Mobile phones. We all have them. Phones have become so integral to our daily lives that it is almost impossible to imagine a time without them. Figures show that 4.77 billion people across the world use a mobile phone, but it is often overlooked how cultural differences affect the way we use them.
Even the names we give them differ drastically. In the UK it is called a “mobile”, in Israel “Pelephone” (wonder phone), in Japan “keitai” (portable) and in the U.S, a “cell phone”. And the names we call them are as different as the ways we use them and the standards of etiquette that we hold towards them.
China is known for large crowds of phone users who talk wherever and whenever they want. It is not considered rude to answer a call in the middle of a face-to-face conversation with someone.
The Chinese are notorious callers, often ringing 10-15 times before hanging up and calling back again. If you don’t pick up, it is likely that your phone will continuously ring until you do.
India has a long tradition of tolerance and places a high value on communalism; this means that not many mobile phone habits would be considered rude.
A common practice in India is ringing for a second before hanging up. This is referred to as “beeping” and results in the other person calling back, whilst also picking up the bill for the call.
Japan is a country known for holding social harmony and politeness as strong social values. Causing social disturbance can be sanctioned and is common to see posters in public spaces urging people not to use their phones.
Train announcements will remind people to turn their phone off, or put it on silent. This applies in cinemas, too, where it is even considered rude to light up your phone to put it on silent.
In Egypt, don’t expect a quick and straightforward call. It is considered normal to exchange pleasantries for up to five minutes before getting down to business. Both speakers tend to talk about personal news and thank God for their health and status before moving on to practical matters.
Egyptians will frequently share their number with brand new acquaintances, often expecting a call back. This is regarded as a modern take on traditional Egyptian hospitality.
The phone tapping legacy of the former Soviet Union means that many Russians, especially those of the older generation, are wary of speaking on the phone. This factor, along with unreliable networks, means phone calls in Russia are kept short and straight to the point.
Young Russians hold the mobile phone as a symbol of privilege and individual freedom. For this reason, customised ring tones and call back tones are popular.
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