Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Land of Missed Calls

We've covered food, television and personal hygiene -- I think you're ready for what they call telephone "etiquette" over here.  Where do I even begin???

Let's start with "Hello" -- or, as they say, "Waaaaaaay?" It gives Ed McMahon's "Here's Johnny" a run for its money as the longest one-syllable word on the planet.  To top it off, when I respond with "Hello?" the person repeats themselves, so I have this conversation at least 3 times a week:

Phone rings; Me: "Hello?"
Person: Waaaaaaaay?
Me: Hello?
Person:  Waaaaaaay?
Me (very annoyed): Helloooo?
Person: Speak Chinese?
Me: No
Person: CLICK

Even more baffling is when I answer the phone with the very clear English greeting of "Hello?" and the person just launches into some spiel in Cantonese.  They're talking like a mile a minute and I literally have to cut them off by yelling into the phone, "I don't speak Cantonese" multiple times.

Now all of that is just child's play compared to what really gets my blood boiling:  no one in this country leaves a message.  This is frustrating for two reasons:

1. You take the time to leave someone a detailed message and they don't even listen to it.  Half the time, they don't even know you called.

2. You get 5 missed calls and no voicemails.  This leads to the dilemma - do you call up the missed calls and have the awkward conversation of "You called me; who's this?"or do you let it go?  In the States, this comes off as pure desperation. Someone so starved for attention that they have to call wrong numbers and missed calls just to make sure someone wasn't trying to reach them!  Here, however, it's standard business practice because otherwise you'd spend all your time being a stalker and calling someone 200 times before they picked up.

Today, for instance, I stepped away from my phone for an hour and came back to see 4 missed calls (all different numbers).  Since these could be potential work calls, I decided to swallow my ego and call them back.  Here's what ensued:

THEM: Discovery Bay Transportation Service
ME: Hi, someone from this number called me and didn't leave a message.  My name is XX and my number is XXX.
THEM: Hold please.
THEM (after long wait): No one here called you.
ME: Yes, they did.
THEM: OK, give us your name and number and we'll ask around.

I call up the second number:
THEM:  Discovery Bay Transportation Service

This has to be a joke, right?  Or in the very least, a gross exaggeration.  No, all 4 numbers (which strangely were all different) rang back to DB Transportation.  And each time I called, the person there had no idea who I was or what I was calling for.

Five minutes later, my phone rings and it's someone from DB Transportation - a guy I had spoken to about an event I'm planning.  He copped to being my stalker and apologized after I explained what I had been through to try to call him back.  Since it was work-related I didn't have the balls to ask him what he had against leaving a message.

In the end, I have to ask myself -- if you're not going to leave a message why activate your voicemail at all?  Why not just text??


  1. ok, what's funny about that is how my parents NEVER leave us messages. They will call us dozens of times (we can tell by the caller ID) yet not one single message. My husband is still baffled by this almost 12 years later... Must be a Chinese thing - your post has enlightened me...

  2. hysterical! glad to know this is crossing oceans.. ;)