MV Ps & Qs: Checkout line

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

We are formerly seasonal residents, now retired year-rounders who, for the first time in our lives, do our grocery shopping together. My husband thinks that I’m being inconsiderate of our fellow shoppers and new neighbors because when we’re almost done shopping I encourage him to secure us a spot in line at the checkout counter while I race through the aisles for the last few items. Nicole, I am wondering what’s your take?

Confidentially yours,

Line Lady

Dear Lady,

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that your actions will almost certainly be frowned on by pretty much everyone, because you are faking out the people in the line behind you by adding to their wait time without warning or discussion. Not a winning strategy if you are trying to build relationships here.

If I were to go on record declaring that it was okay for you to add groceries to your bounty as you approached the cashier, and you found yourself being looked at askance by other line-members while doing so, it would not do you much good to whip out a copy of the paper, wave it under their noses, and say, “See? Galland says it’s totally fine for me to do this, so drop the attitude, neighbor.” Please don’t do that.

So while I am flattered that you’ve asked for my advice … let’s be real. The court of public opinion is what matters here. And the court of public opinion will generally frown on your behavior. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that there are three exceptions to the bad news. In three specific circumstances, right now on Martha’s Vineyard, you get a free pass if you fake out the people in the line behind you by adding to their wait time. Here are the three circumstances:

  1. It’s five minutes to closing and there are no other shoppers still in the aisles. This means there is no risk that somebody could get trapped behind you waiting longer than they should have to, to check out. In this case, you still risk annoying the cashiers, who would just like to cash out and go home already so they can read MV Ps & Qs.
  2. You are able to anticipate which shopper will get stuck directly behind you, and it is someone who has recently welcomed you to the Vineyard with a traditional, authentic display of Vineyard passive-aggressiveness. In that case, you are welcome — nay, expected — to return the favor, especially in public, and your behavior regarding the check-out line is just the ticket. Perhaps you ordered firewood from someone who left not-quite-a-cord of unsplit, unseasoned pine logs in your driveway, figuring as city slickers you wouldn’t know any better, and now they are behind you.
  3. You are able to anticipate which shoppers will get stuck directly behind you, and they are all Eagles fans.


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 Martha’s 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