Thursday, September 20, 2012

September 20, 2012 10:00 PM—Phones


Phones here are a funny thing.  As I said in a recent post, most people here never had landlines.  When mobile phones hit Uganda, people went from having no phone at all to having a mobile phone.  But phones here are not an interesting topic because of the drastic introduction that happened here.  The way that Ugandans treat the use of a phone is, to me and probably many Americans, very unusual.

Ugandans will often “flash” someone else’s phone.  This does not involve removing any clothes or anything of that nature (despite what you may have thought).  Instead, it means that they will call someone’s phone and let it ring only once before hanging up.  Then they will wait for that person to call back.  They do this because either they have no airtime (which is basically minutes on their phone) or because they don’t want to pay for the call (a call doesn’t cost anything until someone on the other end answers).  I feel like most Americans would find this rude.  It would come off as “I want to talk to you, but I’m too cheap to pay for the call.”  But in this culture, it is accepted more often than not.

Ugandans also don’t believe in turning off their phones, or at least putting them on vibrate, during a meeting.  In fact, not only will they let their phone ring out loud during a meeting, they will also sometimes answer it without even leaving the room.  This is something that always bothers me, because they never seem to mind disturbing other people or interrupting an entire meeting for themselves.

One thing that really entertains me about phones here is that many Ugandans have ridiculous ringtones.  For example, a man will have what I would consider to be a very feminine ringtone.  The deputy headteacher at my school has A Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton as his ringtone.  Not what I would call very manly.  Another very popular ringtone on many phones here is Barbie Girl by Aqua.  These always make me laugh a little.

I think people here are still adjusting to the constant line of communication that they have with each other.  Maybe over time some of these things will change, but odds are the culture will remain set in their ways.

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