Ps and Qs: Woods Hole friends

—Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

We are lucky to have a friend who lives in Woods Hole whom we stay with when the ferry gets canceled. Now that ferries are getting canceled with alarming regularity, our Vineyard friends have started asking us if they can call our Woods Hole friend and see if they can stay over too. I don’t want to impose on our Woods Hole friend, who is probably too nice to say no even if he/she wanted to, but I don’t like saying no myself, so I feel like I should impose, although maybe it wouldn’t be an imposition at all. Nicole, should I broker a greet and meet, or is this asking too much of our Woods Hole friend, and asking too much of me?

Confidentially yours,

Woods Hole

Dear Woods,

The answer to this is so simple and obvious, I wonder if there is something lurking behind your question.

First, the answer is: Ask your Woods Hole friend what he or she prefers. If you don’t want to impose executive functioning, give a multiple-choice question. It could read like this:

When my friends ask me if they can impose upon you, should I:

  1. a)   tell them sure and give them your number?
  2. b)  tell them no?
  3. c)   tell them yes unless they are Edgartonians/Virgos/pescatarians/Unitarians/Democrats/banjo players/bird watchers/fill-in-the-blank (check all that apply)
  4. d)  tell them no unless they are Edgartonians/Virgos/pescatarians/Unitarians/Democrats/banjo players/bird watchers/fill-in-the-blank (check all that apply)
  5. e)   just check with you each time, to see how you’re feeling about guests.

Whatever they answer, believe them and act accordingly. So there, that’s settled.

Because this is such a no-brainer that it’s hard to believe you’d even need to ask it, let’s gaze a little deeper into your query. In just a few short lines, to ask a very simple question, you used a preponderance of terms such as imposition, a hard time saying no, and asking too much. Is it possible that you feel imposed upon by your Vineyard friends for their simply asking about it in the first place (since they probably know you have a hard time saying no)? Is it possible that, regardless of your Woods Hole friend’s attitude toward being asked for shelter, your fielding the requests feels like an imposition on you?

In that case there are a few potential tacks to take, most of them classics of Island Psychology. For instance, you could passive-aggressively pass the buck: Claim the Woods Hole friends are categorically, consistently opposed to even being asked. That way, you’re not saying no, you’re just reporting that someone else is saying no.

You’ll also be lying, so I’m not a fan of this approach.

If it were a white lie, I wouldn’t mind so much, but it isn’t a white lie. If the Woods Hole friend would indeed welcome travelers, then this approach both paints him or her in an unflattering light, and also indisposes travelers who otherwise could have stayed there. So please don’t do this. I almost wish I hadn’t suggested it, but there’s not much going on this week due to school vacation, and they needed this column to take up a little more space.

Ask your Woods Hole friend how he or she feels about being asked for shelter. If he or she isn’t OK with it, then the above suggestion is fine, because you’re not lying. If your Woods Hole friend is indeed OK with it, then print up some cards with the relevant contact info, hand them out to all your Vineyard friends now, and tell them it’s their responsibility not to lose the cards, ever. They will, of course, lose the cards next week, and then end up asking you again. So that’s not a good plan either.

I’m afraid you don’t really have an out here. Friends let friends ask favors. Friends let friends say no. If you don’t like that arrangement, I don’t have any advice on what you can do about it.

Unless you are a banjo-playing pescatarian from Edgartown, of course. In that case, I could introduce you to some people I know in Woods Hole.


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. 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