Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hello? Oh wait...

I’ve been living in Switzerland for three years as of this coming Friday. And I still can’t seem to get the hang of Swiss phone etiquette.

The problem is, if I don’t recognize the number of the caller, I’m not sure how to answer it. Should I answer the American way, with just a “Hello”? The professional English-speaker way, with my first and last name? Or the Swiss way, with “Frau X”, said in a tone that’s as threatening as possible?

No matter the decision, it’s usually the wrong one and I end up with silence on the other end while the caller gets over their initial “greeting shock” and tries to figure out how to talk to a crazy person like me.

This morning was no exception. I went with the professional English-speaker version of “hello” and heard nothing but silence on the other end.

Then, after about five seconds, the caller cleared her voice and said, “Frau X?” I answered, “ja” and then, relieved by my one German mumble, she blabbed full-steam ahead in Swiss German.

Finally, when she came up for air, I told her I understand “not so good” Swiss German and could she please repeat everything in High German. After that, all was klar (at least as klar as it was going to get), and just when I was congratulating myself for surviving yet another Swiss phone call, she says, “Auf Wiedersehen, Frau X.” And I know that I’m supposed to answer back, “Auf Wiedersehen, Frau Y.” Except I can’t remember her name because my brain was too busy processing the whole phone etiquette/language thing only to result in being a failure at both.

So I say a simple “Auf Wiedersehen,” leaving out her name and then hang up and curse the phone.

When it comes to the foreign phone experience, I’ll never win. The only thing all of us living abroad can do is continue to encourage e-mail use. It really is the best technology for foreign communication, where we have the two things we need most on our side: time and google translate.


Romy said...

I speak Swiss-German and I still sometimes don't understand or catch people's names when they introduce themselves. Usually when that's the case I just reply with a very cheerful "Grüezi!" and wait for them to continue talking. So it's not just a foreigner thing!

Chantal said...

Good to know!

Amanda said...

Oh! Thank heaven for Google translate! Last week I wrote three e-mails using it: one to Coop to get a free poster, one to my Gemeinde to ask a question, and another to the Strassenverkehrsamt to ask another question. I got timely responses from all three and again used GT, which more or less gave me the answer I was looking for. This is the ONLY way I can communicate with anyone around here!

Jessica said...

I do exactly that all the time at work. I know I should answer professionally, but regardless of the number I just say 'hello' or state my last name and they are always so baffled. I love it. ;)

Lighthouse Lizzy said...

Sooo funny! My problem is the other way around! I am Swiss, working in an American company. At work I answer the phone in the Swiss way, i.e. with my last name only. Is the caller British, he asks "is that XY?", which confuses me, because that is my last name I just answered the phone with - did he not listen? Is the caller American, he says "XY, please", which confuses me as well, because again, is that not the last name I just said??

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