Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"¡No, no es Congolón!"

Answering the phone is not a favorite activity for our family (with the exception of one teenage female who is always hoping for a call from a certain someone). It is much harder for us to communicate over the telephone, than face to face. Apparently a lot of our communication in Spanish still requires exaggerated facial expressions, hand motions, body language, and pointing.

It doesn't help our attitude about answering the phone, that an inordinate number of the calls we receive are actually wrong numbers.

It is extremely difficult to get a new phone line installed into a house or business in Honduras, or a number changed. In general, if you are lucky enough to have a phone line in the house, you never mess with it. The house which we are renting belongs to a lawyer, who, when he lived here, ran his practice from the house. Since we took over the same phone number, we receive occasional calls for his family and his law practice, although these are becoming much less frequent, now that we have been in the house over a year.

We also get a lot of simple wrong number calls, but the most frequent of these are calls which are intended for Congolón, a local radio station. Our phone number is only one digit different from theirs. We receive a lot of song requests, with dedications. So far, we have refrained from actually singing anything, in spite of all these requests.

Because answering all of these calls is such a waste of time, we have established a method of defense. We try to answer the phone with the most gringo-sounding "Hello" we can manage. This is enough to convince many callers that they have not reached the number they had intended, and they quickly hang up without speaking.

Trying to get our callers to hang up on us may seem to be an odd goal. You would understand this, however, if you had the opportunity to hold some of the frustrating and pointless telephone conversations we have! Here is an example, translated into English for your convenience:

Sowers Family Member: Hello
Caller, after very long pause: Hello
Sowers Family Member, after another pause: Hello?
Caller(in a demanding voice): Who's speaking?
Sowers Family Member, trained to be polite, even in the face of apparent rudeness: This is _________ (insert name of Sowers Family Member).
Caller, after very long pause: This isn't (radio station) Congolón?
Sowers Family Member: No, I'm sorry, this isn't Congolón. That number is xxx-xxxx.
Caller: click

This type of conversation is frustrating for us, on so many levels. It breaks so many of the gringo rules of phone etiquette. We try to remember that Honduran callers have their own ideas about what constitutes polite conversation, and that they generally aren't being intentionally rude. We also try to keep in mind that many of our callers grew up without phones (cell phones systems opened up much of this part of Honduras to telecommunications for the first time just a few years ago), so they may not even have heard of phone etiquette.

Here's another very common conversation:

Sowers Family Member: Hello
Caller remains silent
Sowers Family Member: Hello?
Caller remains silent, or talks to someone else in the background (sometimes we can hear the word "gringo" being whispered)
Sowers Family Member: Hello?
Caller: Who is this?
Sowers Family Member (feeling less polite than normal): Who is calling?
Caller: Who is speaking?
Sowers Family Member(giving in): This is ______.
Caller: This isn't ______?
Sowers Family Member: No, it isn't.
Caller: Whose house is this?
Sowers Family Member: This is the house of the Sowers, the gringos.
Caller, after a long pause, possibly involving more whispered background conversation: click.

To truly understand our frustration, and the amount of wasted time, imagine holding each of these conversations five or six times every day. We've tried things like answering with the equivalent of "Sowers Residence" and other varients. These attempts are met with confused silence, followed by the same conversations related above.

Yesterday, however, Christopher tried a new tactic. He answered the phone by getting right to the point:

Christopher: No es Congolón. (This isn't Congolón radio station).
Caller: No es Congolón? (This isn't Congolón?)
Christopher: No, no es Congolón. (No, this isn't Congolón.)
Caller: click.


Akinoluna said...

Same thing happens with cell phones too. The background chattering made me true.

Also, a lot of callers will call back multiple times within a couple minutes before finally realizing they aren't dialing the correct number.

Kris said...

We have that very same problem...only in German! Took one very drunk guy five tries to realize he was NOT calling his girlfriend....

Paula said...

Your son is SO smart! I wonder if I answered the phone like this if it would encourage telemarketers to hang up? :0)

Anonymous said...

Too funny.

Growing up, our phone was one digit from a hospital. People were always calling up and asking for room numbers. My brother always wanted to say, "I'm sorry, but Mr. So-and-so is no longer with us....", but I think my mother's threats kept him from it.


Honduras Sprout said...

Oh that is good. Russel - you are so smart.
I had a terrible moment yesterday at the grocery store. I forgot myself for a brief moment with some people who were being...well in my opinion...rude.
It's hard to remember that sometimes what we think as rude is really just common practice with maybe just neutral meaning.

I'm writing about it in the blog. But I'm not the most proud of it either.

Theresa said...

The same thing happens here in Mexico. But I never give out any information, when they ask who I am I answer "¿Quien buscas?". A dentist used to live here and we still get calls for him 3 years later. Also we have the same phone number as a school only in a different order, so we occasionally get calls for them. But that isn't as bad as when I lived with my parents, we had a similar phone number for a pizza parlor. We would get drunks ordering pizza, and they would misdial several times in a row. My mom would sometimes just give up and take the order and then call the pizza place for them!
Other times she would answer the phone in Spanish "¿Dime?" and not speak English, just for grins. (My parents are Cuban).