Ring Ring Ring

Posted: 25 April 2018 in Business Systems, Cultural, Haiti, Poverty, Understanding Others
Tags: , , ,

women-haiti-phoneRing, ring, ring – and the thread of your discussion goes ping!  We’re discussing a complex accounting issue with my Haitian colleagues, in three languages (English, French, Creole).  Then … a shrill jingle… the phone is picked up.  And poof! The thread of thought is broken.  On another day I was in a personal 1-to-1 conversation with a Haitian friend … a shrill jingle… the phone is picked up.  And poof! A sheepish smile “sorry, I won’t be a moment.”

If I’m honest – after many visits to Haiti, I still get annoyed.  For a people who value personal relations so highly, I wondered why is an incoming call given such priority over face to face conversation.

Oddly, it is because many Haitians value personal relations so highly, that they priorities incoming calls over face to face conversation.  After all, you are right there in front of them.  You are not going away.  But the caller could hang up, the caller could go away.  So to maximise social contact, your friend will pick up the call, and let you just stand there.  Sometimes people just call to say “hi, how are you?”, and nothing more.

There are practical reasons as well as cultural ones too, for always picking up calls.  Simply getting about in Haiti is hard work and very vulnerable to delays caused by: traffic congestion, frequent vehicle breakdowns, road works, storms, flooding, demonstrations, etc.  Letting people know when you are coming or of delays, is vital to keep business and social interaction going.  Also, if you see these troubles, you call to give your friends the heads-up.  Furthermore, phones are often the means of cashless financial transfers.  As the banking system is hard to use, this facility can be very useful.

As a result, mobile phone usage is rapidly expanding.  In UK, there are 130 mobile connections per 100 people.  In Haiti it is now up to 35/100, and growing fast.  The World Bank estimate that 65% of the population have access to a phone. And I have found the mobile service cheap and quite reliable, though the service provider text messages in Creole stump me.

Considering a 100 years ago, my grandfather was dashing around the WW1 trenches in France laying and repairing phone lines, we too should not underestimate our own dependency.

Ring, ring, ring – try to smile.  He values your friendship.  He values the caller’s friendship too.

Bill

 

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