Authors Posts by Nicole Galland

Nicole Galland

Nicole Galland
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— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused 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. Interested in Nicole’s take on your messy Vineyard-centric ethics or etiquette question? Confidentiality ensured. Send your question to OnIsland@mvtimes.com

Dear Nicole,

A close friend recommended my husband for a job at a house site that she was working on. When he got the job, we all went out to dinner and celebrated — burger night, State Road — delicious. We paid. But now our friend is undermining my husband every opportunity she gets. I desperately want to say something to her, but my husband asked me not to, so I won’t. I am fuming. In my fury I sent my soon-to-be-former friend an email telling her we are short of cash and would she mind paying us back for her burger. Was that so wrong?

Confidentially yours,

Edgartown

Dear Edgartown:

Yes, that was so wrong. So very wrong.

When you treat someone to dinner, you are displaying generosity not only from the wallet, but from the heart. (In this particular case, you are also displaying gratitude, since she helped your husband get the job.) The subtext of your email wasn’t just: “We need to take back our money” but also, “We need to take back our kindness.” Even if you are very upset at this woman — even if it’s justified — why would you want your retribution to consist of showing her you’re just as unkind as she is? Is the “win” here to be the unkindest person? Well, the race isn’t over yet, but you’re definitely gaining on her. Does that make you feel better?

Except, hang on: her unkindness (undermining your husband) has real-world impact, while your unkindness, at worse, sets her back about 15 bucks. If you really need to be unkind to her, at least be savvy and get more bang out of your nastiness buck. Watch House of Cards if you need some inspiration. Or go to a selectmen’s meeting.

But let’s backtrack, because there are so many moving parts to this scenario before we even get to your unfortunate email.

First, how exactly is she “undermining” your husband? Is she talking trash about him to colleagues? Physically sabotaging his work? Any idea what her motivation is for doing so? Why doesn’t your husband want you to confront her about it? And why are you “obeying” him even though the stress of doing so is clearly causing you to lose all sense of perspective?

Regardless of the answer to any of those questions, what you did is most unfortunate. You don’t ask someone to repay you for a meal that you treated them to, period. If that $15 is actually going to make or break you, then ask her (or someone else) for a loan of $15, but don’t make it about the burger!

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

Is trespassing really trespassing when the seasonal resident is away?

Confidentially Yours,

West Tisbury

Dear West Tisbury:

Well, technically and literally, yes, it’s still trespassing, but the sensibilities of trespassing change. (I’m sure I’ve just enraged several readers, but I’m in this deep already, so I’ll keep going.)

I assume you are talking about trespassing in uncultivated nature and not somebody’s vegetable garden or, God forbid, house. That’s an important distinction. Legally it’s not an important distinction, but on a practical level, here on Martha’s Vineyard in the way-off-season, it’s an important distinction. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

So with that in mind: It is never okay to violate somebody else’s privacy. Trespassing in somebody’s living area — even external spaces, like a yard or garden — shows complete disrespect for their private space. Would you like somebody sunning themselves in your driveway when you’re at work?

Please notice that I didn’t say “shows complete disrespect for their private property.” I’m talking about people, not their property. People have feelings of violation. Trees and stone walls aren’t so sensitive. If your presence in a place makes you a happier person while doing no harm to that place, or to its absent owner, who but a petty tyrant would take issue with that?

When I was a kid, my best friend and I routinely romped and had spring picnics within the boundaries of Seven Gates farm, blithely disregarding the “No Trespassing” signs. We also romped around in other wooded and overgrown areas that were owned by others — we had no idea who. Nobody ever saw us, we never did any damage, we never left any trash. I see nothing wrong with what we did. The purpose of a no-trespassing law is to protect the owners and their property; no harm was done or intended to either.

By coincidence, thirty-five years later, newer friends of mine have bought property in Seven Gates and built their house in almost precisely the same spot where the childhood friend and I used to have our spring picnics. It is no longer uncultivated wilderness. They are year-round residents, but even if they weren’t, I’d never dream of going near that spot now without an invitation from them. To do otherwise would be to violate their space — and that is harmful. Even if I intended no harm to them, it is disrespectful, and disrespect is a harmful thing.

