By Mark Taylor
Dealing with the ettiquette of using the phone in Brazil can take some getting used to, as there are various idiosyncrasies and local habits that can confuse those who are still struggling with Portuguese.
For starters, when picking up a ringing phone if you are lucky enough to get in a Hello” or “Aloa” you’ll no doubt get a “Quem ‘ta falando?” (“Who is talking?”) or “Quem fala?” (literally “Who talks?”). Of course to some this might strike you as odd, doesn’t the other person know who they were calling?
Equally when making a call, particularly when calling companies, you often feel a little put in your place as you’ll of course again be asked “Quem ‘ta falando?” or just a plain and abrupt “Fala” (Talk) or “Pronto” (Ready). Then when you state your name often there’s a somewhat disapproving or disappointed “Uh…” from the receptionist, and the phone may go dead for more than a few seconds before you are actually connected to the right person, or at least someone else.
Another somewhat peculiar habit, again for those who aren’t used to it, is the constant “uh… uh… uh…” by the Brazilian on the other end of the phone when you are doing your bit of the conversation. For example you are recounting some story: “I went to the supermarket…”, which is then interrupted with an, “uh…”, and perhaps startled you continue, “to buy some oranges…”, again interrupted with an, “uh…”. You might be worried that your partner in conversation has tourettes or a stomach complaint, or is choking on a bit of sandwich, but be assured it’s quite normal.
Also be prepared, mostly when waiting for Brazilian friends or family to get off the phone, for a lengthy goodbye. Just because you hear a “Tchau” this doesn’t mean the conversation is over. There will be several forgotten items that still need to be discussed, as well as further multiple “Tchaus” interspersed with “Abracos” (Hugs) and “Beijos” (Kisses) that usually end in a crescendo.
Most of these idiosyncrasies, or perhaps what are better described as differences from what us “gringos” are used to, seem to be put down to a legacy of problem phone lines here in Brazil. For example, the “Quem ‘ta falando?” is usually the first matter of business as if the person is expecting to be misconnected half the time. The staccato “uh… uh… uh…” also seems to be some attempt at proving you are still there on the other end of the line, as if expecting to be disconnected.
Ironically this is something mobile phone users, in North America and Europe (and probably the world over), are becoming used to with the return of somewhat problematic connections. Fortunately I’ve yet to be not “falando” (talking) with the wrong person when dialing a phone here in Brazil, although I have received my share of wrong numbers! (this all depends on who previously owned your phone line)
I ought to stress that this is just based on my experience, and I’m sure that us gringos have just as many annoying habits!
Previous articles by Mark Taylor:
Brazil’s Gun Referendum
Brazil: Moby Review
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 5
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 4
Brazil: Avril Lavigne at Pacaembu
Moby in Brazil
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 3
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 2
Brazilian Film Review
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 1
Brazil: First season of Lost repeated on AXN“