What to Expect When Picking Up the Phone Abroad
When travelling abroad, many local customs may come as bit of a surprise. But have you ever thought about how other cultures answer the phone? If you’re not prepped, you might be in for a shock when picking up a phone abroad.
Saying “hello” in every language isn’t always enough. Next time you go to one of these locations, check out the local phone etiquette first.
The Middle East
In Arabic culture, it’s normal to exchange small talk for up to 5 minutes before getting into the conversation. It’s not just the standard greeting; you could be seen as rude for trying to cut out pleasantries. Be prepared for a longer chat when you call an Arabic friend or business – a conversation might sound a little like this:
Caller 1: May your morning be blessed!
Caller 2: May your morning be full of joy!
Caller 1: Praise God, your voice is welcome
Caller 2: Welcome! Praise God!
Caller 1: How are you?
Caller 2: Praise God!
Caller 1: Praise God!
Caller 2: What news? Are you well? How are your family?
Caller 1: They are good, praise God. I am good! Is your family well?
Caller 2: All is well. Praise God. Welcome.
Introductions may change depending on which Arabic speaking country you’re visiting. Alternative greetings may sound a little like this:
“Where have you been? What have you been doing?”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve heard your voice!”
“Peace be upon you!”
Before hanging up, it’s common courtesy to ask if the caller needs anything. If a guest asks something of you in the Middle East, you are obligated to give it to them!
Russians are notorious for refusing to answer the phone. Not so long ago, phone tapping was rampant in Russia. As a result, many Russians are still suspicious of talking on the phone. Cellular networks are somewhat unreliable in Russia – another reason why people like to keep the conversation short!
It’s standard for a Russian to wait for you to introduce yourself, so expect a silent reception until you speak. Alternatively, a brisk “who is this?” is a standard greeting.
Make your conversation quick, and cut out small talk. Another greeting is, “Ya sluchu vas” which translates to “I’m listening to you”.
When it comes to bidding adieu, “Do svidaniya” is the standard farewell, and it means “until we meet again”.
Brits can also be wary of talking on the phone – it’s common to screen a call if you don’t recognize the number. Landlines almost always ring to voicemail, and it’s normal to yell “Hello…hello…” on the answering machine until someone answers. Obviously, that technique is only recommended if you’re friends with who you’re calling!
Be sure not to chow down while on the phone with a Brit, it’s considered very rude.
Answering the phone in Brazil is similar to America – with one exception. Brazilian’s may answer the phone with “hello”, which is translated into “Alo”, but they may also say “Fala”, which means “talk!”
“Tchau” means goodbye, but Brazilians love to chat so prepare for a lengthy conversation. Due to unreliable networks in Brazil, you may hear your Brazilian friend saying “Uh” as you talk. This is to let you know that they’re still on the line!
While it may seem a little unusual, Germans answer the phone by saying their last name and “am apparat” (literally “on the device”) after their name. Saying goodbye is “auf wiederhören”, which means “hear you again!”
Like the Germans, Scandinavians will say their name when they answer the phone – but they’ll probably add their first name too.
Most Scandinavians speak English fluently, so they’ll likely converse with you in English. If you’re visiting Denmark, follow correct etiquette by asking if the phone call is at a convenient time before launching into conversation.
Did you know that “Namaste” means hello and goodbye? It’s used at both ends of a telephone conversation. In India, it’s normal to ring until very late in the evening.
In China, it’s normal to answer your cell wherever you are. Whether in a meeting, or having a deep face-to-face discussion, all of it can wait until after you’ve answered your phone! And you should answer, because if you don’t pick up, the other caller may keep ringing until you do…
The standard greeting in China is “wei’”which means hello. “Wo guale” is the sign off, and it means “I have to hang up now”.
If you make a call in Japan, the customary greeting is “Moshi moshi!” This answer comes from the verb “moushimasu” which means to speak. Hence moshi moshi means “speak speak”.
Honorific terms are very important in Japan, so if you’re making a business call, add “San” to the name of the person you’re speaking to.
One way to say goodbye in Japan is “Sore dewa, yoroshiku” which means “Please remember me!”
“Pronto!” is the phone greeting in Italy, and it means “ready”. In the early days, when the first phone lines made their way into Italian homes, it was necessary to first call an operator that would connect you to your desired speaker. The operator, after having connected to the other caller, would then ask you: “pronto?” or “ready?”. Both callers would then say “ready!” to be officially connected.
In saying farewell, Italians generally say “arrivederci”, “salve” or simply “ciao”.
Avoid yelling into your phone when speaking with a Frenchman, it’s considered très rude. “Allo?” is French for Hello. “Salut” is also standard. Younger generations often combine these: “Oui, Allo? Salut!” is a youthful phone greeting for young Parisians.
Goodbye is “au revoir!”, though “À bientôt!” (“See you later!”) is also acceptable.
Phone connections in Mexico used to be quite unreliable. Even when the phone rang, there was no guarantee that the reception would last long. So Mexicans say “Bueno!” which means “good!”. If the phone connection is good, you can also say “diga!” which means “speak!”
Hold the phone
While it seems like an afterthought, understanding local phone etiquette can prove most helpful when making calls abroad.
Are you from a country not covered on the list? What’s your phone etiquette? Tell us about it in the comments!