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How do we tell our sister-in-law to put her cellphone away?

Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.

A reader writes: My husband and I are planning a trip to Europe, during which our sister-in-law will join us from England for a week. The last time we travelled together, we were irritated by her habit of chatting or texting on her cellphone in restaurants, leaving us to carry on the conversation alone. Should we write to her to request that she not bring the phone to the table? Or wait and see?

Give advance warning

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You could text your sister-in-law something like this: Hey (name here), we are looking forward to visiting with you. It will be nice to chat over meals, so you may want to put your cellphone away so we can catch up on the family news." If she ignores the message, remind her once you meet that you don't get to visit often and ask her to put the phone away.

Jan Normand, Sylvan Lake, Alta.

Ask in person

You would have had more leverage if you made the request when she first expressed an interest in joining you. Now it's best to bring it up in person. Broach it in a neutral setting in a non-threatening way: "We were wondering if you would consider leaving your BlackBerry off in restaurants." Be prepared to compromise. As a mature student at university surrounded by 18-year-olds, I have found, to my surprise, that they are perfectly willing to turn off their 'crackberries' when asked during lectures.

Nicole Stoffman, Toronto

Let it be

I'm assuming that you and your husband do not see your sister-in-law regularly and that this trip provides a rare opportunity to visit her while on vacation. If so, I suggest not making mountains out of mole hills. Enjoy the times when you do get her undivided attention and be thankful that you have someone else to talk to on the trip.

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Peter Murray, Ottawa


You've come to the wrong Group Therapy session if you're looking to bond with a fellow cellphone scold. In my view, griping about "people and their cellphones" is just a few steps away from the bathrobed oldster's cri de coeur regarding "kids and their crazy music." You may as well stand in your front yard (bathrobe tightly belted, one hopes) shaking your fist at the sky.

Look, you'll have this woman with you for a week. Is it really such a bummer to occasionally be forced to make conversation with your husband as she consults the sages of Facebook? In my experience, smart-phone addicts aren't trying to be rude - they don't mean to shut you out - it's just that the latest tweet from Kanye was major LOL-material and what kind of monster would you have to be to begrudge your tweeps instantaneous knowledge of the Internet abomination that is Rebecca Black? What I'm saying is, your sister-in-law carries a little community around with her everywhere she goes. She wouldn't think of ignoring it when it beckons to her, but I'm betting she would do you the same courtesy as well.

So if you want to talk to your sister-in-law, beckon to her. Think of the process as similar to jangling keys in front of a baby currently enraptured by her own hand. If you make enough of a racket, she'll look up. I agree that paying more attention to one's phone than the non-pixelated people sitting across from you is rude, but you're not this lady's parent and it's not your place to call her out on it, despite what Jan and Nicole suggest.

I much prefer Peter's approach, best summed up by the axiom: mole hills, yes; mountains, no. Conversation, after all, is a two-way street, and if you want to model good etiquette, why not engage your sister-in-law with questions about her life and world beyond the one she carries in her palm? In short, show her how it's done - how a considerate grown-up navigates the real-world social landscape in this new media age.

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Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy.

Next week's question

My boyfriend and I are in our early 20s, together six years, and long-distance for the past two. He's training out of province to be a police officer, and I am having trust issues. A couple of years ago I found out he went to a bar with his buddies and did things a person in a committed relationship shouldn't do. Although he constantly reassures me he won't hurt me again, I don't have much confidence in him (or much self-confidence either). How can I forgive and forget?

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About the Author
Relationship Columnist

Lynn Coady writes the Group Therapy column for The Globe and Mail's Life section. She is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven, Saints of Big Harbour and Mean Boy. Her most recent novel, The Antagonist, will be released this September. She lives in Edmonton, where she is Senior Editor of Eighteen Bridges magazine. More

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