That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider romping in certain other parts of Seven Gates in the off-season — areas where I would encounter nobody, and leave no evidence of my presence. The trees and lichen-covered stone walls would welcome me as they always have. As I said above: who but a petty tyrant would object to that?

That’s my take.

Nicole

Nicole-GallandBemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on Martha’s 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. Got a question on Island ethics or etiquette? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole,

What’s the appropriate amount of time to sit and idle, before sounding the horn, when the car in front of you stops to engage in a lively and long-winded conversation with the person in a truck coming from the other direction?

Confidentially yours,

Up-Island

Dear Up-Island:

Don’t honk. Period. We’re not off-island.

Let’s say instead that you’re asking how long to wait before holding your arm out the window with an attention-getting gestures – perhaps a wave of the hand (or perhaps one-fifth of a wave, if you get my drift).

There’s a lot of variables, starting with just how far up-Island you actually are. Your expected wait-time will be inversely proportional to the proximity to yacht clubs. In Aquinnah, you might be considered pushy if you make a fuss within 2 minutes; in Edgartown or the Chops, feel free to blow a gasket after 15 seconds. (A gasket, though. Not a horn.)

Other important variables: How big is the truck coming in the other direction? What kind of car is in front of you? A hood-a-hood between two pick-ups is different from a hood-a-hood between a landscaping truck and a Mercedes convertible. Actually in the latter example, it might be alright to honk briefly, since the driver of the landscaping truck should know better, and the Mercedes driver is probably used to getting honked at.

It also depends on your own vehicle. The more of an “Island car” vibe you emanate, the more receptive other “Island car” drivers are likely to be to your need to keep moving. (It’s sort of uncouth to say that but we all know it’s true.)

Finally, of course, it depends on circumstances such as time of year and your own agenda. If you are about to give birth and are trying to get to the hospital, you don’t have to wait at all.

But even then, don’t honk.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

I’m not terribly good at backing up, so when I encounter another car on a long dirt road, I hope they will back up to the nearest turnoff. Recently, I was on a dirt road, and the other car absolutely refused to back up. I got so flustered that I tried to back up myself, but it was taking an extremely long time because I kept turning the wheel the wrong way, having to go forward, which I thought would be a hint to the other driver for him to back up, but he didn’t take the hint. Consequently I’m sure that because I had to do the backing up, both of us were late to our destinations.  What should I have done?

Confidentially yours,

Tisbury

Dear Tisbury:

This might sound extreme, but I think you should have gotten out of your car and – wait for it – explained to the other driver that you were having a hard time backing up.

Gallons of blood and ink have been spilt in Dukes County alone on the issue of who should back up on a narrow dirt road. Common courtesy and common sense should largely dictate this answer, but it often ends up resembling an awkward mating ritual.

COMMON COURTESY: If you have just passed a turn-out and you see a car approach you from the other direction, back up right away.

COMMON SENSE: If you passed a turn-out a tenth of a mile back, pause, and see if the approaching car will back up.

COMMON COURTESY: If you’re nose-to-nose with a car driven driven by someone who seems like they’d have a harder time backing up than you (they’re wearing a neck brace, they’re hauling a trailer, they have the panicked look of a lost tourist), back up.

COMMON SENSE: If you’re in a neck brace hauling a trailer, or there are other cars coming up behind you, or your children have smeared pond slime all over every rearview mirror, see if the other person will back up first.

I’ve heard the argument made that if you are inward-bound, you should give way to someone who is outward-bound, especially if there is a caravan. I support this principle when the inbound destination is a parking lot or field with limited room – it’s like letting people off a train before boarding it yourself. But if you’re a half-mile down a mile-long road, let the common sense/common courtesy ethos prevail.

Remember that although it feels good (for most of us) to be the considerate driver one who does the right thing, sometimes it really doesn’t make sense to back up. I’ve been in situations when both cars backed up into turn-outs, and then waited rather a long time for the other car to give in and drive past them. It can become a sort of anti-standoff. That’s silly, and as much a waste of time as an actual stand-off.

Finally, I’ve heard the argument made – by people who drive large vehicles – that whoever has the bigger vehicle gets to hold their ground while whoever has the smaller vehicle has to back off. This might be true ipso facto, but if so, it sure makes a statement about the owner of large vehicles, doesn’t it?

That’s my take.

