Apartment Noise, and the Cheapest Therapy

If I suddenly snap here, it won’t be because my first-years throw chalk at each other one more time. It will be due to apartment noise. For the most part, I like my place—recently renovated, huge bed, good location—but I’m paying steeply in mental sanity.

I’m a light sleeper, so I recognize that unless I move to a cabin in the woods (Henry David Thoreau was really onto something there), I’m going to have some difficulties sleeping. However, this much difficulty, I could have never imagined.

I share a wall with an ill elderly woman who coughs constantly and moans out in pain. Her daughter comes to take care of her and shouts out so the old woman can hear. “HOLA MAMA. COMO TE LLAMAS? QUIEN ES LA MAS GUAPA DEL MUNDO?” In addition, they hire a caretaker, so at 9 a.m. every morning the daughter and caretaker are using anything but inside voices to chat about the days events, their recent electric bill, the price of oranges, all things I DON’T want to hear through earplugs and a white-noise app on a weekend morning.

My room is also next to the apartment’s stairwell, and we have no elevator. This means that when Mr. 7th Floor decides to clamber down the stairs at 7 a.m. every morning, I hear it all. I’m not exaggerating here—I’ve literally woken up at 7 a.m. every weekday since I moved in in September. At one point I was convinced he was using the stairwell as a free gym, as he would sprint down and then up several times per dawn.

Then at 8 a.m. on the dot, my roommate leaves for work. Our door is sticky, so it creaks when you open it, and you have to give it a good slam to close it. Since I sleep next to the stairwell, I also sleep next to our front door. I get 45 minutes of shut-eye between Mr. 7th Floor’s descent and my roommate’s departure, and then am woken up again.

My lovely neighbors upstairs decide to rearrange furniture almost nightly, and are clambering around so forcefully that I’m surprised the plaster hasn’t fallen from my ceiling. They are in their late 20’s, so on nights out when they come home drunk at 6 a.m., clunking up the stairs in high heels and forgetting that the apartment building is a shared living space, I am reminded of my misfortune.

I haven’t moved, because everything else about my apartment is pretty good, and because there’s no guarantee that my next place wouldn’t have similar problems. So I did my version of cheap therapy: I asked fellow auxiliars (language assistants) to share their apartment noise horror stories, because misery loves company. It was actually incredibly helpful, and I realize that things could possibly be worse (hey, at least I’m the one listening to the hacking sick lady, and am not the hacking sick lady herself!). Here’s a recap of fellow expats’ responses to my cry for help, and a depressing depiction of the noise pollution that occurs in apartments that are built with cardboard for walls:

  • Neighbors singing Daft Punk’s “Get lucky” every day with the windows open
  • An abandoned poodle yapping nonstop in the apartment next door
  • Cat gangs fighting all night outside
  • Upstairs neighbors having “rollicking sex”
  • Roommates having “pelvic slamming sex…pelvises slamming together a mile a minute, EVERY DAY.”
  • My favorite: “So much shameless Spanish sex….and screaming babies. It alternates between the two. I guess that makes sense….?”
  • Literally everyone in the entire country having rollicking sex…..25% unemployment, and it’s a cheap activity. (In hindsight, a 90-year-old neighbor has its sexless perks.)
  • A mother screaming nonstop at her husband and daughter
  • Someone using “Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night” as their daily pump-up music. . . . full-blast
  • Kids running around in the apartment above, screaming for hours for their mom at 9 a.m. and during every siesta
  • Spanish women proving they are the most stoic and/or annoying women on the planet, by wearing high heels even inside apartments
  • Living on the ground floor next to an elementary school, and hearing screaming children “and their STUPID ROLLING BACKPACKS” going to class every morning
  • Neighbors who love to communicate in person instead of by phone. “Is Consuelo home? Apparently not, since she hasn’t responded to you yelling out the window to her for the past 10 minutes.”
  • An opera singer two floors below who practices for hours every day. Maybe a bit too dedicated to his profession. . . .

Secluded country living is holding more and more appeal. For now, I’ll share in others’ misery, take advantage of some very early mornings to write or do laundry, and invest in some good make-up to hide the under-eye bags.

Anyone else have apartment horror stories? To all you living in the U.S.—this isn’t just happening in Spain, right? What are your solutions? (Please don’t say earplugs….as though I haven’t tried them!!!)

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  • Wow, and I thought that I had a hard time living in Bolivia! What I had learnt from that experience is that the house is better than apartment and that neighbourhoods with open swimming pool areas are the worst….:)

  • Latvalaho


    I’m living in Spain for a couple months and can verify everything you said. Sound insulation code in Spain is one of the worst in Europe. Generally they are poor in the Mediterranean countries and best in Nordic countries.

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