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Posted by Thomas Crampton

In reporting stories in Casablanca this week I have faced a unique problem due to Moroccan mobile phone habits.

More than any other country I have ever visited, Moroccans used caller ID.

It seems to be part of the phone answering process to closely look at the number of the person calling before deciding whether or not to answer. Often they will let it ring if they can't figure out whose number it is. In most places people look at caller ID and then answer.

From my point of view the result has been that my money-saving tactic of using a local pre-paid card does not work.

Three times now (I am a slow learner) people whom I was supposed to meet for an interview simply did not answer their phone until I called using my French mobile phone on costly roaming. It was a fairly good cross section of society: One was a politician, the other a university academic and the other a musician.

Nobody here has so far been able to explain why this habit exists here. I get a similar reaction when I ask about it here: People in Morocco just presume that everyone uses phones in the same way.

(I have previously reported on other national characteristics of mobile phone usage, including the reluctance of Spanish to use voicemail, the reluctance of English to speak on the phone in places where their conversation can be heard and the way in which the French turn off their phones during meals.)

Any other national habits to add to this collection?


This is a widespread habit in Italy, too, except that we _do_ usually answer calls that have an unknown caller ID. That's because, given the rates (especially rates for calls between different operators) it has become widespread to send "rings" to communicate without answering (i.e. 'I will ring your phone when I'm about to arrive'-kind of things).

Someone once mentioned that ringing and hanging up habit in Italy.

But does the ID check habit mean that Moroccans and Italians like to know whom they are dealing with before interacting? (Or is there a financial reason)

I will check further here in Morocco today to see if there is any financial incentive to not answering, but I believe it is a caller-pays system.

In Ireland, it's pretty much socially acceptable to have a text conversation with one person while at the same time talking to someone else who's actually in front of you - they just have to put up with it!

Of course, being text-obsessed, we're pretty fast texters, so the interruptions are relatively brief.

In the Philippines, people from all walks of life (from the teeming hoi polloi to the elitist upper-crust) vehemently refuse to turn off their mobile phones in cinemas and theaters.

For the commoners, it's out of ignorance. For the rich folks, it's that feeling of "importance".

Iin the U.S., many adults take out their cell phones and set them beside their plates during restaurant meals, as if the phones were eating utensils. Adults also tend to answer calls (loudly) at the table rather than getting up and moving somewhere more private. In other countries I've visited, that use pattern is more typical of younger people, especially teens.

Loud talking on the phone in public places is frowned upon, here in Switzerland. As is texting while talking to people. Busy people like my girlfriend are now also relying on caller ID in combination with their answering machine/combox. She says: "If it is anything important, they will leave a message." Not leaving a message automatically indicates that you will call later, or that it was not important, or that the issue resolved itself.

In Hong Kong you would notice some people talk very loudly in public, they tend to be from the mainland. I was just on the subway and notice that this person have two phone strap to his belt. It is not unusual for people to carry two or three phone with them. And discussion been made that people in China tend to talk very loud in public, maybe it would present themselve to feel superior. Text msg in mainland is free with your subscriber, thus it is very popular to use text, this phenomenon is same in Singapore, esp. for teens. Whilst in HK it is usual not to pick up your phone with an unrecognized number, usually is from caller-ad. But sometimes it is hard to figure out who is really calling you.

quite a few mainland people you see in hkg do seem loud and crude .. probably typical because a lot of the mainland types you see in hk are back country hicks who have come to the big city on a holiday

the more sophisticated hk people (pretty young things in the standard skimpy tops and tight jeans uniform for example) are as a rule quite cautious about speaking on a phone in public than most - to the extent of shielding their cellphone's mouthpiece with one hand and murmuring into it, rather than just speaking.

Great details!!

Morocco's call-screening conundrum unsolved, but the Mayor of Casablanca today kept his two phones by him during the whole 2.5 hour interview and checked every incoming call (about nine) and screened all but one. Interesting that he did not just turn off the phones. (Probably I am not important enough!)

Also, I found it interesting that in another era many of those calls would have necessarily gone to his secretary before getting to him, adding a layer of filtering.