Nicole

— Photo-illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused 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,

If you’re clamming and getting nothing and someone next to you is on a hotspot, do you go over and join them or wait till they’ve gotten their fill and leave?

Confidentially Yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

Oh boy. They really ought to include this stuff in the shellfish licenses. There are few things more primal, or more Vineyard, than staking one’s territory in the water. So however I answer this question, somebody is going to disagree with me. Fiercely. I may end up excluded from several potlucks just for answering.

For real dyed-in-the-wool clamming folks, I’m pretty sure the only acceptable answer is: “Wait until they’ve left. Dope.” In fact most of them would probably laugh harshly at the naivete of someone’s even asking.

Perhaps you think it would be in the interdependent spirit of a small-town community for everyone to share the bounty? Well, the unromantic heart of the matter is this: Somebody else has something you don’t have, and you want it. No matter whether they got it through dumb luck, trial and error, hard work, an inborn aptitude, or acquired wisdom. They have it. You want a piece of it. What if the shoe were on the other foot? If you were a little kid who found a stash of candy — perhaps by dumb luck, but perhaps by skillful observation and deduction — wouldn’t you pocket your fill before you shared the stash with your friends, let alone strangers? If your honest-to-God answer is “Why, no, I’d share all of it right away with everyone,” then go ahead and approach the person clamming, because somebody needs to rip those rose-colored glasses off your face, and a Yankee clammer whose hot spot is being encroached is just the one to do it.

But please call me first so I can get there in time to tape it. It’s rare, in these domesticated and educated times, to get live footage of a bona fide Shellfisherperson in full Curmudgeon Display. I think the last recorded sighting was Craig Kingsbury, circa 1996.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

Like many people I know, I am fuming about certain deteriorating movie theaters on the Island. Like many people I know, I have a casual relationship with the owners of these theaters. I find when I run into them, instead of saying, “How can you do this to the town of Oak Bluffs? Where’s your civic pride?” I say, “Hey, how’s it going?” What is the right thing to say?

Confidentially yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

There are a number of answers to this, the first being to split the difference between “judgmental-angry person” and “doormat” and simply ask them politely if they have plans and if so, what those might be.

If that kind of straight-forward decency is beyond you, or you’re just too intimidated to ask directly (it’s true, some people find direct queries for information rude), you could employ the time-honored means of the Passive-Aggressive Question.

Some examples:

“I really miss those boxes of retro chocolate thingies with sprinkles you sell at concessions. Will you be selling those this summer?”

“Don’t you love the artwork in the lobby of the Film Center?”

“What have you got on at the Capawock?” (note: residents of Tisbury need to ask, “What have you got on at the Island/Strand?”)

“Wouldn’t it be cool to have an IMAX on the Island?”

If asking any question in person at all makes you break out in hives, you could move on to Passive Aggressiveness 2.0 and ask them indirectly by oh, I dunno, sending in your complaints to a local advice column in the hopes they’ll see it and think, “Wow, we should really be more attentive to the needs of our fellow residents.” ’Cuz that always works.

Or as I said, you could just try asking them directly, instead of complaining about them behind their backs right in front of them in print.

That’s my take.

Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readerNicole-Gallands 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 am Facebook friends with a woman I don’t know in person. Yet through her Facebook posts, I know she is battling cancer. The other day I was in the video store and saw her in there. Should I have introduced myself as a Facebook friend and wished her well?

Confidentially Yours,

Tisbury

Dear Tisbury:

This question is complex, as it involves not only cancer etiquette but also the ever-evolving field of Facebook etiquette. As neither a cancer survivor nor a “digital native” (a term for those who’ve grown up with social media), I don’t feel I’m the best person to respond to it. So I have corralled a cancer-surviving digital native into answering in my stead.

I am pleased to introduce Hannah Vanderlaske, a talented and fierce young writer I mentored for a couple of years when she was at the Charter School. A survivor of two forms of pediatric cancer, Hannah expresses an opinion that might not be universal, but should certainly be taken seriously. For the record, a number of other cancer survivors responded to our informal poll by saying (in effect) that being wished well is generally always a good feeling, preferable to being avoided. So bear that in mind. But bear this in mind as well:

From Hannah Vanderlaske:

Facebook is a weird medium, so I’m gonna start off by just talking as if you heard it through the rumor mill. If you didn’t get a memo from the person or a loved one, I would say that you shouldn’t go up to them in public unless they are having an incident. Like not being able to breathe. That’s an acceptable reason to go up to them, though I would hope that at that point you would be focusing on saving them instead of expressing an apology for the (expletive deleted) hand life has dealt them.

