DEAR MISS MANNERS: My brother and I live in different states. We talk regularly by phone, with increased frequency over the past couple of years due to many illnesses and deaths in the extended family.
Virtually every time we speak, my sister-in-law jumps into the conversation midway through (sometimes after 10 or 15 minutes) to add a comment.
I am always taken by surprise that she has been listening to our call without my knowledge. There is nothing we are saying that she cannot hear, but I am taken aback nonetheless. I am not using speakerphone on my end, and tend to assume that our conversation is a private one.
How should this be handled? Should my brother notify me that she is listening in? Should I express surprise each time she enters a conversation (super awkward, especially due to the serious nature of many calls)? At this point, I guess that I should just assume she will be eavesdropping.
GENTLE READER: The etiquette here is identical to what is required if, while you are talking to your brother in person, your sister-in-law approaches you from behind: Your brother should either bring her presence to your attention, or, this being family, she could do so herself.
As in the live version, if you were to suddenly hear her comment over your shoulder, you can express surprise: "Oh! I didn't know you were on the line!"
If they do not learn after a few calls -- or if acting surprised is not as much fun as it sounds -- you can also start the call with, "Hi! Is Gillian on the phone too? Yes? Hi, how are you, Gillian?"