But what about cell phones on the beach?!

—Kate Feiffer

Please enjoy this rerun of an older column. Nicole is on hiatus while she is finishing up a novel that is set, strangely enough, in a newspaper office on Martha’s Vineyard.

Dear Nicole:

I’m at the beach, and I feel like no matter where I sit, the people on towels next to me are talking on their cell phones. I wouldn’t care if they were talking to each other, but the cell phone conversations are annoying. Can I ask them to get off the phone?

Confidentially Yours,

Irritated in Edgartown


Dear Irritated:

Of course you can ask them! But I think you actually want to know how to handle it if they don’t cooperate, right? I’m going to assume that you have asked them, politely but firmly, at least twice, and been rebuffed. There are a couple of approaches you can take.

First, however: If they really do need to be on their phone, be generous and let them stay on the phone. I don’t mean “need” as in “OMG OMG OMG I need to learn who my ex is going out with.” I mean “need” as in “My mom is getting an emergency appendectomy and I need to stay on the phone with my freaked-out dad to convince him not to break into the operating room.”

When they are done with their call, suggest to them, politely, that perhaps the next time they truly must be on the phone, they can go elsewhere (their car, the hot dog stand, Aquinnah).

But if they’re just gabbing away, and insist on gabbing away after you ask them not to, then firmer steps are required. The level of firmness should be directly proportional to their level of rudeness.

You could start with old-fashioned Vineyard Passive-Aggressiveness, and play your radio/iPod/megaphone so loudly that it drowns out their conversation. But I’m a big believer in community engagement, so I suggest asking other nearby bathers if they also find the behavior offensive. If they do, create a flashmob Circle of Shame around the offender, singing to them so loudly they cannot carry on their conversation. Consider the “My Fair Lady” song “Without You,” particularly the lyrics, “You, dear friend, who talk so well — you can go to Harthaven, Hereford, or New Hampshire.” (Who knew that Alan Jay Lerner had Vineyard ties?)

A different approach — which I thought I invented, but was delighted to learn already exists as a video gone viral — is to pull out your own phone (or better yet, a large seashell which you then pretend is your phone), sit as close as possible to the offender, and pretend to have a conversation on your phone that is point for point a response to their conversation. You might want to practice this approach first with somebody you know, such as your soon-to-be-estranged spouse or soon-to-be-ex boss.


Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to Nicole Galland at OnIsland@mvtimes.com.