And like… especially if this is someone who you’re simply Facebook friends with and don’t actually know in person. They already know they have cancer. They are aware that everyone knows that they have cancer, especially living on a place like Martha’s Vineyard where you can’t really get away with just saying that shaving your head is a fashion statement or something. The thing about having cancer is that you can’t get away from it. Even when you’re “cured,” every ache and pain frightens you, if only for a minute. So just imagine how much it would suck to not only not be able to forget that you have cancer, but then have the fact that you have cancer be reinforced by someone who you don’t even know. For instance, if I was still sick, if someone I only knew through Facebook came up to me and told me they were thinking of me/they hoped I got well soon, the feeling that I would walk away with is that they’re doing this to assuage their own conscience. That they are showing that they’re grateful that this personal hurricane isn’t happening to them, that they’re trying to show any sort of higher power that they are understanding and empathetic and please don’t ever let it happen to them. And that seriously would just make me feel worse. And you don’t want to be that person who makes the cancer patient feel worse, do you?

In that vein, also don’t go up to a cancer patient you never talk to and just attempt to have a casual conversation. That’s transparent as (expletive deleted), and again will only serve to make them feel like (expletive deleted). (The staring can get a bit old too.)

So here’s the thing with Facebook – it is a very weird social media outlet where people are able to catch up on other people’s lives without actually talking to them. Or in some cases, find out about people’s lives without actually talking to them, but that’s what we would call Facebook stalking and is only acceptable when you’re looking up ex-friends/significant others or some Hottie McHotterson you met during your shift at the coffee shop. (I’m not talking about me, noooo, no way.) But that all is beside the point. In order to get to my point, I want to talk about this theory called “Dunbar’s Number.” The theory states that the human brain can only maintain 150 meaningful relationships. The number describes the amount of people you know and can keep up some means of social contact with — and the 150 people are always changing, due to fall-outs with friends or break-ups or simply growing apart from someone.

So keeping in mind Dunbar’s Number, think about what your thought process is when you’re posting something on Facebook. I can’t speak for everyone, as much as I might try, but when I’m posting a status I’m not thinking about the 407 people that make up my friends list. I’m thinking of the maybe thirty or so people I interact with regularly on Facebook. I’m not thinking about that person I met at a party once when we both were possibly incredibly intoxicated and we bonded over a shared affection for some sort of internet meme and therefore decided that we needed to be FB pals. So say, if I posted a status saying “wow, really bad day, feeling so upset and sad,” I’m not expecting someone I don’t know outside of the internet to come up to me and give me a hug and say, “What’s wrong? I saw you were really upset from your status update.” That just comes off as kind of creepy.

This is all probably too long and complicated when it could be simple, so here’s my summary and official stance on this question: While knowing that you have people rooting for you, even though you don’t know them, can be comforting, there is also a huge chance you could say something wrong, if the only way you know about things is through Facebook. And while it definitely feels awful to know that someone is purposely avoiding you because of your sickness, I doubt that this person would notice if you didn’t say anything to them in public, as you’ve never done so before. So stick to Facebook. Send them a message saying what you wanted to say in the video store, and let them know that if they need you for anything, you’re here for them. That way they can reply when it feels right for them, and they don’t feel like they’re being put on the spot. There’s also the chance that you won’t get a response, and that’s fine too. Being a cancer patient is hard work. But at least you’ll know that you’ve expressed your condolences in a tactful manner (hopefully!!!!) and have offered help should they ever need it.

So that’s Hannah take (Did I mention she is fierce?). Disagree with her? We welcome your response as well. Before you comment, though: Whether you agree with her or not, the intensity of her answer demonstrates a larger point: people in extreme circumstances (like battling cancer) can have pretty strong reactions to things others might not expect. By approaching someone in extreme circumstances — specifically to engage with them on the topic of extremity — you assume the responsibility of possibly (not necessarily, but possibly) receiving an intense reaction. Know that, and act with compassion.

That’s MY take.

