Dems at dinner

Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole:

I hosted a dinner party recently, and one of my guests said he was going to vote for a third-party candidate, because as a Massachusetts voter his vote really didn’t matter. That’s his prerogative, and he has the freedom to vote his conscience. And as the host of the party, I felt it was my prerogative to lace his lettuce with a cayenne pepper. Was that OK?


Dear Peppery:

Just hold on a sec while I pick my jaw up off the floor.

You are actually asking me: “My guest said something I disapproved of, so I felt entitled to gastronomically distress him. Is that OK?”

Of course it’s not OK! That’s the simple answer, and I could just end the column with that, but your smugness (admit it, that was smug) compels me to dive into this a little deeper. Let’s examine the myriad reasons why it is not OK.

I hardly know where to start. Maybe with grammar. Here’s Merriam-Webster’s definition of “prerogative,” edited for brevity:

1 a: an exclusive or special right, power, or privilege: as (1): one belonging to an office or an official body (2): one belonging to a person, group, or class of individuals

2: a distinctive excellence

Neither of you is being “distinctively excellent” in your position, so that’s No. 2 busted. Which leaves us with the original meaning of the word: a prerogative is not merely a “right,” it is exclusive, special, privileged. You have to belong to a certain group to have that right. You seem to be suggesting that you and your guest each belong to a special group, and each of you is simply exercising a prerogative of your particular group — as a voter, he is doing what he wishes to with his vote, and as a host, you are doing what you wish to with the salad. It’s a wash.

However, your guest actually belongs to a second privileged group: his original identity here is Dinner Guest. It is the special privilege of Dinner Guests not to be culinarily sabotaged by their hosts. That is a necessary tenet of civilized life. It supersedes even the stupidest political posturing. If you are playing the prerogative card, he wins this hand. You lose.

Having covered why it is grammatically incorrect to lace his salad with cayenne, let’s move on to logic: If his voting third-party in some way caused you to pepper his salad, or if your peppering his salad would cause him to change his voting philosophy, at least you could call upon the cause-and-effect defense. Even if you could somehow prove that his political position had a direct adverse effect on your hosting skills … but you can’t. It’s apples and oranges. Two wrongs never make a right — but if he cut in front of you on the slide and so you kicked him on the way to the swing set, then at least there would be some causal connection. Oh, sure, you’d be a petty little brat, but at least the babysitter would be able to fathom why you were being a petty little brat. The Great Cosmic Babysitter in this case must be completely puzzled. You might as well have knifed his spare tire in response to hearing what his favorite color was, or fed his puppy Borax because you disapprove of his kitchenware.

So from the logical approach, you’ve got zip. Finally, there’s karma: His voting third-party is not mean-spirited toward you. Your putting pepper in his salad is mean-spirited toward him. You lose.

Seriously, what was the point of your action? Do you think he’s going to say, “Oh, wow, she’s made an excellent point with this cayenne, now I see the error of my ways, and therefore of course I will vote for [party’s nominee]”?

For the record, I am not defending your guest’s voting tactics (in fact, I dislike them, for reasons beyond the scope of this answer). I’m defending his right to be treated properly as your guest. If you are so unhappy with his political philosophy that you literally want to make him suffer, here’s a crazy idea: Talk to him about it. Have a conversation! Just try it once for kicks — it’s what all the cool kids are doing, and it’s all the rage at dinner parties, especially this week.

That’s my take.


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. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” was published last summer by HarperCollins.Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to