Missed calls

An advertisement for Syria's Ya Hala prepaid cell phone plans.

We ordered pizza from Pizza Hut tonight, and after explaining where we lived, the delivery man told us that he’d give us a “missed call” (and that’s how you say it in Arabic, except with an Arabic accent) when he arrived so we could come out and get the pizza.

This concept of a “missed call” was foreign to me before owning a cell phone in the Middle East. All you do is call someone’s cell phone, let it ring briefly, and then hang up. Your phone number will display on their phone as a missed call.

Cell phone plans here are generally pre-paid and unit-based, and thus there is no such thing as unlimited minutes (incoming calls, however, are free, which is nice). Even text messages use up units. So it’s not unheard of for a friend to call you and hang up, leaving behind a missed call as a reminder that hey, they’re thinking of you.

My other favorite cell phone-related idiosyncrasy here is sappy, prefabricated text messages. My first experience with these was in Damascus. I gave my cell phone number to my students, for some reason, and before the day was over, I had already received a text message or two, all from male students. I became increasingly uncomfortable as I read them – they went something like, “As many stars are in the sky, as many minutes there are in a day, that’s how often I think of you.”

I was all ready to prepare a lesson to give in the next class on why it was inappropriate for teenaged male students to be sending such text messages to their married female teacher, when more started coming in, this time from female students. I was very relieved. Apparently, it’s totally normal and just a sign of friendship. I don’t know who writes those things, but they’re flying across the SMS waves here in the Middle East.
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