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World Telephone Cultures

(from TELECOM digest)

               World Telephone Cultures

{Los Angeles Times}  (Jul 26)

        CULTURE: Arabs greet each other with profuse politeness. The
French want to know who's calling. Italians have love affairs with the

           Alexander Graham Bell spoke through a wire to his colleague
Thomas Watson in 1876. "Come here," he said, the first command uttered
on a telephone. Oh, what Mr. Bell wrought.

           Around the world, different cultures have developed
characteristic phone manners since Bell's day. No people open a call
with more effusive hospitality than the Arabs. Whatever the subject of
the conversation, it begins with what seems like five minutes of
generally meaningless but absolutely essential greetings.

    A ringing phone is answered: "May your morning be good."
    "May your morning be full of light," the caller responds.
    "Praise God, your voice is welcome."
    "Welcome, welcome."
    "How are you?"
    "Praise God."
    "Praise God."
    "What news? Are you well? Your family well?"
    "Praise God. How are you?"
    "All is well. All is well. Welcome. Welcome."

           Only then might the reason for the call be mentioned. And the
goodbys will take almost as long and are again excruciatingly polite.

           Compared to the Arab world, responses elsewhere are the
soul of brevity: Britons and Americans generally say "Hello," although
the latter sometimes simply say "Yes," and if they're in business or
the military they may just answer with their surnames: "Smith."

           The French answer their phones with the familiar "Allo,"
and they often add their name and the phrase "Qui est a l"appareil?"
that is, "Who is on the phone?" In a number of countries, calls are
answered with a touch of suspicion or curiosity, a reluctance to talk
until it's clear who the caller is.

           Italians answer "Pronto," or "Ready," and then it's the
caller who demands "Chi parla?"--"Who's speaking?" -- assuming the right
to know the identity of the person at the other end.

           Germans tend to answer the phone by barking their last names:
"Schmidt" or "Mueller," even the women -- and even if they have titles,
like Herr Doktor, which in other circumstances hey would insist upon.

           In Copenhagen, Danes will answer with both first and last
names, even women: "Karen Andersen."

           In Spain, the response to a ringing telephone is: "Diga," or

           "Diga" is also a common response in Mexico, but Mexicans
usually answer "Bueno," meaning "Good" or "Well." Like the Italians, the
Mexicans will demand: "Where am I calling?" And if they have the wrong
number, they'll indignantly hang up, sometimes with a curse, as if it
were the respondent's fault.

           Because of a cultural tendency to speak cautiously with
strangers, callers must clearly identify themselves and state their
purpose. Even then, the respondent may become vague and evasive.

           "Is this the Mexico State Justice Department?" a caller
might ask. "I wouldn't know what to tell you," is the answer.

           Business people and government officials commonly refuse to
speak to strangers on the phone even if it concerns simple inquiries
like "Where can I buy one of your vacuum cleaners?" The train system
won't divulge ticket fares or schedules on the phone; you must go to the
station and ask in person.

           In Brazil, after slowly and patiently dialing a number, if
you are lucky enough to get an answer, the respondent will say: "Who's
talking?" not to be rude but to make sure the right number has been

           Goodbys are elaborate, as if in person: "A hug" is a frequent
sign-off, even to end formal business calls. "A kiss" is more casual,
with someone you know personally. And the response in both cases is
"Outro," "Another."

           Like American teen-agers, many cultures have love affairs
with the phone, none more than the Italians. They talk endlessly with
relatives, friends and schoolmates. The telephone call has replaced
formal letters of invitation, congratulations and condolences. As
almost everywhere else, the cellular phone, called a telefonino in
Italy, has become a popular status symbol, used widely and indiscrimin-
ately.  Telefonini have recently been barred from parliamentary sessions, 
for instance.

           In Germany the telephone is hardly ubiquitous. You can get
an unlisted number at no extra charge, and information operators will
not indicate the fact to callers -- in effect denying your existence.
One wrinkle that arrived under Germany's liberal immigration policy:
the installation of illegal phone booths where foreigners can call
home without paying long-distance tariffs. Officials of cellular-phone
networks have countered the trend by blocking all calls going to
Pakistan, Togo, Gambia and Vietnam.

