My next topic is controversial but pertinent to the lives of all expats: long distance phone calls to friends and family. I am probably going to offend a lot of readers with this but I decided it was so important I’d risk being deleted from the lists of those who still send Christmas cards.
The subject came up at lunch last weekend with Mrs. Half Nelson and Mrs. Bea Long. Mrs. HN announced that her beloved had just hooked up her Vonage phone; they had just received a replacement, dual voltage phone. Mr. HN reported that it was easy as pie to hook up, you just plug it in. Mr. Long commented that he might have to buy his wife one for Christmas. Say what? (Clarification: purchase of an internet phone is not a gift, it is a necessity). Bea then commented that she had only called her parents once since arriving in China at the beginning of August because Mr. Long is so cheap. And CRAZY, I might add.
But really, though, is frugality or plain tightwadism the crux of the matter here? That is Mrs. Half Nelson’s impression. No one in her family has called her, even though they were concerned about her. (“Why didn’t you just pick up the phone?” she said to her mother.) She was quite energized about the subject having been an expat for 14 years. Spending money on vapor is unappealing – can you recall that conversation when you receive the bill? Mr. Understanding, fortunately, realizes the power of a friendly voice and, in the past, turned a blind eye to the scandalous phone bill: it is the price of maintaining an expat princess.
However, this reason is no longer valid for those living in America: calling foreign countries is cheap, whether or not the person living in a foreign country has Vonage or uses some other service such as Skype*. One of my family member pays $6 for unlimited calls to China, the equivalent of a small latte and a muffin. Dig deep, those of you who are American cheapskates.
In my opinion, the real issue, and this is the part that is going to get me in trouble, is that people do not want to talk, limiting phone calls to crises or obligatory birthdays and holidays. I have heard, from other expats, that their families were peeved at them for moving so far away and thus think they are exempt from calling the expats (“You moved to the Back of Beyond, you call us.”) Grow up! But the bottom line is that talking on the phone is a commitment of time and energy people no longer care to make. Dialing a friend is an investment in people and we all know how unstable a market that is!
Moving anywhere is a lonely, frustrating business. Many expats don’t even necessarily want to talk about themselves, preferring to hear instead how normal and serene the lives are of those living in the First World. Many expats are, in fact, slightly depressed and cannot pick up the phone themselves, slogged down as they are in the minutiae of foreign living. Personally, since I write about myself and my family on the blog, I do not want to a) rehash it in an email or b) a phone call. I want to hear about YOU if you give me a jingle.
Finally, a confession: I am not going to spend the big bucks to call you if you do not call me. Tit for tat, an eye for an eye. It is unchristian, it is immature, it is reality. This Expat Princess has been on the short end of the calling stick for a dozen years. But there is good news for those whose only impediment is lack of greenbacks: Mr. Understanding plugged in my Vonage phone, thereby saving us hundreds of dollars in one fell swoop. If the phone rings from the 360 area code, you can either pick up or screen me out. The choice is yours.
During prime time, it costs roughly one dollar a minute from China to the US; because of the time difference, there is no waiting for the cheap rates. A true sign of love.
16 hours time difference – West Coast USA to China
15 hours time difference – Midwest USA to China
14 hours time difference – East Coast USA to China
??? time difference to South America and Europe.
CONGRATULATIONS TO SMARTALEC ANGELA WHO USES SKYPE FROM THE US WITH EXCELLENT RESULTS!!!!