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When did it become rude to call?

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Once upon a time we had land line phones… a home number and a work number. If you knew someone really well, chances are you had their number memorised. Anyone still able rattle off a number from the 1980s better than your spouse / partner / significant other / best friend’s current mobile!?

Then along came the mobile phone… instant contact anywhere, anytime.

Which is great if there is something truly urgent.

Which is not if you want to have some modicum of work / life balance and a certain degree of… ahem… privacy.

But here is the thing… somewhere along the way it became rude to just pick up the phone and call someone… like a guest landing up unannounced at your doorstep while you are still in your PJs, haven’t brushed your teeth or hair and generally growling at the world.

Remember the days of landline phones?

Remember landlines?

“Did you ‘book’ this time?”

A few months ago I called the ‘concerned person’ after an introductory email (where the next step expected was I would speak with him), and clearly made a mis-step in not ‘booking’ an appointment to speak. Which is my normal approach however in my enthusiasm with a flurry of exchanged emails, boldly dialled with the hope of a 1 min hello to decide when convenient to speak further or a call back.

Instead I had someone completely miffed that I dared to call. Serious oops!

In fact, til date this particular person declined to respond to very polite follow-up requests for a call / meeting… To the extent that we missed even being considered for one opportunity where the solution we have is ideally suited.

Sure, he was perhaps extreme in being taken aback by my ‘gaff’ of calling without an appointment, but was he out of synch with the current business etiquette? Probably not!

Random calls which are not pre-scheduled are frowned on. Even for me, if I receive a call ‘out of the blue‘ it sometimes takes time to ‘click‘ the context and shift gears to either go ahead with the call or request another time to continue in further detail.

And with how bad the mobile network is in India, half the time it is more effective to connect over Skype or arrange to be next to your old-fashioned land line as a back-up. Try to have a 30 minute ‘call’ using a mobile? Expect to redial about 4 to 5 times… and do a lot of “Hello! Hello?! Can you hear me?!!”

Once survived without!

We once survived without mobiles!

WhatsAp vs Email

Conversely sending a WhatsAp message is eminently acceptable. Generally, it actually get’s a response. In fact several companies I know actively use WhatsAp groups rather than email or internal chat networks to get things done.

That said, with all the New Years greetings received via WhatsAp, I had to check quite a few times “Erhm… happy new year too but… regret I don’t have your number saved… and you are…??” 

In some cases, it was terrific to be updated with a known contact’s new number. In other cases, the connect was so randomly distant, one had to wonder… and when you start getting from such parties ‘Good night dear’ messages… well… that is just creepy and you start re-thinking keeping your number on your business card!

And where does email fit in this whole equation? Heck, I’m old school. I like emails for more detailed communications… I just wish Mac & Microsoft would play nice together and let me set a delay send to better time my emails to ‘polite’ business hours and not when I tend to actually write!

I also think emails deserve a response… Whereas completely ignoring an email is ‘business as usual’ for some. One CEO I know openly admits he never responds to emails – no point even sending to him.

Have something important with details that needs a reply? Sure you can send the email… but then follow-up with a short WhatsAp message after some time and you may actually get somewhere.

Expect a response to that email? You may never hear back…

Is this a sign of the times in Asia? What about N America, Europe and other places? 

Any other tips or ‘business etiquette’ changes you’ve noted?

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31 Comments

  1. BerLinda says:

    Confusing times we live in! I hate the phone so would much rather send an email and it bugs me no end when people don’t respond. In LV, it was like emailing into a black hole. The Germans usually respond – briefly 😉

    • Haha! I’m not a big phone person either but it certainly is better at getting a feel for things and building rapport when you work ‘virtually’ than just sending emails that will always be ignored! Amused that LV is much like Asia in emails being sucked into a vortex or black hole, never to see the light of day again!

      • BerLinda says:

        It annoyed the hell out of me – you never knew if people had got their ‘urgent’ job or not. No such thing as a quick thank you!

        • Hahaha! I just pictured someone deliberately never sending… until getting yelled at… “But I sent it? Did you check your emails? I will resend it right now. (whoosh off goes the email) But please stay on the phone so I can be sure you got it. Ah.. you see it now? Oh wonderful!”