           In Russia, like most things, phone use is affected by the
growing gap between rich and poor, new and old, foreign and Russian. So
mobile phones are big hits among the rich, but most Russians have no
phones at all. Thus ads for apartment rentals specify "telephone" with
the same pride as "garbage chute" or "closet."

           For those with phones, the answer to a ring is the French
"Allo," which can be pronounced to reflect wide degrees of happiness or
annoyance. Also popular are the curt "Da," or "Yes," and "Slushayu vas,"
or "I am listening to you."

           Because of the history of KGB taps, Russians are still
careful of being overheard, often using the phrase, "It's not telephone
conversation," to warn a caller to be discreet.

           Often in Moscow an alien conversation will break into yours,
and sometimes, according to Muscovites, you can't help listening. These
aural glimpses show a Russian life that is never the relaxed, gossipy
"reach out and touch someone" conversations so typical in America.
Instead they have some urgent goal -- such as arranging a meeting or a

           "The reason for this urgency is the poor quality," says a
Moscow resident. "Pay phones are unreliable and the caller wants to get
his message across before the connection breaks down."

           In closed Arab societies, the telephone is a means of contact
for those forbidden to see each other in person. A woman will call
random numbers asking for "Mohammed," and when she finds a voice she
likes, will strike up a conversation.

           In India, you wait up to seven years for a phone -- so when
the connection is finally made it often prompts a neighborhood party.
The euphoria ends about a month later when the first bill arrives and
the subscribers realize how much it costs. In the Indian middle-class
home, the telephone occupies the place of honor, often atop its
special table, and is usually kept locked to prevent neighbors from
making calls. But in the countryside where 70% of Indians live, phones
are still a rarity: In some cases there is not a single phone in a

           In Southeast Asia, almost everyone uses a version of
"Hello" to answer the phone. Hong Kong Chinese say, "Wei." In
countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, with a shortage of
phone lines and a two-year waiting list, cellular phones are prized,
but expensive -- running $500 to $1,000 in Singapore and twice that

           Bangkok's most popular radio program is a call-in show with
phoners talking while stuck in the city's infamous traffic. Many posh
restaurants have signs saying, "No Handphones," because people are fed
up with the guy at the next table shouting into a phone. Some cinemas
show trailers indicating that it is rude to talk on the phone during
the movie.

           In Japan, the person answering will customarily say, "Moshi
moshi," the equivalent of "Hello," or perhaps "Hai," that is, "Yes." If
he or she has the right connection, the caller may say something like
"Osewa ni natte imasu," or "I am indebted to you for your kindness."
Sometimes people bow over a phone, although the other party cannot see
the bow. Many older Japanese, who never saw phones until the era of the
1964 Tokyo Olympics, continue to use ceremonial phrases and bows over
the telephone -- as if it weren't there.

           The standard goodby is "Ja, mata" -- "See you later" --
with the word "Sayonara" reserved only for occasions of a long or
final parting.

           In many Third World countries it definitely helps to know an
operator. The Indian writer Khushwant Singh remembers trying to place a
call from New Delhi to Lahore in neighboring Pakistan -- when services
were notoriously bad.

           After hours of trying, Singh was contacted by the international 
operator who suggested that she had relatives in Pakistan who had wanted to 
visit India but needed visas. Being a member of Parliament, she said, he 
might come up with the necessary stamps.

           Singh accepted the deal and within three minutes his connection 
was through.


From: 4sam3(at) (Scott Montague)

En francais, nous disons "Allo?" when answering the phone.


From: Kimmo Ketolainen (kimketo(at)

Most Finns answer to the phone with their name. Firstname, surname or
full name.

Some few people say "haloo" but I haven't heard that much. Some
people, mostly older people, answer by saying the phone number.


From: Alex(at)Worldaccess.NL (Alex)

In Holland we pick up with either "Hallo" (means hello in Dutch). Or
more common is to pick up with "Met (firstname, lastname)", which
basicly means With (firstname, lastname)

For your intrest, in Zimbabwe they tend to pick up most of the times with
their number, like ... "602809 Hello?"

