Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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26/4/15: telephone etiquette Tanzania style

I was brought up in a vicarage in which the home, of course, doubles up as the office.  So when I first started answering the telephone it was to say, "Good morning / afternoon / evening, Christ Church Vicarage" and so got used to the idea that the answerer identified him or herself.  When I started teaching, though, I was initially sharing a flat with a number of others, including one who had got himself embroiled in a complicated romantic entanglement, and was prone to angry phone calls for that reason.  So, at his request, I started answering the phone just by saying, 'Hello' and this is what I have stuck to ever since.

In my previous post as a UK University based teacher trainer I twice made use of training we had on telephone etiquette.  On one occasion the husband of one of my then students phoned me about a problem which had arisen.  I did not know him nor did I have permission from the student herself to speak to him.  So I went down the line of, "I am Geoff Tennant, Secondary Mathematics PGCE Tutor at the University of Reading.  I cannot confirm or deny that I have a student called ***.  On this basis, if there is something you wish to say to me, I am willing to listen.  If I do have a student by this name I will act accordingly, if I do not then I will take no further action."  The other occasion was when a head teacher of a local school phoned me to discuss a confidential matter.  I was happy to have the conversation, but did not know the head teacher himself, so rang off, called him back using the number from our records and then proceeded to have the conversation.

So, here I am now in Tanzania with three mobile phones to my name - one I use for my UK SIM card, another for my own Tanzanian SIM card, and the third is my work phone.  But, strangely, with more phones than is good for any person, I prefer to avoid using the phone as much as I can.  I use the excuse that my hearing is not 100% - which is true - but the issue is more accent, workable face to face but without other clues as to what people are saying, I find the phone difficult.  So I try to communicate as far as possible by text and email, this works much better for me.

But beyond understanding people is the problem of getting the conversation going.  I tend to the view that if I'm making the call it is my responsibility to identify myself, not the person being called in the first instance.  Of course, that the number comes up, with a name if in the directory, is helpful but only up to a point.  So I frequently find myself in conversations which go, "hello...hello....helllo.....hello' as each is waiting for the other to get things going.  Curiously, I've found that a way out of the impasse is to say, "How are you?"  or "Habari yaku?" if I'm feeling brave.  Although again, this doesn't sit comfortably - why are we asking how people are before we know who they are?  Which is worse, in any part of the world, when the person is calling from a call centre - please don't treat me like a long lost friend, just tell me why it is you are calling me!

Beyond this is the etiquette of answering the phone, or texting, when in company.  May be this is my problem, but I tend to the view that people with whom I'm having a face to face conversation almost always take priority over people contacting me remotely.  Part of the issue, I think, is that mobile phones are still, in the greater scheme of things, new to us, and we've not yet fully worked out how to use them.  And there is something about a phone ringing or a text pinging which is akin to a baby crying - me, me, me, now, now, now, attention, attention, attention!

Grief, I'm being miserable and reactionary today, totally out of step with the modern world as you are no doubt thinking.  But the general point here is to ensure that we use our phones - and possessions generally - in a way which helps us, with us as the master and the possession as the servant, and not to be slave to the things which supposedly make life richer and easier.

2 Comments to 26/4/15: telephone etiquette Tanzania style:

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Natasha on 24 June 2015 16:34
hello Geoff, i don't know if should laugh or feel sorry about your shared experiences.. and i have to tell you how my iPhone is taken over my life. I am constantly on the phone "very anti social" i know!! I have become a slave to the communication device. my phone had recently gone for fix for 3 days and it was a nightmare.. i could say minor depression.(i have to work on that one) Being a Tanzanian i never gave a thought about starting a phone conversation with habari yako? well guilty of doing it all the time.. i think its just comes from history when we didn't have the telephone device, and people traveled long distances by foot... so when they came across fellow travelers they would ask about the other side without knowing who they were.. so i assume it passed on the telephone too haha!!! Interesting blogs.. a break from my midnight reading :)
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Geoff on 24 June 2015 22:18
Thank you for contributing, Natasha, it's interesting what you're saying. Actually, since writing this post, I'm wondering if part of the issue here is that I started using the 'phone long before the technology existed to show who the caller was, so there was the need to establish identify. People who have always had caller identification - albeit that it only works with numbers already in the directory - can go about things a bit differently. What do you think?

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