Nicole

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused 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,

There is a very small pool of dating possibilities here and my friends and I have a rule that you don’t date the ex of someone else, at least not without their explicit permission. Since you don’t know if you’re going to like someone after just one date, do you think it’s okay to first-date with a friend’s ex without getting friend permission and then, if you want to second-date, ask for their consent?

Confidentially yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

What’s tricky here is the definition of “date.” On the Vineyard, there are many activities that appear to be not-dates but potentially are, such as scalloping, power-washing a mutual friend’s boat, and waiting in standby. Once you’ve gone scalloping (for instance) together, you’ll have a pretty good sense of whether or not you want to pursue a more intimate relationship with the person.

So sure, it’s okay, as long that first date involves scalloping (etc).

A related thought: due to, as you note, the very small pool of dating possibilities, you all might want to modify your position on exes. Consider a statute of limitations (maybe after 3 years, they’re fair game). Define what an “ex” is – someone you’ve had children with? Someone you used to live with? (Note these don’t necessarily overlap). Or someone with whom you had a fling last summer after comparing root vegetables at the Farmers Market? If you’ve got the hots for somebody, it hardly seems fair not to pursue it because they went to second base with a friend of yours back in high school.

That’s my take.

Nicole

Dear Nicole,

I will soon be divorced and I have my eyes on a man who works with my thankfully-soon-to-be-ex. Should I ask him out? For all I know my ex has been telling him terrible things about me. I’d like the opportunity to whisper terrible things about my ex into this man’s cute little ear. Is that wrong?

Confidentially yours,

Town withheld

Dear Town withheld:

Never mind “wrong,” let’s start with “stupid.” By all means ask him out, but if you’re lucky enough to get close to his cute little ear, don’t reveal you’re a woman who still thinks about her ex. That’s a turn-off. You’ll get much more satisfying results if you whisper terrible things about the Yankees.

What if your ex has indeed badmouthed you to this fellow? Given your character (as revealed in this question), there’s a pretty good chance he’ll have said, “…And on top of it all, she trashes people behind their backs.” Do you want to prove he’s right? No. Think strategically: this being the Vineyard, chances are that a good friend of yours is dating a good friend of his, so he’ll probably hear all the terrible things you want to tell him anyhow. Probably in some fantastically mangled, exaggerated form that makes your ex out to be a monster, while you remain above it all. It’s a total win for you.

And by the way, P.S.: Yes, it’s wrong. Whispering horrible things about other people is generally wrong. If you’re going to badmouth somebody, be upfront and do it at the Annual Town Meeting.

That’s my take.

Nicole

Photo llustration people waiting in line for ferry at VH SSa — Photo illustration by Kate Feiffer

Nicole-GallandBemused 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 can’t get a ferry reservation. I’m standing in line at the SSA terminal waiting for the preferred line to open up. As soon as it does, I plan to whip out my phone and call the reservation number as well. I have been having a nice chat with the people in line with me and I feel kind of sneaky because I haven’t mentioned this to them. We’ve established a we’re-all-in-this-together camaraderie and  I feel like a cheat. What’s your take?

Confidentially yours,

SSA Terminal, Vineyard Haven

Dear SSA Terminal, Vineyard Haven:

It depends upon the time of year. If a ferry is sold-out in the off-season, that’s probably because something very special is happening (a high school play-off game, a March on Washington, a sale at Kappy’s, etc.), and frankly you are interfering with the makeup of society by trying to leave the Vineyard at all for your own selfish reasons. Hang up the phone and get out of the line. Unless you yourself are trying to get to the game, march, or sale – then just hitch a ride from someone who already has a reservation. That way you save on gas.

In the high season, of course, it’s everyone for themselves, so go for it. From the invention of the telephone onwards, Islanders have scrambled to use every new option that comes along to get ferry reservations. You are the vanguard for the next generation of Excursionists.

That’s my take.

Nicole

***

Dear Nicole,

I come from a place where the locals smile a lot, but after ten years living here, I find myself smiling less. I think I would stand out less as being a wash-ashore if I stopped smiling, cast my eyes down and stopped bugging the locals to care with my toothy grin. Come to think of it they might already see me as mad, because I smile. I am starting to wonder if my smiling is setting me apart. I have volunteered for everything, you name the fundraiser, I’ve done it. I just want to be invited to a clambake for goodness sake!

