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.
I got stuck walking behind a group of tourists the other day. They were mis-spouting some information about the Island. No, there is not an Indian tribe in Edgartown. Should I have corrected them?
First, put yourself in their shoes. If you were traveling somewhere for pleasure, and a stranger walking behind you interrupted your conversation, how would that make you feel? Never mind what that person said to you — just focus on being intruded upon while on vacation. A bit unsettling, no? So there’s your answer: No, do not approach a stranger from behind for a non-urgent reason. Especially if you’re doing it just to demonstrate you’re a know-it-all.
But let’s say there are mitigating circumstances — maybe it’s a gaggle of them meandering in that way tourists do, some walking sideways and some backward so they can all check in with one another, looking all around, wide open to whatever comes their way. In that case, they might indeed welcome a local guide. In which case, feel free to chat them up … but if your aim is to give them accurate information, make sure you’ve got it spot-on. Since you gave only one example, let’s parse that one.
“No, there is not an Indian tribe in Edgartown.” Well, sure, but a) there is not an Indian tribe anywhere on the Island, although there is a Wampanoag tribe, b) until relatively recently (by Wampanoag standards) there was no Edgartown either, and the place-now-called-Edgartown was teeming with Wampanoags, and c) members of that tribe are, even to this day, known to frequent the place-now-called-Edgartown. (To the degree that any non-Edgartonian does, I mean, so admittedly we’re talking pretty small numbers.)
Thus the correct correction would not be “There is not an Indian tribe in Edgartown,” but rather, “The tribal headquarters of the Wampanoags is in Aquinnah, not in Edgartown.”
If you heard somebody say that the origins of Illumination Night are a wondrous mystery, would you have informed them that it was invented to mark the Governor of Massachusetts coming to visit the Island in the 1800s? Or would you have known to mention that there used to be other Illumination Nights in America — all of them in Methodist revival camps — and so maybe the “Governor of Massachusetts” angle was added for marketing purposes by some savvy Methodists? If you heard somebody say that Governor Thomas Mayhew was the first European to come to the Island, would you correct them to say that no, it was Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602? Or would you have said it was probably the Norsemen in the year 1000? If you heard somebody say that the Island had no skunks until Craig Kingsbury brought over a pair as pets that got loose, would you correct them to say that Craig always insisted that wasn’t true, or would you add that off the record he admitted that it actually was?
Given that your credibility is a bit shaky to start with, I’m not sure you should be shouldering the responsibility of correcting other people. It is somewhat self-indulgent to “correct” someone if your “correction” is merely some other version of the story.
Also, it’s a little inappropriate to break into strangers’ conversation.
That’s my take.