Gluten glutton and tipping a teacher

NickiGalland-headshotBemused 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. 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

Dear Nicole:
I am a glutton for gluten and am starting to feel like an outcast here. Is this gluten-free thing a fad gone mad or do we have an island-wide epidemic of celiac disease? I have been accused of being dismissive to people who say they don’t eat wheat. In my opinion, it’s getting hard to take this whole thing seriously. Am I being insensitive?
Confidentially yours,
Gluten Glutton

Dear Glutton:
A little context goes a long way here – do you mean you’re having a hard time taking it seriously when you think idly about all the wheat-free folks you know during the course of the day, or that you have a hard time taking it seriously while you are considering what to actually feed these people?

If the former – hey, it’s your internal monologue, think whatever you like. However, if you want to share your views with others, do it knowing that it might not be GC (Gastronomically Correct) and that chocolate-lover-gallandyou could get push-back. People who feel belittled tend to push back. This has nothing to do with gluten, and everything to do with feeling mocked. (For example, I get pretty snarky when my chocolate fetish is mocked. You don’t want to know what happened after my husband teased me about this photo.)

And remember this handy rule of thumb: if you are judging others, you are likely to be judged on your judging them. As with any topic about which there are very divergent views, it’s one thing to say, “I don’t get it” and another thing to say, “That’s such nonsense.” The first invites discussion/reflection/debate/communication, the second shuts it down. Decide what kind of person you want to be and go from there.

In answer to your query about a sudden outburst of celiac disease across the Island – no, most gluten-free people will not get violently ill and require hospitalization if they encounter gluten. That said, however: Agribusiness has fidgeted with the chemical composition of many grains (and in particular, wheat) over the past 50-ish years, and it may well be that the general population finds certain foods increasingly difficult to tolerate. If you’re not one of those people, then it might be a challenge to feel sympathetic toward them. What a great opportunity for you to practice compassion!

On the other hand, someone else’s food sensitivity should not create an inconvenience in your life. Nobody should assume other people will automatically accommodate their particular circumstances — that’s just plain old narcissism, and the Island isn’t big enough for such egos. Real Yankees carry our own baggage, we don’t foist it off onto other people. So if the person you’ve invited to dinner does not eat wheat, meat, shellfish, mushrooms, eggs, sugar, or foods that begin with the letter M, then they should tell you that well ahead of time, and send you an easy and delicious recipe for something that they can eat, together with some acknowledgement or appreciation that you’re accommodating their needs. Otherwise, go ahead and be insensitive to them. They’ve already been insensitive to you.
That’s my take.


Dear Nicole:
My son’s teacher moonlights as a waitress at a restaurant we enjoy. I like to tip her generously, after all she’s my son’s teacher. However, a friend that I mentioned this to told me that by tipping her in excess of 20%, I was in effect bribing her. She said I shouldn’t be tipping her any higher than I would tip another waitress. What’s your take, Nicole?
Confidentially Yours,
Teacher Tipper

Dear Tipper:
Whether it’s “right” or not, it is commonplace for people to tip friends or family members who are serving them a little something extra (and this works both ways — a server is likely to do a little something extra when serving friends and family). If you’re tipping her purely because you know her and like her, then you’re simply being human. If you’re tipping her so that she will like you and therefore give your son extra attention or good grades, then you are behaving as a briber would (which doesn’t mean she knows that or will respond accordingly).

If you’re not sure what your own motivation is, try this exercise. Imagine it’s the end of the school year and your son has gotten a lousy grade on a year-end project. You go to that same restaurant and are served by that same waitress. The bill has arrived and it’s time to calculate the tip. Will you still tip her more than 20 percent? If no, then don’t tip her excessively now, because yes, some part of you is (however discreetly) probably trying to bribe her.

Instead, consider the big-picture approach: take that little-bit-extra that you’d otherwise give her, and stash it away each time you eat out. When you have amassed a decent amount, donate it to an organization that strives to achieve better pay for teachers, so that in the future, teachers will not have to moonlight as waitresses. Among other benefits, this will leave their evenings free for grading your son’s papers.
That’s my take.