  2. I was taken aback this christmas to hear a relative answer their landline with their number as their initial greeting – I remember doing this as a kid with our own landline! Oldschool!
    I’ve been emailing to apply for lots of jobs lately and it is very depressing as you don’t even get rejection emails back – then your hopes remain high as that optimistic part of you thinks ‘they are just busy, they will get round to e-mailing me soon.’ Seriously, what is wrong with people? How many times can you send a follow-up email without that being rude? I’m not sure about phoning to see if they got the email for exactly the reasons you gave above. Maybe I will try whatsapp – but what to do if you don’t have someone’s number?
    If someone left you an answerphone message asking you to call them and you ignored it would that be rude? Why is ignoring an email any different? This age of modern communication is very confusing! Is it that with all this non-personal electronic contact we are all becoming cold and impersonal? Can you remember the last time you picked up the phone and called an old friend out of the blue? I used to love those kind of calls but find myself making or receiving them very less these days. With Facebook and all the other social media sites it is now easier than ever to keep in touch with friends far and wide but I feel like we are losing that personal connection with our near and far dear ones as actually speaking to one and other with our actual voices is no longer the norm!

    • There is so much in what you are sharing that rings true!!

      Alas trying to apply for a job via email or any kind of business development relying solely on email simply doesn’t work in India, Indonesia, etc. Even if already know someone or can get a direct intro with only email… more than 75% will go unanswered.

      But send a super short text, whatsap, Skype, FB msg etc… you might get somewhere. Tracking someone down is unfortunately relatively easy with all sorts of online searches… which means it can get downright weird with random msgs if you don’t really want to be contacted! (The “Let’s make friends!” types)

      It is why most Bollywood stars change their personal mobile # regularly… passing the new # only to those they want to keep in touch with effectively weeding out all sorts of ‘unwanted’ and forcing folks to pester their secretaries instead.

      You are quite right about rarely picking up the phone to call a friend ‘just like that!’ Our great ‘connector’ the phone is now more about everything else BUT calling someone! 🙂

      • Haha yes I do get quite a few of those ‘let’s make friends’ messages, many of which overstep the mark of decency and are clearly about something more than friendship! I saw an interesting article where a girl responded to online flattery and requests by agreeing with them. The results were quite shocking – if a boy contacted her telling her she was ‘hot and let’s be friends’ she would reply ‘yes I know, I am hot!’ The response back after that was always negative and along the lines of ‘don’t flatter yourself love you are not anything special!’ Interesting social experiment!

  3. In Finland and mails were usually the preferred method as Finnish people are in general very …silent people even though they were the pioneers of mobile networks and mobile phones.
    In Germany it is always best to call. I didn’t even know that there would be some “booked calling time” what a strange thing 🙂
    Oh this reminds me many of my colleagues in Germany are so bad with computers that they just don’t respond to emails and I guess they don’t even know how to check them (and that as corporate client supporters at a bank…) is

    • So I wouldn’t have been rude in Germany! 😉

      Here I definitely need to schedule a call with someone if it is for professional purposes.

      You have a point about not being comfortable either with computers or, honestly writing, as being a reason for slow / no responses.

      At one company, we had an admin assistant who had limited education and wasn’t comfortable communicating in English, so we crafted a series of standard email responses in English to typical situations. He got good enough to generally interpret enough to copy and paste then slightly customise his reply… but go beyond that? He needed help. So those emails would go unanswered and sometimes forgotten. I know at certain levels that is a factor here. But it is also a work culture thing too.

      Amused about your observation that Finns prefer ‘silence’ even as pioneers with mobile technology! 🙂

  4. thewriteedge says:

    Many years ago there was an old Hindi flick starring Govinda in which he sings a song with the hook, “It happens only in India.” Reading your post reminded me of the song.

    Here in the States, in my small corner of the world, people use all methods to communicate for business — phone, email, text. I haven’t had a problem contacting someone with one of these methods, and if one doesn’t work I use another and almost always get a “So sorry, I got busy/caught up in [insert reason here], let’s address this now.”

    It amazes me that in a country with a billion-plus population, people are finding effective ways to ignore each other.

  5. NancyTex says:

    I hate phone calls. I would much rather communicate via email or text than pick up the phone – which is weird because I’m a Gen X’er, not a Millenial. The WhatsApp thing is starting to become big over here – but I think Americans still prefer text (probably because texting is free to/from anywhere in the US; whereas in CA, where telecommunications are still archaic and we still have long distance and roaming even within our own country, things like BBM were predominant.

    Interesting that the gaff on the unplanned phone call was such a serious offence in Asia. I would typically just let it go to vmail versus picking up and giving the caller shit for calling me. 🙂

    • I still prefer phone calls for certain activities… not so easy to build rapport or get a sense of what’s really going on from emails / texts.

