Differences in answering the phone

Differences in answering the phone

I was watching Making a Murderer (which is a fantastic documentary series if you haven’t seen it yet) and there was one particular bit that stood out to me. In a scene where a young Brendon is on the phone to his mother, we are introduced to a particularly delightful exchange (ok, so a little less so when you understand the context, but I digress). The phone rings, Brendan’s mom answers, and there’s a slow, Fargo-esque “yeeeeaaahhhh?”. That’s how she answered the phone, asking, “Yeaaahhhhh?”. There’s a pause, and then Brendan replies with, “Yeaahhhh?”. It seems that they’re simply asking “What do you want?” but have formed it into some monosyllabic glottal greeting over time. In watching this, I realized phone etiquette in the Northern reaches of America is a world away from that of the UK or even Knoxville.

I was taught to answer the phone with our phone number (lest someone accidentally call us). Threefiveohsixonenine? It was posed as a question. I guess that was our version of yeeeeeaahhhhh? but with a little more information in it. We still basically asked, “What do you want?!” but we also added a bit of information. Basically, “You’ve got through to this number. We’ve established that. Now tell me what you want.”

In recent years I changed my phone answering tactics a little. Mainly because I was no longer answering threefiveohsixonenine, and that would have been misleading. Another reason was because, frankly, I don’t get many calls I’m not expecting, so I don’t need to say much. Normally, my go-to greeting is a simple “Hello?”, said with a slight inflection, but not a questioning one, nothing like I’m being accusatory of the stranger who just called me. It’s more of a “Yeah whaddup?!” than a “Why are you bothering me?”. Sometimes I’ll recognize the ID, but not well enough to go with my usual friendlier greeting of “Hey Joe!”, and I’ll answer with a “Hello, this is Helen” to establish that the caller has got through to the right person. But most of the time, it’s a simple hello, and nothing more.

So, yeah. People have different ways of answering the phone. I find it fascinating.

1 Comment

  1. Sachi on September 23, 2016 at 11:43 am

    I just found your blog on expatblogs.com and this is the first post I’ve read. I thought I’d pop in to say hello, because it would be awesome if some random person did the same to me on my blog, amiright? Also, I have an opinion on just about everything, so I do actually have a relevant comment about this post. My thinking is that TV phone etiquette is not a realistic representation of how Americans answer the phone. I’ve never seen anyone in movies or TV say “hello” when they answer the phone (it’s always a cool grunt of some sort) but I think 90% of Americans probably answer with a simple hello. I say “hello”, or if I’m feeling particularly helpful (only on my landline though) I’ll say “Hello, may I help you?”. This is something I learned from my mother who used to operate a customer service hotline.

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