Wednesday, January 12, 2011

(Near) End of Week 23 - How do you use the phones in Mexico?

There is something funny about Mexico that I want to share with everyone - the phone system. I have been avoiding using the phone in Mexico since I arrived and up to this point I have been successful. In fact, Ana and I have yet to buy cell phones and are some of the last hold-outs of the 2010 volunteers. We don’t even have a land line in our house. We figure that with high-speed wireless internet and Skype, we can accomplish pretty much everything we could possibly need to do. It’s a win-win situation; other volunteers will save money by not being able to call us and we won’t have to worry about the same volunteers bothering us all day long with texts (not that you would do that, other volunteers!).

But, at work, I am finding that many people I try to contact outside of the office don’t actually respond to their emails. Whereas I sit in front of my computer anxiously waiting to be distracted by emails, Mexicans, even those with office jobs, don’t seem to be so inclined, so I have to use the dreaded telephone. Fortunately, Peace Corps is kind enough to share the "how to use a phone in Mexico" table with us. But, unfortunately, to use a phone I am somehow supposed to be able to remember all of the instructions without carrying around my computer to look them up.

Let me explain why this is such a big deal - please be patient. If I want to call from a cell phone to a cell phone, or cell phone to land line, and it’s a local call, then no big deal; I just dial the seven or eight-digit number. But if I want to call from a land line - or Nextel cell phone for some reason - to a non-Nextel cell phone, even if it’s a local call, then the trouble starts; I have to dial 044 plus 3, or the two-digit city code (as if I would know that), plus the seven or eight-digit phone number. To make a national long distance call from a cell phone (I’m not sure when reading the instructions if "cell phone" actually signifies "cell phone" or only  "non-Nextel cell phones") or land line to a cell phone in Mexico,  I have to dial 045 plus 3, or the two-digit city code, plus the seven or eight-digit phone number. This is very similar to the previous set of instructions and hard to differentiate. Now, if I want to make a national long distance call from a cell phone or land line to a land line, things change a bit. I have to dial 01 plus 3, or the two-digit city code, plus the seven or eight-digit number. And, to further complicate things; how would I know if I’m calling a cell phone, a Nextel phone, or a land line?

Of course, when attempting to use this information it never actually works. The grammatical logic to the directions can be confusing and can be interpreted multiple different ways as I’ve discovered while trying to write this. For example, when I read "01+3 or 2 digit city code+7 or 8 digit number" from the directions for a national long distance call from a cell phone or land line to a land line, I could interpret it to mean that there are two options for making the call - dial 01 plus 3 or the two-digit city code, then the phone number of seven or eight digits - or I could interpret it to mean that there are three options - dial 01 plus 3 or the two-digit city code plus  seven or the eight-digit number. I won’t go through all of the possible strategies for calling international long distance, either to or from Mexico, but you can see the table of directions at the bottom of this post.

And, well, another curiosity: people in Mexico write phone numbers in many different ways. In the U.S., phone numbers are written with a three-digit area code inside parentheses, followed by three numbers grouped together that are separated by a dash from a grouping of four numbers - i.e. (716) 536-5743. In Mexico, numbers are often written with or without country codes, area codes, or city codes. After the code, if there is a code, the following seven or eight digits are written in either four groups of two (12 34 56 78 / 12 34 56 7) or a group of three and a group of four ala the U.S. of A. (123 4567), or two groups of four (1234 5678), or one large group of consecutive digits (1234567 / 12345678).

Does all of this sound frightening to you too? Because, as if that wasn’t enough, using the phone in the office is even more complicated. To use the phone in the office - and I’m not making this up - I have to dial *61*1645#3 then use the appropriate technique described above, followed by the seven or eight-digit phone number. Each of the large office rooms, like the one I work in, has its own phone and its own unique code for being able to use it. I usually call from Diego's office. Diego is Ana’s counterpart and boss; I work in his office because the space I use there is the most stable, less frequently rotating desk space that I can find. I have managed to stay there without being moved to a different computer and/or desk longer than any other place I have tried so far. It has been almost a week, that is, if I start counting the days today and don’t get moved again for another week. All of this means that if I want to call someone from work for work related reasons, I have to do it in front of Ana's boss, as he watches. This is a little embarrassing, for one because I can never get the phone to work, and secondly because my Spanish isn't so great.

It usually takes about ten attempts before I figure out what to do on the office phone. Every once-in-a-while I reach who I was trying to call, but am asked by a recording to enter an extension; today, after about two months of giving up at this point, I learned that in order to enter an extension into the office phone, I first have to press 9 and then quickly type the extension before the effect that the magical 9 has wears off.  If it's a long distance call or a call to a cell phone, I have to register the call in a book beside the phone. I wonder how I am supposed to register all of the mistake calls that I make?

4 comments:

  1. Such a good post. I can verify that what Jajean says is true.

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  2. Haha wonderfully stated. However, I must say that making calls from a cell phone is much easier than from a landline...so maybe you should invest in one and consider the price as a "convenience charge" ;)

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  3. Correction - I have been advised that I still do not understand how to use the phones in Mexico: "01+3 or 2 digit city code+7 or 8 digit number" (and all similar instructions) should be interpreted to mean dial 01, then the three or the two-digit city code, then the phone number of seven or eight digits, rather than dial 01 plus 3, or the two-digit city code, then the phone number of seven or eight digits.

    I hope this helps clarify everything.

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  4. I'm scared to use the phone, too!

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