How to Be a Good Tourist

In early April a story appeared in Business Insider: “How NOT to Behave in 12 Countries Around the World”. Water was still freezing in Travvy’s outside water dish, but the spring spruce-up was already under way at down-island shops and restaurants. What a brilliant idea, thought I, and immediately started soliciting suggestions from fellow year-round Vineyarders on how not to behave on Martha’s Vineyard. Here’s a sample.

Many, many responses had to do with motor vehicles.

  • “If you drive a Hummer (or similar), you will bring out the worst in us. We think you look ridiculous and no, we are not impressed.”
The Bad Parking Paparazzi are everywhere. If you are an able-bodied person, don't think of parking in a handicapped-only space.

The Bad Parking Paparazzi are everywhere. If you are an able-bodied person, don’t think of parking in a handicapped-only space.

  • “We profile cars with NY, NJ, and CT license plates, so be on your best behavior. Park sensibly and don’t run down anybody in a crosswalk.” Cautionary note: Bad Parking on MV is a very popular Facebook group. It currently has 855 members. The idea is to take photos of inappropriately parked vehicles and post them on Facebook. The Bad Parking Paparazzi are everywhere.
  •  “Never toot your horn! There’s is no reason to toot your horn on Martha’s Vineyard.”
  • “Please learn how to disable the car alarm on your rental before it goes off and you’re fumbling and blustered, or miles away from the car. Better yet — who is going to steal it? Don’t even set it.”
  • “Don’t set the alarm when your vehicle is on the ferry’s freight deck. They’re always having to page people whose alarms are going off. Seriously, who’s going to steal your car off the boat?”
  • “This is not Disneyland. We drive on these roads!”

Courteous pedestrian behavior is also appreciated:

  • It's usually only this bad at the Tisbury Street Fair.

    It’s usually only this bad at the Tisbury Street Fair.

    “Sidewalks are not mosh pits. When walking two, three, or four abreast on a sidewalk, please notice the person walking singly, head-on, trying to pass, and step aside for them. Please don’t walk into them.”

. . . As is courtesy to the environment:

  • “Even if it’s customary to discard rubbish on the beach and in the street in your country, it’s reviled here. Don’t do it, ever.”

. . . And consideration for the people who wait on you in shops and restaurants, and for all the Vineyarders trying to go about their lives:

  • “Tipping in restaurants is mandatory.”
  • “Martha’s Vineyard is not a theme park. Treat us like humans, dammit. In stores, look us in the eye and say ‘thank you.’ Take the change from our hand to your hand, don’t expect us to put it on the counter so you don’t have to touch us. When on the roads, look at your speedometer and then drive half that fast. DON’T BE IN A HURRY! You are, ostensibly, on vacation.”
  • “READ the sign. Don’t just ‘look’ at it; read it. All of it. Questions? Read it again.”
  • “Respect that you have the finances and time to come to the island and enjoy it. Think about the islanders that work 24/7 to make this beautiful home a place for you to vacation. Be blessed to have an islander help you, but again respect the fact that because you are here does not make you deserve to be treated any different. Respect is earned as well as given. Be blessed.”
  • “Don’t name drop, either your name or somebody else’s. Your good behavior is far more important to us than ‘who’ you are or who you know. Be who you are and let us accept you for just that. Don’t cut in line. Don’t compare us to where you’ve been or where you come from.”
  • “We don’t care HOW you do it in New York.”
  • “Be courteous, polite, thoughtful, aware that you are visiting someone’s home. Be joyful, and have fun.”

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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14 Responses to How to Be a Good Tourist

  1. Today, I went to the beach with my children. I found a
    sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She
    placed the shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to tell someone!


  2. Hal Davis says:

    “We don’t care HOW you do it in New York.”

    How else is there to do it? 😉


  3. Helen Green says:

    Love the one about the Hummer. So true!


  4. karen says:

    Well, I’ll be there with a black jeep in July with Connecticut plates. I believe I am always courteous on the road and especially respectful to the locals, waitstaff and people walking along the sidewalks, so I hope my vehicle does not make a photo appearance on that FB page…. lol.. I am originally from NY and I do know that NY and NJ drivers have earned their rep for rude driving. I did not know this is also considered true of CT. This year I am bringing groceries from home, also… because I cannot believe how crowded your grocery stores are during summer months. It’s horrendous. I feel very sorry for you locals who have to deal with that crazy grocery traffic and I bet you breathe a sigh of relief when September rolls around. Morning glory is worth the crowds though, I always make it a point to stop in there regardless.


  5. Anda D. says:

    “Tipping in restaurants is mandatory.”
    As a long-ago (college) waitress and a former restaurant owner, I know that tips are always appreciated, but they should never be demanded. Many years ago in Paris, I was the victim of a supercilious and clearly lazy waiter in a somewhat touristy but not-very-busy bistro, so I refused to leave a tip for his lousy service and the 40-minute wait for the simple but sub-par food. That clown literally followed me out into the street, waving the chit around and shouting; my French was good enough that I understood every word he was saying about “ugly Americans.” But he was, in fact, a rude Frenchman in an arrogant establishment and I stood my ground. I always consider the many factors that go into meal service: an unexpected rush of customers, possible setbacks or disasters in the kitchen, or maybe just the fact that the moon is full. I try to give servers the benefit of the doubt, but IMHO tips should be earned. Then I am generous.


    • Sure, everyone’s got a Waiter from Hell story, and the whole tip system is open to criticism, but last I looked, the minimum wage for wait staff was less than the minimum wage for other jobs — IOW, tips are integral part of the compensation package. If you eat in sit-down restaurants, be prepared to tip.


  6. Rebecca says:

    The only one of these rules I wonder about is related to car alarms. I think they’re an abomination, but none of the three or four cars I’ve driven that had alarms had any way for the consumer to disable them. Turn them off when they’re honking, yeah. But not turn them off ahead of time. 😦

    Other than that, this list could/should also apply to every other tourist spot in the world. Heck, maybe to the whole world. Thanks for compiling them, Susanna.


    • Aha. I didn’t know that. Can you tell that some of us don’t have much experience with car alarms? I have enough trouble trying not to lock myself out of the car when my key’s in the ignition.

      Back when leaving your headlights on was a sure way to kill your battery, I used to flick other people’s lights off whenever I saw them on. This was easy, because nearly all the cars were unlocked. Then on Circuit Ave., one afternoon, I reached for the door handle — and set off an alarm. A passerby noticed immediately what was going on. We rolled our eyes at each other and went our separate ways. After that I was more cautious about turning lights off.


  7. David Whitmon says:

    You should post this in its entirety on Facebook.


  8. David Whitmon says:

    I used to work at Cycle Works. There are the big windows that look out on the Cronig’s parking lot. One summer’s day a full size hummer circled that lot over and over and over for at least 20 minutes looking for a place to park. Finally they found a space right next to a curbed planter. With the two driver’s side wheels up and in the planter, the driver was able to park. A lady not more than 5′ tall dropped out of that rig and went into that very crowded store. She came out about 25 to 30 minutes later carrying a gallon of milk. John Stevenson, owner of Cycle Works, turned to me and said, “Just how much is that gallon of milk actually costing her?”


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