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Telephone incommuncation

Tags: phone
As you go around in a different culture, many things that were puzzling to you at first either become explained or … well, you just get used to them. You accept them.
In fact, you accept them so much that you forget you had to learn them.
And yet, it’s just worth remembering what some of these things were… and here’s one.

The telephone greeting

When the phone rings, an Englishman will pick it up and say: “Hello”.
The word hello is here not just a greeting but also a way of establishing that you can be heard, and that you are ready to converse, and that you now expect the person to explain why they have called.

But in Mumbai, at first, it just led to confusion.

This was the sequence…
•    Usually, the person who has phoned will respond to my first hello with their hello.(I now expect them to tell me why they phoned).
Instead, there is silence.
•    I break the silence by trying to be encouraging and I repeat: “Yes… hello!”
This is a mistake, as the voice at the other end is thrown by this, and seems to question the air around them, with a very odd and vague “Hello?” back again.
•    Of course, I am now thinking that the connection is very poor and that s/he can’t hear me properly, so it is my turn to be puzzled: “Yes, can you hear me? “Hello… hello…”
•    Guess what… My caller says (you guessed it), nothing at first, and then tentatively says “Hello? Hello?”
•    At which point, I used to think I was dealing with a crazed call-centre employee with nothing better to do – and I put the phone down.

The right way to say hello

For a long while - as this dialogue occurred time after time - I thought I had a dodgy phone; and I even called the phone company to ask if there might be a problem with it.

What was even odder is that this phone-etiquette misunderstanding was often with tradesmen, that is to say, men who surely must survive by their ability to use the phone.
(So, my second interpretation – that it must be someone illiterate or unused to the phone who was going through this odd dance of greeting – was in fact quite wrong.)

It was a friend of mine who had to put me right.

The sequence - they told me - should be that, after the first two hellos are said, it is then up to me (yes, me) to say: “Yes. Tell me!” and only then will the phone-caller reveal why they have rung you.

I don’t know why the form of phone-greeting is so different to that of England.

All I know is that this is how it is in Mumbai, and that is now how I do it.

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This post first appeared on An Englishman In Mumbai, please read the originial post: here

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Telephone incommuncation


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