Illustration by Kate Feiffer
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.
This is a small Island with a big reach, particularly when it comes to apparel. I travel extensively and I’ve seen someone wearing a Vineyard T shirt, sweatshirt, or baseball cap practically everywhere I’ve been. Is it appropriate for me to introduce myself as a Vineyarder to people wearing Vineyard attire and ask them about their connection to the Island?
I think it depends on your motivation. As a general rule of thumb, it’s a fine thing to reach out to a stranger about a common cause. But be honest with yourself: Do you want to create an authentic connection because the world is so gloriously small … or are you trying to flaunt a badge of privilege? Do you really want to know something about them, or do you just want them to know something about you? It’s one thing to offer attention, another thing to ask for it.
Let’s say the person wearing the Vineyard swag is a well-known public figure whom you would otherwise have no excuse to approach. Let’s say, for instance, it’s Donald Trump. Are you citing the Vineyard as a means to create a false sense of intimacy? That’s a form of name-dropping. That’s such a seasonal-resident thing to do.
Or let’s say the person wearing the Vineyard swag is clearly preoccupied with displays of status. Let’s say, for instance, it’s Donald Trump. In that case, your approaching him is very likely your way of flashing your high-status-real-estate card to impress him or get his attention. It’s not inappropriate, but it’s sort of tacky. But if that’s what your ego needs, hey, go for it. (Caveat: Do not sell Donald Trump any Vineyard real estate.)
Let’s say the person wearing the Vineyard swag looks like somebody who was probably here as a day-tripper or weekender, or whatever term is used these days to describe “tourist, possibly of the moped-riding variety.” In that case, declaring yourself a resident of a place he could only afford a brief glimpse of could come across as one-upmanship. A lot of this is in the delivery. If there is anything arch, smug, complacent, or superior in your tone, then the message you’re putting across is actually, “Hello, there, I just wanted you to know that I have a much better life than you do. Do you shop at Walmart? How quaint.”
On the other hand, if your delivery is expressing genuine pleasure, the message will more likely come across as, “It’s so great that you got to go to a place I know really rocks!” That’s a generous and gracious sentiment. Go for it.
As well as motivation, of course, context is also significant. For instance, if you are trekking in Nepal, and the only person you encounter all day long happens to be wearing a Black Dog cap (this actually happened to a friend of mine), it would be absolutely fine to mention that you’re from the Vineyard. Even if that person were Donald Trump.
That’s my take.