The Etiquette of Borrowing

I have awesome neighbours on my block, and I am learning that if I run out of something that I do not have to drive to the store – that I can call one of my neighbours for a cup of brown sugar or the extra egg that I am missing. Last week we needed a yahrtzeit light, and because I had been sick I hadn’t been able to get to the store to buy one, so we borrowed from a neighbour.

I was brought up that anything I “borrowed” I returned. So if I borrowed a cup of sugar from you, I will return a cup of sugar once I have replenished my supply. We gave our neighbours back an identical yahrtzeit light. But we were gently told that it was totally unnecessary to return it, and that if we borrow an egg or sugar or flour, it’s not necessary at all to return it.

So I wanted to ask you what the etiquette of borrowing is on your block. At what point do you not want a borrowed item returned, and at what point do you? One egg, fine, no need to return, but if you borrow a dozen?

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  1. Mark says:

    In our house it works roughly like this. If you borrow an entire package/container of something, you return an equivalent one later. But if you borrow small portions, you do not. So a dozen eggs are returned, but 3 eggs are not. A bottle of ketchup is returned, but a cup of sugar is not. Etc.

  2. G6 says:

    I agree w/ you Hadassah. I guess we are “old school”. If I borrow something, even one egg or a cup of sugar, I return it.
    The only time this becomes complicated is if it something difficult to measure (such as an onion) because one can run into the problem of “ribbes” (interest), in which case, if I’m the lender I’ll say, “this is my gift” and if I’m the borrower, I will ask the lender what they would like me to do.

  3. batya from NJ says:

    On my block we pretty much return measurable items (e.g 3 eggs, 2 onions, several shabbos candles, 1 yahrtzeit candle etc) even if it’s not a whole package. I guess it’s just more fair that way & no one feels that they are being taken advantage of if they are the one that is doing more of the lending rather than the receiving…for more difficult to measure items& insignificant itmes (eg a bit of ketchup etc) we usually will tell each other not to worry about it b/c it’s nearly impossible to return that & you feel silly doing it too…

  4. tesyaa says:

    My neighbor gave me not just a stick of butter when I called but a whole pound, and told me in no uncertain terms that she did NOT want to be “paid back”. I think it depends on the person, though. You’d never know from the outside, but there are some people who will remember that you forgot to replace a cup of sugar five years ago.

  5. lady lock and load says:

    “GENTLY?” LOL!!! Are you being a tad facetious?

  6. lady lock and load says:

    You did the right thing, you just have a weird neighbor. My hubby says that the halacha is that one should state that you are giving the item as a matanah (a gift) and then the person has no responsibility to return the item.

  7. Ilana says:

    If it’s over a certain amount of money then I would return it, but otherwise I wouldn’t. There are probably items that I would want to return that I wouldn’t care if someone returned to me. For example, if I borrow milk from my neighbor, I will return it (and make sure to return the kind they buy, which is 20-30% more expensive). But if my other neighbors borrow my milk, I forget about it and don’t care much if they return it. If I need it returned (like if I know I’ll run out otherwise), then I tell them up front.

    Best to err on the side of caution and return things until you know how people feel about it.

  8. Nora says:

    I try to return the item borrowed – candles, etc. If what I’ve borrowed is eggs or sugar for baking I often will bring over a few cookies or brownies for the family instead of (or with) the eggs or sugar I’ve borrowed. I usually make a point to say something like, “When we’re at the store next I’ll be sure to pick up X so I can bring you back X.” Sometimes that’s followed with, “no need.” In those cases I always make sure to bring over cookies or some of what I’m making.

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