Your smoke is in my car

Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,
It is early in the morning, and I am groggy and annoyed. I am sitting in my car in Vineyard Haven, waiting to board the 7 am ferry. The person in the car in front of me is smoking a cigarette. He is holding the cigarette out his window, and the smoke is drifting in through my window. I would like to say something to him. Actually I would like to grab the cigarette out of his tar- stained fingers and stomp on it. But I did neither; what should I have done?
Confidentially yours,

Dear Smoked:
Surprise: Grabbing the cigarette from him and stomping on it isn’t going to work out well for you, so I’d skip that option. (I hope you’re suggesting it only because you’re groggy, and that you feel sheepish about it by the time you see this in print.)

Nonviolent communication is a wondrous thing, however. If the smoke bothers you, the easiest thing for you would be to simply roll up your window. But let’s say you want to keep your window open. In that case, the most proactive thing you could do would be to shake off your grogginess, approach his car politely and ask, à la the lines of social correctness, if he would mind either a) putting the cigarette out, b) smoking someplace where the smoke doesn’t blow into your car, or c) rolling his window up when he smokes in the car.

There are three possible responses to your request.

  1. He cooperates by doing one of these three. In that case, thank him. Not in a snarky way, as if he’s only doing what he obviously should have been doing anyhow. It took effort and assistance on his part to get there. With your help, he was able to give you what you needed, even though you began the encounter with diametrically opposed values. That’s teamwork! Go team! We need more teamwork these days. You guys are an inspiration for the rest of the nation. So thank him sincerely.
  1. He refuses to cooperate, either politely or rudely. Depending on his level of hostility and your level of comfort, your options vary widely along a spectrum that includes (but is not limited to): leaving your own car to stroll for fresh air elsewhere; rolling up your own window to avoid the smoke; or proposing you two play a hand of poker and the winner calls the shots. (I’m still not a fan of grabbing the cigarette from him and stomping on it.) I’m not trying to sidestep a more specific response. Everyone’s got a different comfort level about being rebuffed by a stranger. Calibrate your next move according to what feels most comfortable to you. If it were me — unless he was glowering with unfriendliness — I’d probably try to interview him about why he is taking his position on the subject.

However, according to the Island Principle of Passive-Aggressiveness, if he doesn’t want to stop smoking, he is less likely to do No. 2 and more likely to do No. 3:

3 (actually 2.5). He pulls his arm into the car — without rolling up the window. Now he’s taken steps to be more “socially correct,” but you’re still subjected to his smoke, and there’s nothing you can do about it. He sure showed you, you meddling, self-righteous, uptight (deleted)! In this case, there’s not a lot you can do (which is why I think this is the likelier scenario — he’s probably been through this before and has learned this is the easiest option for him). You can berate him if that would make you feel better (in which case: anger management, anyone?), but if he was already noncompliant, will your berating somehow make him less noncompliant? He might roll his window up to avoid your voice, but you’re about to be in a smallish enclosed vessel with him for 45 minutes, and we’ve already seen he’s a master of passive aggressiveness, so you’re setting yourself up for a disharmonious crossing.

So this behavior is actually semihostile noncooperation. Interpret his action to mean no, and then respond accordingly (per No. 2 above). By the time you’ve sorted through all the options, it will probably be time to board the ferry, and at that point the SSA regulations kick in and you get a smoke-free environment. So ask yourself: Do you want that smoke-free environment to include potential cold war with a fellow Islander, or no?

By the way: Thank you for bringing our attention to yet another downside of climate change. Who’d’ve thunk 50 years ago that people would have their car windows rolled down on an early morning in December?

On the other hand, it is a relief to know people are ready to get upset about something other than politics.
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