Arabic Phone Calls

Now that I have introduced you to the world of Arabic greetings, I thought that a small taste of Arabic phone calls might be in order.

I don't really know how to describe in English how much I despise calling people or receiving calls in Arabic. I like it almost as much as I like going to the dentist to get 11 cavities filled, or getting an intensive, 3-month long Hep shot in 3 weeks, or taking a 3 hour Arabic final.

Ok, maybe I like Arabic phone calls a little more than I like taking a 3 hour Arabic final--but only a little.

First, you must know about cell phones in Jordan. People don't have minutes plans here, like my plan in America, where I got 450 minutes a month, free calls after 7 and on weekends, and 15 cent texting (a total rip-off) for $40 a month (another total rip-off, even though I got a BYU student discount).

Instead of minutes plans, people buy their minutes, minute by minute (could I have used the word "minute" more times in that last sentence?). So first people have a cell phone, and then they have a SIM card, and then they buy little cards that look sort of like credit cars with a big number on them, like "3," which stands for how many dinar one paid for said card. (A dinar is worth 1.5 dollars.)

To add to the confusion of this post, let me explain how I bought my phone and how I came to be stuck with Zain as a provider, instead of the ultra-cool Orange or the strange-sloganed Umniah.

Rewind to the first week I was here. Still living in the disgusting Ambassador Hotel (which gave us Ajax instead of shampoo--no joke) and not really knowing Jordanian Arabic but trying every way possible to get people to speak to me in Arabic instead of non-intelligible English garble, I went with my friend to buy a cell phone. It went something like this:

First store: Me (walking in with my friend, in Arabic--instead of walking in in English, which is what I would do in the America)--"Do you have used phones?"

Cell phone man--"We have really cheap new phones."

Me--"But not used phones? I want something cheap."

Cell phone man--(pulling his cell phone out of his pocket)--"This is the only used phone we have. I will give it to you for 25 dinar."

Me--"Too expensive!"

Cell phone man--"Ok, 20 dinar."

Me--"Maybe. I might come back."

Me--(exiting the store laughing, this time in English; I am still not good at laughing in Arabic)--"I can't believe that he tried to sell me his own cell phone! And for such a ridiculous price!"

Next store: Me--"Do you have used cell phones?"

Cell phone man: "We have cheap new ones."

Me--(remembering the old used cell phone trick) "How much?"

Cell phone man: "What do you want"

Me--"The cheapest."

Cell phone man--"These are 23 dinar..."

Me--(interrupting some long Arabic ramble) "I'll take it."

Cell phone man--"What kind of SIM card do you want?"

Me--(thinking, what is a SIM card? I have Sprint in America. We don't have SIM cards. We just have phones and batteries.) "The cheapest."

Cell phone man--"Zain cheapest...(Arabic ramble)...everyone loves Orange...(more Arabic)...Zain is 5 dinar, Orange is better and 8 dinar."

Me--(thinking I know the Middle Eastern trick of trying to sell you up and not falling for it) "Zain is cheapest? I'll take it."

Not bothering to change the instructions into English, or even finding out how to use the cell phones here or SIM cards, or asking why Orange was better (I didn't know that much Arabic, remember?), I exited the store, rejoicing that I had spoken Arabic the whole time.

Now, however, I am stuck with Zain. I recently realized that Orange would have been a much better deal, as I am paying way more for my cell phone minutes than those lucky folk who went with the trendy Orange. I seriously have to buy minutes like every other week.

Anyway, so people here don't really like spending their minutes on their cell phone. Did I mention that there are no answering machines on cell phones? Which I find very lame. Anyway, so people all the time will give you a "missed call," which means they call you and then hang up. Which means either they didn't want to use their own minutes and want you to call them back, using yours, or they want you to know they are thinking about you, but not enough to use their own minutes, or they are giving you their number, which you didn't have before.

The word for this in Arabic? "Missed call." No joke.

