Clearing the air

It could be the guy who mows his lawn at 6 a.m. on Sunday. Or the pet next door that regularly makes deposits in your yard.

Neighbor-to-neighbor slights can really get out of hand.

Take the case of, well, let's call him Herr Billowing BBQ. A Bavarian woman couldn't take the smoke generated by her neighbor's bratwurst grilling. Last week, the German state's highest court ruled: Herr BBQ would be limited to five cookouts per summer.

Pah-leeese.

Specifics of the case aside, does anyone think this is the best use of any judicial system's time?

Before your spat escalates, consider mediation. I know, it sounds like, "Have you tried the new lima bean diet?" But it's much cheaper than a lawyer, faster, and certainly less embarrassing than going before the state's highest court.

There are about 500 community mediation centers in the US, says the National Association for Community Mediation (online at www.nafcm.org). Many are paid for by local governments because they help unclog the court system.

Typically, dueling neighbors sit down with a neutral negotiator. He or she is a trained listener who cuts through the emotions. "Often the disputes are over ridiculous, innocuous things," says Craig Coletta at NAFCM. "It's not about noise - it's about the barbeque you didn't invite me to three summers ago. Anything that happens after that is magnified as a further act of disrespect."

Before you get in a beef over your neighbor's hamburgers, consider Mr. Coletta's observation: "The less you feel you have - privacy, property, respect - the more the slights are magnified."

*We're home. Let us know how we're doing. Write the Homefront, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail us at home@csps.com

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