Ms. Demeanor's Vertical Etiquette

I love noise and so should you—if you want to live in my NYC building

By Dianne Ackerman  | November 14, 2019 - 10:20AM

How can you move into a building on what seems like the noisiest block in the noisiest city and then carry on about people walking above you?


I know I am in the minority but noise doesn’t bother me. Twenty years ago, when I moved into my second-floor apartment overlooking very noisy Second Avenue on the Upper East Side, I did not even notice the two bars across the street. There is also a middle school next door, but I was already at work when the kids came and left, so I never heard them. 

Now that I am retired, I hear them all the time but it just doesn’t bother me. I sleep through the fire engines (a fire house is around the corner) and the ambulances (Lenox Hill Hospital is two blocks away). The new Second Avenue subway construction didn’t impact me much. It was messy but there really wasn’t much noise. Or maybe there was and I just didn't realize it. 

However I can’t sleep when I visit my son in Virginia—it’s too dark and too quiet there.

[Editor's Note: Dianne Ackerman is the voice of reason behind Ms. Demeanor's Vertical Etiquette. This article previously ran in October 2018. We are presenting it again in case you missed it.]

Noise seems normal to me because I grew up in a family that had many parties with lots of music. My extended family is loud and happy, but not everyone appreciates our exuberance. When my sisters and I get together at restaurants, we have a lot of laughs, but inevitably there is someone frowning in our direction. Still, just last week, someone came by our table and said that they wished they had been invited to our party. It really wasn’t a party—just an ordinary dinner, but I was pleased that she hadn’t come over to tell us to pipe down.

So, it was with no small amount of surprise when I opened my door recently to find my next-door neighbor standing there with an oil can in her hand. She was there, she told me, to oil the hinges on my front door because they squeaked when I came in and out. Really? Really. She could hear them from her apartment but I didn’t even notice. I let her oil her heart out.

Soon after I moved in, the babies that lived above me started to walk—and then run. They made so much noise that my dining room chandelier swung back and forth. My neighbor moved, I stayed. Now there is a young girl who plays the piano (badly) every day after school. It gives me no small amount of pleasure when I notice that she is improving (slightly).

I’m a board member, and we constantly get complaints from shareholders about noise. It still shocks me. How can you move into a building on what seems like the noisiest block in the noisiest city and then carry on about people walking above you? We have been petitioned to complain to the local authorities to curtail the commotion from the bars but my feeling (and thankfully the rest of the board's) is that the bars were there first. Buy earplugs! New York is notoriously noisy. I hear, however, that Iowa is rather quiet.

My friend Susie lives one floor above me but in the back of the building. Her apartment doesn’t get a lot of noise, but it doesn’t get a lot of light either. She has to call me to see if it is raining outside. My apartment is filled with sunshine from the living room as well as the kitchen windows. I always know when it is raining—or not. And I would rather have sun than quiet.

I would advise people who are sensitive to noise to do their due diligence when buying an apartment. Walk around the neighborhood during the day and at night. See what is around. Funeral homes tend to be quieter than sports bars. And if the noise bothers you, move to Iowa.


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