Minding Your MV P's & Q's: Shopping cart etiquette and breaking rules.

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare For The Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole,

I was at the Stop & Shop the other day and someone I’ve met a few times stopped me to chat. We don’t know each other well and I felt like she was checking out the items in my grocery cart in order to size me up. I didn’t say anything to her, but I wanted to ask her to keep her eyes out of my cart. Do you think it’s okay to ask cart snoopers to mind their own business?

Confidentially yours,


Dear Edgartown:

It depends on the context, but there really aren’t a lot of arguments in favor of saying anything. For example:

If you are a wash-ashore and she is an old-timer, she will ignore your request, and then tell all her friends about it at their next potluck, so why bother?

If you are the old-timer and she is the wash-ashore, take pity on her: she’s trying to figure out insularly-correct shopping habits. Be flattered that she’s using you as a model.

If you have children attending the same school, she is probably trying to reassure herself that you’re not sending your kids to school with something objectionable that her own child might end up with, should they swap food at lunch. Expressing any anxiety (such as asking her to stop staring at your cart) will convince her that you have something to hide; welcoming her gaze suggests you are serenely confident that you are a better mother.

If you are of the same socioeconomic status or cultural background, as proven by other signifiers (i.e., you have won the same number of blue ribbons for baking at the Fair; wear the same brand of yoga pants; sport the same amount of mud on your vehicles), then yes, she is sizing you up. But telling her not to look is not the Island way. Instead, make sure you always have lots and lots of one type of produce (salad greens, kale, etc.) in your grocery cart, whether you are planning to buy any of it or not. This creates the impression that you are preparing a potluck dish. Seeing evidence of a potluck she has not been invited to, she will become so distracted trying to figure out who has excluded her that she will forget all about sizing you up.

That’s my take.


Dear Nicole,

Are the rules just different here?

Confidentially yours,

West Tisbury

Dear West Tisbury:

Not the rules themselves. Just the ways we break them.

That’s my take.



  1. Dama Marie Wise says:

    You know, here in Las Vegas, I talk a lot about “The Island.” I even write stories about it. So, I am exceedingly glad, that as a wash-ashore, I now know how to shop for groceries when there. I will file this information away for the next trip, along with my Martha’s Vineyard Tunnle pass! :)

  2. Deacon Perrotta says:

    Great stuff! Only laughing because you hit it on the nose! Soooo true!

  3. ka1axy says:

    Third possibility — she’s bored and looking for something interesting to brighten up her day, and hoping to find it in your cart? It’s up to you to make sure she does.

    ’nuff said.

  4. Adult_Content says:

    My rule when checking out the cart of another shopper: make a positive comment about one or a group of items in their cart. Example: “Ooo, someone is making lasagna. Yummy.”