A few months ago, I gave a coworker $25 to hold for me until we had a chance to go to a Paint Bar together (I’m bad at holding onto cash, so I figured if I gave it to her ahead of time, that would keep me from spending it on other things). We’ve never found a time to go to the Paint Bar. Is it rude to ask if I could have it back, since I don’t think we are ever going to go?
Painted into a Corner
Lately I’ve been receiving questions that have such obvious answers, I sorta wonder if the question masks an unconscious unease about some other issue. I think that could be the case here.
Simple answer to your question: The money is yours, so obviously you have the right to get it back. That is not even an interesting question. Please try harder next time. Thanks.
Your real concern, I think, is the part about feeling rude. Vineyarders, especially female Vineyarders (which I’m going to assume you are, because Paint Bar), have a higher-than-average sensitivity regarding rudeness. We all know this, and we all know why: We’re surrounded by water, and can’t get away from the people we might have offended. Our stress levels are arguably higher than mainlanders’, because we’ve got a high cost of living and low median wage and our population increases tenfold every summer, which isn’t how human society was designed to work. As a community we’re just not like normal people. Hypersensitivity comes with the territory (unless perhaps you are a libertarian). This is why passive-aggressiveness is a hallmark of Island life, being both regrettable and necessary.
Why would you think it’s rude to ask for what is yours? I’m assuming you communicated to your co-worker clearly that the money was for a shared visit to the Paint Bar. If it’s clear to both of you that that visit isn’t happening, then there is no reason for her to think you’re being rude.
The opportunity for rudeness lies in what the request-for-refund implies: It is a way of stating (passive-aggressively) that there will be no visit to the Paint Bar. You have shifted the rules of engagement from “Someday, the Paint Bar” to “Reality Check: There Will Be No Paint Bar.” Perhaps you’re uncomfortable acknowledging an unpleasant development in your relationship? A development that could have remained unspoken and vague as long as the Paint Bar possibility hovered in the air?
What I’m detecting here is your lack of clarity about how cozy you and your co-worker are, or could become. If the Paint Bar visit (and the entrusting-of-money associated with it) was a way to move your co-worker acquaintanceship into chummier territory, then stating that it won’t happen is a little like dissing a fellow Islander: You’re stuck in close proximity to the person you might have offended.
It could be the other extreme: Maybe your co-worker has decided to ditch you as a potential friend, but is too polite (or cowardly, or passive-aggressive) to admit it directly by giving you your money back unasked. So you’re stuck having to passive-aggressively acknowledge her passive-aggressive diss. That’s kind of a bummer, so just ask for the damn money back and get on with your life.
Or here’s a better idea: Unless you’ve decided you really do not want to go to the Paint Bar with this person, try one more time to schedule a visit to the Paint Bar. That would take less time and effort than you just spent reading this column. And it potentially has a happier ending, too.
That’s my take.
Bemused readers ask bestselling novelist and Shakespeare for the Masses co-creator Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to onIsland@mvtimes.com.