Which is more important in determining phone habits: Culture or financial incentives?

In China, it is common to call a person's mobile phone only to have them hang up after a few seconds. Before you delete them from your phone's address book for their rudeness however, just wait 5 - 15 seconds. They'll most likely call back, but from a fixed line phone (or a 'fixed wireless' limited mobility PHS phone). The reason? They have to pay the standard mobile rate for incoming calls to their mobile phones - China has yet to implement 'Calling Party Pays' - so they prefer to call you back at cheaper rates (25% or so of the mobile rate).

It's all about money in this case! Who needs etiquette when it costs you money?!

India- Missed Calls were very popular, as a way to say "I'm thinking about you" or "Call me back." I would often hear someone say, "I'll send you a missed call when we get there - see you soon."

Thailand- I witnessed a huge group of young kids in the North country all turn off their mobile phones at the first strike of lightning before a storm. They promised me that you could get killed if lightning struck a nearby tower.

New Yorkians like to talk on their phones in your face. In line, on a train, in the movie theater, in the grocery store, on the bus... any place where you can't faze out their inane conversation - they'll be righteously talking at maximum volume.

To 12- elf.

Those New Yorkians aren't the brightest bulbs around. World renowned idiots they are.

The English and especially the French have it right. Cell phone use in restaurants is rude.Put it on vibrate and excuse yourself if you must answer.

Even here in Italy it's considered very rude to suddenly interrupt a conversation to answer or to text during a conversation. Cell phone use in restaurants or other public places is a bit more relaxed -- as long as you aren't talking loudly or otherwise making other people uncomfortable it's OK to talk on the phone, and ninety-nine percent of the people I know switch phones to vibrate rather than ring when they enter a public place where they know it'd be a nuisance to others to hear a loud ring tone.

Switzerland here. Mobile use has toned down considerably since the novelty broke through. This week I was at an hospital because of a routine blood test, and my phone rang. I had forgotten it on because I just did not think much and did not do the connect that mobiles are supposed to be off in hospitals (at least in cardiac wards). I just about went up in alarm when the silly thing rang and I realized where I was, the nurse seemed to not mind (it was not a cardiac ward), but I immediately told her that I needed to shut it off, reached for my bag and done so. Thank god that she had not yet stuck a needle in me. Point of the story is that I was surprised that the hospital staff was not concerned with the fact that my bloody mobile was on.

The thing with screeneding calls, it is something that is common around here too, albeit not as blatantly disruptive as in Marocco. Mobiles do not ring during meetings, and at least with the people that I deal with, if they are expect an important call during a meeting they announce it at the beginning of the meeting, and then when the call goes in they discreetly leave the meeting and take their call in the hallway. In some parts of the world there is indeed a relunctance to use voice mail or answering machine equivalents, or like with some prepaid mobiles, there is no voice mail service, thus a missed call is just that missed and without record, and sometimes people just do not want to miss any calls, thus will not turn off the mobile and will screen calls like mad.

Last year in Paris and Nice I noticed several young business men outside of hotels etc. doing the short pacing back and forth while talking at a quiet volume on their mobiles. It was charming, sort of reminded me of the deliberate and measured pacing that barristers did in courtroom scenes in old movies. And bless the French as well for their reverence for meal time!

I know a lot of people here in the US that also check their caller id before answering the phone. I know people that will not answer calls if they do not have the number even stored in their phone. As for other habits people in the US also like to talk on the phone in the car. I don't know how this is in other countries and would be interested in knowing.

Germany, Berlin - Missed Calls are very popular here, as a way to say "I'm thinking about you" or "Call me back."

I would often hear someone say, "I'll send you a missed call when we get there - see you soon."

But it is normaly to understand that it is, if i feel to any person that i missed she, then hope i too, that the person have a "missing call-feeling" ;)

Misa Matsuda has done some research on caller ID in Japan. Her chapter in our book has a bit on this. She found that the use of caller ID to screen calls differs based on marital status, with single people using it more. Overall, only 6.4% reported using it frequently, and 30.5% used it sometimes. Seems like a much lower rate than what you are seeing in Morocco.