      Cost is a factor in business behaviour… WhatsAp calls and msgs are becoming the norm here as ‘free’ as part of data plans vs having to pay for every call and text msg. Which is why telecom operators seem to have figured out how to block whatsap calls when using their data plans vs on WiFi.

      Whereas the kind of plans available in N America encourage unlimited texting and even crazy cheap calling so the VOiP alternatives do not seem to be so popular.

      When I was last in Indonesia, you could pay only $10 for a monthly data plan but just a couple calls for a few minutes and a few texts would burn through more than $10! Basically if you wanted to do anything it needed to be over WhatsAp as no one would call you back or text you back as they had to pay for it. Plus voice call quality so poor you couldn’t understand each other anyways! 😉

      As for BBM? Nearly completely replaced by WhatsAp even for those lone remaining BB users…

      And email? It isn’t used here. Either you pick up or ignore and wait for a msg that indicates why the person was trying to reach you and then call back… if so inclined… 😉

  6. It sounds like an interesting corporate culture to have to be weary of unscheduled phone calls. It also sounds like a fun game to master if the thought didn’t stress the hell out of me!

  7. TheLastWord says:

    The rules are changing every where. An age ago, when cold-calling was still something people did, I landed up at this plant and asked to see the head HR guy, my usual sales prospect. After, much backing and frothing on the phone between the gatehouse guard and the unseen gent I was invited in and then bawled out for showing up.. This was in the early 90’s in India.

    Getting a response to an email is an issue around the world. Here in Canada it’s impossible to get a response to an email. They won’t pick up the phone. Voicemail is being removed as an option at an increasing rate. Texting seems to be the only way.

    Not sure how texting is seen as the way forward…

    I must say in this global world of communication we’re further behind than ever before. This is a backlash from the sheer volume of data we’re throwing out there.

    BTW: that “concerned person” and “dear” took me back to the time I was being asked to “do the needful” 🙂

    • I’m surprised you never get a response to an email in Canada… seems rather contrary to a typical ‘polite’ approach to things. And was certainly not my experience in the past nor even the rare continued connects… however I supposed it all depends on the context.

      I can imagine voicemail being phased out completely, replaced by a brief text msg. For example here, if I do call someone (at the appointed time) and they do not pick up, next step is to send a msg saying tried to reach and to call back before x time or let me know when can reschedule.

      And yes “We are like that only” here. 🙂

  8. Sonel says:

    Great post Carissa and it’s the first time I hear that you have to make an appointment to give someone a call. I know some see it as rude if you just rock up their house and want to visit for a whole day. I would see it as rude as well. It’s okay if it’s only for an hour or less and note the ‘less’. I am not much into visitors and if someone calls me on my cell and they’re not on my contact list, I don’t answer because we get lots of spam calls. ‘Good day my friend. How are you?’ calls and they usually want to sell you something. I can’t buy anything and don’t dare tell them that. They just don’t care. Now that is rude.

    As far as emails and whatsapp goes – I do email and WA but only a few friends have it and WA is much cheaper than an sms message. Luckily I don’t have any business dealings but the ones I’ve seen regarding hubby’s work made us laugh and frown quite a few times. He is also one for spelling. If they can’t spell, they’re not worth answering, he always says. 😆

    He prefers that his technicians contact him via WhatsApp and even the call planners had to learn about WhatsApp Web and work with that. Much cheaper and when he is busy he doesn’t want to answer the phone. Times like that I am so glad I am at home. I would kill some people with a smile and then send a WA to let them know they’re dead. 😆

    • For ‘business’ type chats… yup the trend now is to treat it like a meeting. Which also means desi style that a commitment was made but its perfectly fine to ignore completely. Just like you show physically for a meeting “on time” but their previous meeting went late or some such thing. It is getting better though. 🙂

      I’m most amused at your hubby’s “spelling” pet peeve and confess to sharing shades of it but can’t let it get in the way of most communication… If I used it to “weed” out contacts, would be left with an exceedingly short list! I’d say 90% msgs have spelling errors (or creative spelling auto corrects), grammar gaffs and don’t let me get started about punctuation! 😉

      Overall I really appreciate WhatsAp just have to periodically cull / ban certain folks that just get slimy… for some reason relatively random extremely distant ‘professional’ contacts perceive a foreigner = dollar signs dancing in their heads. And when that doesn’t work, switches to a bad porno flick. Ugh!

      • Sonel says:

        So glad I don’t have to do meetings anymore and would really prefer the phone-type meetings if I had to.

        Hubby’s spelling peeve tends to me more work related or when someone applies for a job. When it’s on Facebook he would have a lot to say but I told him it’s not his place to correct them. Some people do have problems ie dyslexia etc.