Since minutes are so precious, people speak very quickly on the phone. In Arabic. (Well, at least the Arabs speak in Arabic--the Chinese usually speak Chinese, and the Indonesions usually speak something else, etc.)

Normal Arabic phone calls go something like this (but in Arabic): "Hello?"


Me--"I...am at the language center...had class, I...you at library? You meet me today? You speak Arabic with me now?"


Me--"I coming language center. No, you coming library. No, I go to library."


Me--"I come library. I see you in two minutes."

"Ok yalla bye."

The worst thing about Arabic phone calls is that they show off how I really don't speak Arabic that well. I have three stories about phone calls.

The first is by far the best. Back in the America, those who had lived in the Middle East before had warned us about giving our phone number away. Arabs call all the time, they said, and we have discovered that they send these strange "love texts" to their mass email list, too. Ask me when I get home about these.

However, my Arab friends really don't call me that often--actually, most of the time I have to call them to see if they want to meet and speak with me. I have given my phone number away to probably 30+ people but no one ever calls--at least not that often.

No one, that is, until I mistakenly thought that by giving my phone number to a 12-year old girl at the community center in Sweileh would produce the same non-results.


The day I gave her my number, she called. I was away from my phone, so she called again. And again. And again. Remember how there are no answering machines on phones here?

In all fairness, I answered her phone calls twice that night, and I had about 28 missed calls from her. No joke. And since then, she has probably called me another 25 times, including AT MIDNIGHT--5 times in a row before I turned my phone off.

The second funny story has to do with a man calling me. Now, I really don't like talking to men at all, and especially not on the phone, because I just can't understand people on the phone. Anyway, but I brought a trunkload of junk from America for one of my friend's family here in Jordan (I have a hard time saying no sometimes...) and I had to get it to his family. So I finally called his family, and I think I told them that I would meet someone the next day at the university with the stuff.

The next day, some man called me, and as soon as I heard his voice I said, "I am not at the University yet." After more unintelligible ramble, I told him (I think), "I will call you when I get to the University." I just happened to be going to the community center in Sweileh that day, and so when he called again, I asked one of the women at the front desk to answer for me and tell him what he was saying, because I couldn't understand him at all. When she answered, I heard her say, "This isn't Breanne because Breanne can't speak Arabic. She can't understand you. Oh, you speak English?" And then she handed the phone to me.

It turns out that he had just returned from getting his PhD at BYU. Small world, eh? And HE SPOKE ENGLISH! The phone conversation was much better after that.

Finally, this is perhaps the funniest phone call, in my opinion. One of my visiting teaching companions was a less active Arab member, and I had never met her. I didn't even know if she knew what visiting teaching was, or what to tell her about it, or how to introduce myself, or even if she was friendly to the church.

Fighting back a lot of fear, I finally called her and said this: "Hi, my name is Breanne, and I am from the Mormon branch in Amman. You and I are supposed to visit these girls from the church. Can you visit them sometime this week?"

After that awkward conversation and setting up a time to meet, and another awkward phone call, I found out that she, too, speaks English fluently. I asked her what she thought when I called the first time, and she said she had just awakened and was in that half-dream stage, and after it was over she didn't really know what had happened or if I had really called.

So the solution? If I didn't want to learn Arabic, it would be clearly to speak English on the phone and just hope that they respond. And secondly, be careful who you give your phone number to!


Chicken Dust said...

I can think of four more. If you added the adjective minute (if you can't figure it out just reading it, say it aloud and pronounce it with the i and u long) in front of each of the minutes, that would definately increase the number of minutes in the sentence.

P.S. How do you walk in Arabic?

The Paradox said...


Blaschke said...

Hello, my name is caleb Blaschke and I am studying arabic in amman jordan. I am lds and I have been looking for a meeting house and have emailed quite a few individuals with no response. I was hoping you could point me in the right direction because I like going to church :) Every time I try to get more information on the branch your blog seems to show up. Thanks again. My other email is clblasch@asu.edu

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