So far it seems to me that what you call idiosyncracies are what I call (un)common courtesy.

It strikes me as normal that the French should turn off their phones during meals, since it's rude to have a phone conversation during a social occasion. If you were invited to dinner at someone's and the host spent the entire night talking to his girlfriend on the phone, that would be rude. Why should it be any different with mobile phones? By the way, you seem to know some very courteous Frenchmen, as the ones I know will shush me in the middle of a sentence and chit-chat in front of me as soon as they get a call. I know I'm boring, but still!

Same thing about your Englishmen: few things are more annoying than people loudly engaging in one-sided banter in public places via their mobile phones. People who have the decency to wait until they are in an appropriate place to do so deserve applause from me.

And, again, I have to side with your Moroccans. Maybe it's because I get pestered by many unwanted phonecalls, but I've long gone through the habit of only answering calls from people whom I've whitelisted. Just yesterday my phone rang and the girl I was with answered "Leo's phone" -- before I could think, my immediate answer to her answering my phone was (I kid not) "Do I wear your underwear?". (I don't, so don't answer my phone)

So, to sum up, I answer calls when I'm alone and it's someone I know, and I wear underwear designed for my own gender.


Rules of common courtesy do seem to vary country-by-country.

In Spain, people told me they considered it rude NOT to answer a phone when someone called. (It was rude to the person calling.)

Any Spanish or Italians out there?

In Germany I realize a big difference on how poeple answer their phone. In germany is used to be customary to answer your (private) phone stating your name (and not by saying 'Hello' and let the calling person state their name first.

When I hear mobile phone users tae their calls they usually answer with 'Hello' or 'Yes'. Maybe, because they know who is calling and that the other person can identify their voice. Maybe not. Nowadays people also adopt this habit on their private phones (women do this for a longer period anyway because the obviously tend to get dirty calls).

I have a hard time to adjust. I either answer the Phone with 'Hi Joe' (greeting the calling person - even on my landline) or with my name. (When I say 'Hi Joe' the other person still answers: "This is Joe." strange ;) )

When i was in namibia i discovered another usage of the caller id (cid) feature. When they call you, they give you one ring with cid and then hang up. So you might call them back if you want to. Moneysaving and polite for both.

i want to take a mobile jammer implementation as my final year project..
any sugession is invited....

Oliver G,

Very funny about how people in Germany answer the phone.

I always find it funny how I tend to ask the caller to identify themselves even when I am calling a mobile and the voice sounds familiar: "Hi Joe? This is Tom."

Odd habits of social interaction!

thanks for this informations and greets from Berlin Germany

In many countries the mobile phone is a status symbol.
So everybody makes a "mobile phone show" in the public.

In Austria a lot of people check the caller id before answering the phone.

For Germany, i see things changing (slowly). Most older people react as OliverG stated out. But the younger the users are, the more likely they check the caller id.

Of course they do. The younger people are grown up with handys and the possibility to see who is calling. Older people are used in phones without caller id.

I live in Italy and they answer the phone "pronto" meaning ready,go-on or appearing more often to mean "ok get on with it- why the bloody hell have you called". Funnily if the Italians can't hear or understand you they keep on shouting "pronto" into the phone without any explanation. Long calls consisting of "pronto, pronto, Proooonto!" are not unusual. Being English it seems quite offensive when someone keeps shouting "get on with it" done the phone, although my kids love it and constantly immitate the Italian Nonna who has not quite grasped 21st century technology and thinks repetitively shouting "pronto" louder and louder is a magic way to improve the connection quality. Che fai!

:) i only answer phone numbers i know

i never answer my phone unless i know the number.. but it didnt really make me a problem as people usually send signed sms after few unanswered calls.. maybe you should try that..

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Marrokanen blijken altijd eerst te kijken naar wie er belt en nemen nooit op als ze het nummr niet kennen. Spanjaarden blijken een grote weerstand tegen Voicemail te hebben Engelsen blijken dan weer zeer weigerachtig te staan tegenover het telefoneren Read More