I am not your server

-Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Before we get to this week’s questions, last week’s column (Seasonal Shutdown) received an overwhelming response from readers on social media, via comments, and through letters to the editor. I’d like to go on record to clarify something: I was responding to one person’s question; I was not making a blanket statement about what all year-rounders think of all seasonal residents. Anyone using my response from last week to justify their general bitterness toward “the other side” is missing the point. The vast majority of seasonal residents do not have an attitude toward year-rounders, and I hope I can say the same is true in the other direction as well. Humanity is interdependent (Yankee self-reliance notwithstanding). Most of us get along with each other just fine! Remember that! It’s not just a nice thing to say, ­it’s reality.

Dear Nicole,

For my (paid) work, I help out at a lot of parties and events in the summer. Recently I was invited to a cocktail party by one of the people who attend a lot of these events. When I arrived, the party’s host assumed I would help out, handed me a platter, and asked if I wouldn’t mind passing it around. I thought I was invited as a guest, not as the uncompensated help, but I didn’t want to make a scene, so I accommodated her request. Then I left the party. What do you suggest I should have done?

Confidentially yours,

Passed Over

Dear Passed Over:

The short answer is: You should not have left the party until you’d satisfied my curiosity about what this woman was thinking! You don’t seem nearly as curious about that as I am. In fact, your calm acceptance of her behavior is remarkable. You win the “Least Irked Despite Reasons to Be Irked” Award of all questions we’ve ever received.

(You don’t get anything for winning, but I’m sure you’re fine with that.)

I would dearly love to know what she was thinking. Or even what she meant to say, but didn’t — some statement that would lend sense to her behavior. The following are possible, but all unlikely; I’ll rank them in increasing order of unlikeliness.

  1. “Thank you so much for donating your time to this Important Island Cause. For your labors this evening, you will be listed as an in-kind donor or volunteer on the annual report (of this Important Island Cause).”
  2. “Thank you so much for finding time to work at this event. Here’s your check.”
  3. “I’m so delighted you’re co-hosting this event with me! My contribution was to pay for everything; if you could just serve these nice hors d’oeuvres, we’ll call it even, how’s that sound? Great to have you on board. The best part is, at the end of the night we’ll get blotto together behind the woodshed. Go team!”

But we can’t know what was going on in her head, and that wasn’t your question anyhow. You want to know what I think you should have done?

I think you should have talked to her. The problem here is lack of clear communication, and although that started with her, it continued with you.

Are you aware that you present the situation as binary? As if the options were “accommodating her request” or “making a scene.” There’s a broad spectrum of possibilities between those two.

For instance — and my answer — you could have just spoken the simple truth to her, however embarrassing or awkward it felt in the moment. As I understand it, that truth would be: “I didn’t realize you wanted me to work at the party; I thought I was a guest.” This could be followed immediately by a mitigating clause, depending on your mood. Here are some suggestions:

  1. “… but I’m a big supporter of this Important Island Cause, so even though on principle I generally don’t donate my time in the summer, I’m honored to help out this once.”
  2. “… but I could use the extra income, so I’m happy to stay. Do you have an apron for me?”
  3. “… so I love how you’re treating me like an insider, but sadly, I have to bow out because this shirt — stains — yikes, you know? But thanks, I’m flattered; my loss. I’ll just hang out with the regular guests.”

Because I like to believe the best in people … is it possible that in some socially awkward way she was — seriously — trying to ask you to be part of her “team,” which might involve passing platters but would also involve an inner-circle afterparty, etc.? I guess it’s all speculation, since you followed her example and failed to communicate clearly. Too bad! Speak up next time …

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 and is the author of “I, Iago.” 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.