        I totally agree and I think it would be the same in his case. He would have 1 technician left and no employer. LOL!

        What does irritate me though is these memes some people create, then it’s so funny but the spelling! Then you really don’t feel like sharing. it. LOL!

        Oh yes! I think that’s the best option ever! Sometimes I wonder what people like that think? It must be difficult, especially in this day and age. In my days there weren’t things like cell phones or even WA. You had to do that face to face. No block options available. LOL!

        • Nice that you’ve escaped the rat race to instead capture the most gorgeous photos and amazing natural moments for us mere mortals!

          Ooooh… clumsy resumes replete with spelling and typos! In THAT I completely share your hubby’s pet peeve! However with all the screening I’ve had to do over the years for various projects and employers, learned to look past as perfect grammar and spelling isn’t necessarily the main requirement of the particular job at hand.

          There are still some scenarios that require a deft side-step and counter but yes – the boldly obnoxious stuff now is mostly virtual so can be blocked – thankfully!! 🙂

          As for what these guys think? That’s a completely different topic and very much linked to cultural context and experiences. I get how such creeps are created and perpetuated but… prefer to focus attention on so many other more worthy things!

          • Sonel says:

            I am very grateful for that indeed Carissa. I don’t have much patience with people and here at home I just want to be left alone in peace so I can take photos of the beauties in my garden.

            Who’s the flatterer now? I suppose this is Episode 3 of the “MAS” charter now? LOL!

            He will be glad to hear that and yes, when it’s not the main requirement for the job, then it can slide.

            I agree and yes, thank goodness for our latest technology. Makes you wonder how you ever lived without it. LOL!

            I wonder if they do think and yes, that is quite a topic on its own and I agree. There are really more worthy things. 😀

            • One of these days I may write about random creepiness but it certainly isn’t a priority. Unfortunately so endemic here – what I find incomprehensible is stories of women who meet guys from the exceedingly creepy FB fishing expeditions!? Eek!

              I do believe the phrase “do not suffer fools” increasingly applies as we grow older… no time or patience for nonsense. And if I had a garden like yours?? Who wouldn’t want to be left alone in peace to take such gorgeous photos!!!

            • Sonel says:

              I agree that it’s no a priority. To me most people are creepy and that is why I avoid them. Now you know why I do like animals and critters so much. They don’t creep me out at all. 😀

              Women who meet guys from FB fishing expeditions? Sounds creepy. 😆

              Yes, I think I’m at that stage. Must be menopause. LOL! Not that I’ve ever been very patient with people. I have lots of patience with animals though. People can think and help themselves. Animals can’t.

              LOL! It’s not the most beautiful garden and I don’t have lots of flowers here as it’s too rocky, but lots of ferns and greenery and trees and lots of hiding spots for my little friends.

              Thanks for the compliment. I am glad I can share them. 😀 ♥

            • Google AMWF and be slightly taken aback with how many South Asian ‘love stories’ started online from random msgs via FB…

              My sis is a vet and was quite shy as a kid… hence gravitated from an early age towards animals. One of the things she learned in her vet practice is the tough part isn’t keeping the animals healthy, it is managing the human ‘owners’! She’s now rather adept at that part too. 🙂

              Must say I rather long for a garden… was an integral part of growing up however ever since I moved to Asia, all I’ve managed is to have my balconies bursting with plants! Not the same thing but I’d rather put up with the mosquitos and pigeons than miss looking out the window over greenery. 🙂

              So particularly appreciate windows to the natural world through the eyes of others!!

            • Sonel says:

              When it comes to things like this I am quite oblivious, as you will find out. LOL!

              That is awesome! The closest I came to being a vet was when I worked for one. Yep, managing the human owners can be quite difficult and you’d be surprised how little people really know about their pets and what a huge responsibility it is to have a pet. I always say that people should go on training courses before they get pets.

              I bet she is and she sounds like a great vet. 😀

              I love plants and some days it’s no fun having a garden but for the most part it is, especially when you love bugs and spiders like me. 😀

              I agree. Mosquitoes are part of nature and as much as I don’t like them as well, they do feed my little spiders friends and other critters. We also have quite a few pigeons here and they love to eat the cat food I put out for our landlord’s cat. 😆

              I agree. I also love greenery. I grew up in a city but when I first came to Hartbeespoortdam, I immediately fell in love with the dam, the greenery and of course the mountains. I love mountains. 😀

              I feel the same and here on the blogs there are so many ‘worlds’. Just fascinating and so amazing. 😀

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