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TL;DR: I want to find the most polite way to tell my neighbour that it's not a problem, but they should not do it again.

The incident:

We live in a condo, i.e. we own the unit but the common area, managed by the HOA, is belonged to everyone (or no one). In the common area next to our kitchen, there were some flowers that we (actually my kids) had been waiting for their blooming for weeks. Yesterday, we found out that most of the flowers, not fully bloom, were trimmed.

No need to say, my kids were so sad. So I emailed to all the families, saying that we were sad, and that we hope people leave the flowers there so that all the people can enjoy.

The HOA president suspected that the gardeners trimmed the flowers off as they came the day before.

As I believed this was done by the gardeners, I thought that this didn't make any sense to trim only flowers, and that they did it carelessly as some broken flowers were still attached to their stems. In retrospective, I wonder if I was a bit rude.

The HOA president then asked a lady, let call her Alice, in the HOA board to supervise the gardeners, as they didn't do a good job before.

The neighbour next door said sorry, that his wife "picked up" some flowers outside their right fence (i.e. my unit) for their arrangement.

Alice then said she did supervised the gardeners (and implied that the neighbour's wife trimmed the flowers, not just pick up). She said in a very diplomatic way this was a minor issue, and we should resolve with understandings.

My goals:

I want to express, in the most polite way, that:

  • Our neighbour should not worry. It's not a big deal.
  • I hope they should never trim the flowers again. So "don't worry or no problem" may not work in this case?
  • The neighbour has been very nice, and as we will live here years (or decades), we want to have a good relationship with his family.

One of the reason I ask this question is that English is not my native language. We are tech immigrants and we have never socialized with local people before.

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    You basically answered your own question in the title by saying "no problem, but don't do it again" – TheRealLester Jun 2 '18 at 4:05
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    One way to avoid being misinterpreted is to use a phrase associated with past events (and especially the fact that no one can change past actions even if they wanted to). For example, "water under the bridge" or "let bygones be bygones" or even directly "what's done is done". And then ask politely that in the future the flowers are left to bloom on the plants where they can be enjoyed by everyone. – Ben Voigt Jun 2 '18 at 4:41
  • Was it your unit or not? This is not clear to me. Let's assume it is, then if you say "don't worry may not work" you should cancel the first statement (no worry, not a big deal) because for you and your kids it IS a big deal and you should be the only one to modify your flowers. – puck Jun 2 '18 at 11:54
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Since this is a minor issue as you stated and you do not wish to make anything into a bigger issue than necessary, I would suggest you simply mention to the neighbors that cut the flowers how sad your children were that the flowers were cut. There is no need to specifically mention that you know they cut the flowers or to go out of your way to see them. Many times subtle hints are the best way to get a thought out to someone else without calling them out, embarrassing them, or causing an unnecessary conflict. I agree that to say it's "no big deal" might send the message that it is okay. Best of luck with this situation.

  • It's important to say what the consequences of the action were, even if they are minor in the grand scheme of life. That way, the consequences might be avoided next time round. – Andrew Leach Jul 7 '18 at 8:54
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With the goal being to answer the neighbour's apology without implying their behaviour is acceptable, saying something along the lines of

Thanks for owning up to it. No hard feelings!

with a smile will suffice. For extra credit, and to lay the groundwork for friendship, you can then extend an olive branch.

A traditional example would be to invite them over for afternoon tea. However in this instance (and depending on your family's attachment to the plants, of course) you could also offer for your children to cut a few flowers for them every now and again, or perhaps ask if they would like a cutting to grow on their own. This will establish you as an approachable family, reinforce your willingness to start afresh, and further dissuade your neighbours from tampering with your plants except with your permission.

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