Most people don’t think of the telephone as something scary. But when you are learning a language you need to get and give a lot of visuals. Pointing to things and making faces is the norm. On the telephone you lose half of your communication skills when you lose the visuals. So while I was learning the language I avoided the phone as much as possible. Thank goodness that is just a distant memory now. The only time people don’t understand me on the phone nowadays is when I have a cold.
These days, with caller ID, you can prepare yourself for the caller too (or not pick up if you don’t feel like it). Like everywhere in the world we, too occasionally get unsolicited calls. People in London, India or Indonesia wanting to sell us something fantastic (telephone spam). What exactly they are selling, I’m not sure because they never want to tell me. They always want to talk to Mr. Benjamin. The Swiss have their way of dealing with this type of call. Ben says “What?… What?… I can’t hear you! Hello, are you there? Hello, [knocking on the phone] Hello?” While the person on the other end is saying “Hello! Yes, I can hear you! Yes, yes, I’m still here! Hello, Mr. Benjamin?” Then the one or the other hangs up.
I always try to be friendly with calls like that. Depending on my mood and the amount of time I have at hand I do one of two things. I either keep it short or try to break my record for keeping someone on the phone the longest. Once when someone called from Indonesia I asked about the weather there. I tried to keep him away from whatever it was he wanted to talk about. In the end he hung up on me! Imagine that, I was just trying to be friendly. A week later he called again. I started talking about the weather once more and he said “Wait, I remember you!” Then he hung up a second time. I haven’t heard from him since. I wonder what the weather is like in Indonesia this time of year… I may never know.
More often than not wrong number phone calls end abruptly. After saying who is on the phone there is typically a long pause then you hear a click on the other end. Once I picked up the phone, said my name there was a pause and then in a nice, thick Italian accent someone said “Oops, falsch-e gedruckt!” (“Oops, pressed [the] wrong [buttons]!”).
The advent of caller ID has taken a lot of the mystique and some of the fun out of telephoning. Once Ben called a friend. The person on the other end picked up the phone with the following greeting: “Halli, Hallo, wer isch denn doe?” Which very loosely translates into “Hello, Hi you, who’s there, who?”. Then the following conversation ensued:
Ben: Hi, it’s me.
other end: Do I know you?
Ben: Cut it out, of course you know me. Listen, is Peter* there? I want to talk to him.
other end: Don’t we all? But no Peter here.
Ben: Quit pulling my leg and just put Peter on the phone!
other end: Can-no-do. This is who?
That went on for a good 5 minutes before they realized that they truly didn’t know each other and that Peter obviously didn’t live there either. This was one of the most interesting and longest wrong-number conversations ever.
*Name have all been changed!