Phone Etiquette: Intermediate Level


I know, I never posted a Beginner’s post.

It can be summarized thus:  instead of hello, just yell “way”.

Rising tone, like you’re asking a question.

Say “sure da” a lot, which means I agree (to what, is irrelevant, although you may end up with a few surprise visits at your house at odd times), and end the conversation by saying “ting bu dong”, which means I don’t understand.

If it’s a telemarketer, just skip right to the last phrase to end the call.


Now for the Intermediate lesson.

Every day you will be asked for your phone number by somebody who either a) wants you to teach them English; b) wants you to teach their child English: c) is a nice person you met on the bus, shared a taxi with, or met waiting for a red light to turn green; d) is a person you actually need/want to be in touch with because they’re your neighbor, emerging friend, teacher, etc.

If people ask you for their phone number, and it is somebody you actually would like to hear from again), make sure you immediately (and I mean don’t wait until you’re alone, because you will inevitably forget) enter their name into your directory.

If you really are on the ball, clearly understand their full Chinese name and can enter it correctly, great.   You are Advanced material.

What usually happens due to life and circumstances is a multi-tiered deteriorated version where you know their English name (Lisa, Stewart, Money, Brittany Spears…) and then you realize you know 3 Lisas.  By then they’re gone.  So Lisa becomes Lisa Taxi, since that’s where you met her.

If you get their Chinese surname, it’s trickier.

Remember, about 90% of the Chinese people share the same 5 surnames.

So Wang becomes Wang Teacher or Wang Nurse or Wang van driver.

You might get only one piece of their given name, which is often a nickname (i.e. Chen chen).

If you don’t get any part of their name, you resort to the name of the place you met them at (name of street, store, restaurant) or any other identifying parts of your conversation and ENTER IT.

These tips will greatly help you in navigating the complex social relationships here, but it’s not foolproof.

If you get a call and you don’t recognize the number, and decide to pick up anyway because it might be someone you know calling from another SIM card they use to only call OUT and not IN, or their husband’s or boyfriends phone, etc, you have 2 possible options before you.

1) You luck out and it’s a stranger asking for someone else.  Just say you’re a foreigner, and that’s it.  It also works really well for telemarketers.  If they don’t get it, repeat “I am a foreigner” a couple more times for clarity and hang up.

2) It’s for you.  Help me mama.  You spend the first minutes of the conversation trying to figure out who they are.  This may never resolve by the end of the conversation, and you agree to all sorts of meetings and visits and invite them over for a meal and you just hope you recognize them when they show up at the door later.

In summary, even a simple little cellphone can be a source of never-ending adventures.
All you have to do is answer the next call.



2 responses »

  1. So funny and so true! I love how telling that I’m a foreigner stops telemarketers in their tracks. Another phone conundrum we’ve had is when wrong number callers argue with us about whether they dialed wrong. 😀

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