Alex   Alex(at)Worldaccess.NL, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands


From: jean(at) (Jean B Sarrazin)

There is saying "Hello" and there's answering the phone. In many
languages, this does not necessarily coincide ... here are a few for
the languages I know:

Language                Hello                   Answer phone
French                  Bonjour                         Allo
Spanish                 Hola                            Digame
German                Guten Tag         (Your last name) + Guten Tag (optional)
Dutch                      Dag                  Met (first and/or last name), 
                                         Goede (morgen-morning, middag, PM  
                                                  or avond, evening)

Jean B. Sarrazin  Ekkosys Communications BV
Sarphatipark 24-1  1072 PB Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Telephone : +31-20-676-7304   Fax  : +31-20-676-9907
Compuserve : 72077,1366   Internet : jean(at)


From: A.Meerwijk(at) (Arthur Meerwijk)

Here in The netherlands we answer the phone with our name, so it would
be something like:

Good morning, this is Arthur. 

Although, literally tanslated I say: "Good morning, with arthur" where
"with" indicates the other end is "connected _with_ arthur"

But it all depends on the level of politeness you include. In any case,
one alwyas says one's name when picking up a phone. The most common one

"With Arthur Meerwijk"




From: koos(at) (Koos van den Hout)

Of course there's the way American persons answer the phone :


(Sorry, couldn't resist. This may seem perfectly normal to an American but
for someone who's used to other greetings it can be confusing.)

In the Netherlands it's normal to greet with your own name. I say

"Met Koos van den Hout"

which does translate roughly to "This is Koos van den Hout"

Companies mostly answer with a company name in the Netherlands:

"Hogeschool Utrecht"


From: marya(at) (Jeffrey William McKeough)

Here's a few off the top of my head:

Japan: moshi moshi
Spain: digame
Mexico: bueno
Israel: shalom


From: Giray Pultar (giray(at)

In Turkey/in Turkish, we typically answer the phone by saying 'alo'.
The pronounciation is more like allo, but is spelled "alo".  I believe
it comes from French.



From: ph18(at) (Paul Houle)

       In Japan,  people answer the phone "Moshi Moshi".


From: bud(at) (Bud Couch)

Can't vouch for the spelling, but the Japanese answer with
"mushi-mushi", and in Korean, it's "yobosayoh". Know this because
thirty years ago, I used to have to troubleshoot a US Army- US Air
Force - Korean Air Defense - Japan Self-Defense Force comm net, and
listen to them yell this into the phone, as if they could get loud
enough to hear it from Pyongtaek to Honshu.

Bud Couch - ADC Kentrox           |When correctly viewed, everything is lewd.|
bud(at) (    |                          -Tom Lehrer     |


From: Dan Cromer (19016007(at)SBACVM.SBAC.EDU)
Organization: School Board of Alachua County, Gainesville, Florida


     How do we answer the phone in the USA?  It depends on who
answers!  You may hear Hello, or Yeah, or "Cromer residence, Dan
speaking" (how I was brought up to answer, in a simpler time when
front doors were hardly ever locked).

     In Japan they commonly say "moshi moshi" which can sound like
"mush mush", with the words repeated rapidly.  I've heard Spanish speakers
use ola, pronounce Oh lah, with the accent on the Oh.

Daniel H. Cromer, Jr.  Director, Information Resources
School Board of Alachua County, Gainesville, Florida
904-955-7509     FAX 904-955-6700


From: "Van R. Hutchinson" (0005493896(at)

In Peru, my family members answer, "halo"  pronounced, AL'-oh.
More formal greetings include "Buenos dias" and "Buenas tardes"
In Mexico, I've heard "Bueno".                                

From: robhall(at)

In Chinese (at least Cantonese and Mandarin dialects), telephones are
answered "Wei?", which roughly translates to 'Yes?'
In Japanese, the telephone is answered "Mushi Mushi".

I'll be interested to see the results of your compilation!

Rob Hall     Hong Kong


From: rishab(at) (Rishab Aiyer Ghosh)

In India almost everyone says Hello on the phone, even if they're in a
village in Rajasthan and proceed to converse in Marwari. Accents and
pronunciation varies.

Rishab Aiyer Ghosh     rishab(at)    
rishab(at)    Voice/Fax/Data +91 11 6853410  
Voicemail +91 11 3760335   H 34C Saket, New Delhi 110017, INDIA  

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