MV Ps & Qs: Restroom or reading room?

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Dear Nicole,

My husband, son, and I had breakfast at the Black Dog yesterday. While there, a man got up from his table and took a section of the newspaper with him into one of the two restrooms. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that in public. When he came out, I wanted to be sure he took that newspaper with him. Unfortunately, he went back to his table, gathered up all the papers, and put then on the shelf where the Black Dog has graciously provided them for anyone who cares to borrow them, and walked out empty-handed.

To say the least, I was disappointed and disgusted. I raised the subject of bathroom etiquette with my family, and they agreed this was an egregious breach of bathroom etiquette.

What’s your take?

Confidentially yours,


Public Loo


Dear Loo,

Some folks find there is an argument to be made in keeping our immune system hearty by occasionally exposing it to miniscule amounts of icky microbes. But since etiquette is about cultural values and not science, then you are correct — it is an egregious breach. My issue with it is less about hygiene and more about consent.

Given most Americans regularly bathe, shower, and brush their teeth in close proximity to toilets, I really don’t think he is endangering anyone’s health. Certainly no more than you might endanger a visitor’s health if they leaf through your copy of “Birds of North America” when they need to use your loo.

The Black Dog scenario is different for two reasons. First, trust. Presumably you and your loo-using visitor know each other, and so there is a sense of mutual awareness regarding basic hygiene. Even if one of you is a germophobe and the other is unhygienic, you each probably have a sense of where you are on that spectrum relative to each other. The visitor can therefore make an informed (or at least intuitive) decision about whether or not to touch your bathroom reading, and you can make an informed (or at least intuitive) decision about whether or not to soak your bathroom reading in bleach after he has left.

But far more important: Your visitor chooses to pick up your loo-side reading knowing it lives beside a toilet. A Black Dog customer will eventually pick up that portion of the paper, having no idea it spent time near a toilet. That person might not really care — and as I said, they are probably not endangered by it ­— but they have the right to know. Restaurants like the Black Dog exist in that hazy psychological sphere between private and public; technically you are in public, but you choose to go there because of the ambiance, because it feels semi-private, and personal, like a wealthy relative’s great room that’s been set up for a family reunion. The “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” approach might be true on a molecular level, but on a spiritual level, it degrades the vibe of a place. As someone from West Tisbury, I am all about the vibes.

That’s my take.



Bemused readers ask bestselling 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