Brazilian telephone manners

The toughest thing to get used to when you live in Brazil is ignorance. The level of ignorance depends a lot on the social class of the person you are talking to, but it is always there. There are, of course, people who don´t fall into this category but they too seem bothered by the ignorance of their counterparts.

One of the most obvious signs of this is telephone manners. Few Brazilians actually know how to speak on the phone, especially if they don´t know you. Take the woman who called me this morning.
Ring, ring….
“Olá?” I say
“Quem?” she answers.
“Como assim?” I ask.
“Oh, desculpe, numero errado”
Bip, bip, bip, bip……

“Excuse me?”
“Sorry, wrong number.”

The “quem” phenomenon is frighteningly common in Brazil. It´s a lazy abbreviation of “quem fala?” (Who´s speaking). The problem is that, for some reason, they think it´s the caller who is supposed to ask the question. In Brazil, you pick up your ringing phone, hear this question on the other side,  and are supposed to tell the caller who you are.

These and other strange customs sometimes give you the feeling that Brazilians are imitators that somehow got the wrong end of the stick.


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