Texting in a gallery

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 Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” has recently been published. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole,

I run an art gallery. The other day a woman stopped in, stood in front of a picture and texted, took a phone call, texted some more, and then left. It was rude. What would you suggest I should have said to her?

Confidentially yours,

Art Dealer

Dear Art Dealer,

Call me crazy, but I probably would have started with something like, “Please don’t do that in here,” or, “Excuse me, texting and phone calls are inappropriate behavior for this setting.”

If you go that route, I’d recommend also posting a sign with those same words on it, so that if the person resists you by means of that age-old retort, “Oh yeah, where does it say that?” you can just point to the sign. For some reason, pointing to a sign usually leads to greater compliance than your saying exactly the same words aloud. I don’t know why. If you really want them to take the message seriously, make it the caption for a photo of a kitten. Or better yet, make it the subtitle of a 20-second video, perhaps showing a person making a fool of themselves in a painful but technically nonlethal way. Everyone takes those videos seriously.

However if the idea of clear, direct communication gives you hives (which if you’re an Islander, it probably does), here are some suggestions for less direct ways to get the point across:

Put up a warm, inviting sign that says, “Special cell phone area,” with an arrow pointing outside the gallery.

Apply a suggestion I made earlier this summer: Pull out your own phone, stand next to them, and improvise a conversation such that you appear to be the person they are on the phone with. (Added bonus: This actually would be performance art, and what better place than a gallery?)

Stare at them. If you can, look over their shoulder at what they’re texting. Point it out to a friend, and comment loudly on the quality of their text. When they object, say in an innocent tone, “I’m sorry, this is an art gallery where the point is to look at everything that’s interesting, so naturally I assumed you were doing performance art. (innocent pause) If you’re not doing performance art, then what exactly are you doing?”

If they are literally texting in front of a painting, approach them enthusiastically and ask who are they with, Christie’s or Sotheby’s? And what will their opening bid be? Let them know that Michelle Obama was very interested in this particular piece, too. In fact the Secret Service has set up a hidden camera to read the texts of anyone who lingers in front of this picture, to make sure nobody scoops Michelle. Tell them the bidding closes at 6 and they can make their bid by pressing “send” at any time. If they protest, “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” smile secretly and reply, “Aha, I see that somebody told you the secret phrase to automatically double your bid. Do you have gold handy, or would you prefer to use one of your kids as collateral?”

Or you could just ask them, politely, to stop.

That’s my take.



This article originally appeared on mvtimes.com.