ALL THE NEIGHBORS COULD BE LISTENING. Sometimes the shit they say is embarrassing because it’s just dumb, and sometimes it’s like legit private no-one-needs-to-know.

    I try to pretend that I live in the apartment across from us that has been vacant forever if anyone asks.

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