Summer Travel 2008: The Islands, Decoded

Nantucket

 

Island vet Charlie Graeber breaks down the mythic snobbery of the "faraway isle" and advises arrivistes on how to blend in. (Hint: Leave the "ACK" visor at home.)

I know, I know: Unless you’re one of us, you probably think Nantucket is a snobby, whale-pants sort of place. To which I say: Who invited you? I didn’t invite you.

I jest. In reality, this slander is only partially accurate. Anyway, one could argue that snobbery itself is as American as apple pie or school shootings; Nantucket, then, is just a mini America. On this 14-mile-long, swoosh-shaped glacial sand dump, native Algonquins have been supplemented by waves of Quakers, Cape Verdeans, Irish, Scots, Jamaicans, Brazilians, and Eastern Europeans (the current newbies hail, I think, from Ukraine and Ecuador). Just as on mainland America, each group has bought into the dream, then waited for the arrival of a new group to be snotty about.

It can take years to decode the subtle anthropological semaphore of island class and caste. Or, you can simply read the bumper stickers, a Nantucketer’s favorite soapbox. The ones that convey some version of "Go Home" are preferred by the true whaler-blood, pre-Seabee Nantucketers; you’ll find them plastered on the backs of 2009 SUVs paid for by the booming Nouveau Nantucketer economy and parked outside places like Faregrounds, a serviceable year-round beer-and-basics restaurant.

These year-round locals, in turn, are called "coofs" or "shoes" by the blue-haired, inherited-before-you Nantucketers who use "summer" as a verb. This breed buys its weekly Triscuits and kippered herring snacks at the Grand Union, née A&P, and daily gin at ‘Sconset Bookstore or Islander Package, and the only stickers on the bumpers of its woody Wagoneers are two decades’ worth of off-road driving permits.

Meanwhile, both these social groups stinkeye the new, endless-summering Palm Beach crowd, who have crashed the party with cash so green and teeth so white and mufti so damned Nantuckety that one can only conclude there must be a special "Nantuckety" section in the SkyMall catalog. Find them frequenting the Pearl or White Elephant, but look carefully: A proprietary "ACK" bumper sticker can be tough to spot on the massive flank of a snowbird Hummer.

No matter which circle you fall into—moneyed locals, non-native dishwashers, ill-behaved tourists—it’s easy to be a snob on Nantucket. Try rolling your eyes at the spawning throngs of weekending yarbos who pack the Gazebo in Hanes tanks dewy with Axe body spray and apple-tini dribble: Yes, you can! Or at the Young’s-scooter-riding mainlanders whom locals call "S.P.O.R.E.s" ("Stupid People On Rented Equipment"), because there’s nothing flattering about a cannonball helmet or a farting little two-stroke engine or, for that matter, quaking back fat. And, of course, one should be especially snotty about Nantucket snobs like myself—sometimes "summering," sometimes scalloping, but always squatting in family houses we could never, ever afford at current prices.

Every summer on-island, it’s the same: People come from all over the planet, then try to fit in by "going preppy." This is silly and wrong. Most end up looking like the pop-collared baddies in Revenge of the Nerds or Pretty in Pink. Don’t be those people. (And definitely don’t be one of those people who visit Nantucket just for the opportunity to buy something with the word "Nantucket" on it. I understand the excitement, but please: Be careful. I have personally witnessed a tourist, wearing a Nantucket hat, "ACK" sweatshirt, and Murray’s Nantucket Reds, taking a bite from a Pepperidge Farm Nantucket cookie. He then took a swig of Nantucket Nectars and literally traveled backward in time.)

 

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