Confidentially yours,

West Tisbury

Dear West Tisbury:

I’m not entirely sure of your question, but I believe it’s either: “How do I get invited to a clambake?” or “Does smiling make me an obvious wash-ashore?” Regarding clambakes: the “clambake scene” had much clearer social etiquette back in the 1970s. Since then, political correctness, the nouveau riche, and housing prices have shaken up the status quo, not unlike on Downton Abbey. If you’re not actually getting invited to clambakes, I would recommend casually trolling South Beach (or any up-island beach you can gain access to) at sundown in August with several cases of beer (or a magnum of Ridge Geyserville wine if you’ve snuck into Quansoo). Statistically, you will almost certainly encounter some kind of clambake attended by someone you know. Brandish your beer supply (good place to use the toothy grin) as if this person were expecting you. Pull out a beer and offer it directly to them.

Did they take it? Excellent. It will now be far too awkward for them, or anyone else, to question your presence. You have earned the right to attend, both by contributing alcohol and by handling a moment of social discomfort with classic Vineyard passive-aggressiveness. If later in the evening you can sing James Taylor songs, preferably slightly off-key, then you are a shoe-in.

If your question is about your not blending in: what sets you apart isn’t your smile (give me a moment and I’m sure I’ll be able to think of some notable locals who smile a lot*) but your Old World use of the word “mad” to mean “loony.” Stop talking like that, you galoot! I’ve bet you’ve got some kind of cute accent, too, don’t you? That never helps. We prefer not to be reminded there’s an actual planet off-island.

That’s my take.

Nicole

*Ann Bassett. June Manning. Carly Simon

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on Martha’s 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. Got a question on Island ethics or etiquette? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole,

My daughter had a bad cough last week. I was in Cronigs and ran into her pediatrician. I asked him about my daughter’s cough while he was looking at lettuce, but now I’m worried that I crossed a line. Was it okay that I asked him about my daughter’s cough? By the way, he didn’t seem to mind and, if you care to know, she’s much better now.

Confidentially yours,

Tisbury

Dear Tisbury:

It’s fine as long as the lettuce was locally grown. Many doctors who choose to practice on the Island do so because they are enamored with its quaint, old-fashioned ways. Your approaching the doctor over locally-sourced produce affords him the kind of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman moment that most doctors who have relocated here secretly yearn for. So actually, he is somewhat in your debt.

Honestly, approach the doctor over produce as you would approach any professional outside the context of their workplace. Would you query your plumber about your toilet running if you meet him at the Post Office? Would you ask your child’s teacher about homework habits at the gym? Would you ask a video store clerk about the latest releases while waiting in line at the DMV? Context and character are everything. If it feels wrong, don’t do it. If you ask for advice and get a deaf ear, respect it and don’t take it personally.

That’s my take.

Nicole

Dear Nicole,

My good friend’s ex is coming to the island with his new girlfriend for a visit. My friend doesn’t know about his plans, nor does she know that my husband and I stayed in contact with him after they broke up. We are planning to host a welcome-back dinner party in his honor when he’s here. Should I tell my friend?

Confidentially yours,

Oak Bluffs

Dear Oak Bluffs:

Because this question begs more clarity, I’ll have to answer in the if/then manner.

Why haven’t you told your “good friend” you are friendly with her ex?

IF it’s because you are generally of a sneaky disposition, THEN don’t tell her – continue the sneakiness, since that’s clearly what you’re best at.

IF you have not told her because she has an unreasonable sensitivity on matters regarding her ex, THEN don’t tell her – be kind.

IF, however, she lives on the Vineyard or you have even a single friend in common, THEN TELL HER, because she’s obviously going to find out about it anyhow. Think about it. This is a freakin’ island. Just saying.

Seriously: news travels fast on the Vineyard, and devolves almost instantly into rumor and gossip. You have no control over what is said about you, or to whom it is said – all you can control are your own actions, so make sure you act in a way that reflects your value system. Do you think of yourself as honest? (Tell her) Compassionate? (Maybe don’t tell her) Compassionate and honest? (Tell her but do it gently.)

That’s my take.

Nicole

— 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,

Edgartown

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.

Nicole

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.

Nicole