Keep In Touch

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However, this reason is no longer valid for those living in America: calling foreign countries is cheap, whether or not the person living in a foreign country has Vonage or uses some other service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.

Phone Facts:

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.




Filed under Moving

17 responses to “Keep In Touch

  1. Mood Ring Momma

    All – I am the individual with a $6 flat fee per month to China (Vonage). It is a fabulous deal, but even before I got I had this great rate, callling China was pretty darn cheap – pennies per minute. The biggest hurdle is the time difference – you need to think ahead about this. I sometimes have hilariously brief conversations with maid when no one else is apparently home. There are long pauses between us and finally nervous laughter, and then one of us just hangs up.

  2. I will be calling, calling. But I do not think I am who we are talking about here. This is the first I know about your wanting to hear about me. I will keep this in mind, because many times I can not get a word in edgewise. But I like listening too. My life is so calm that it is pretty uninteresting. Also six pm, my time, is the only time I think you are home.

    Please teach the maid the following words:
    Mamma, I used that last time and I think she said “bye”
    Bye is a good word too.

  3. September

    I totally can relate on this one! When we lived in Brasil a couple of years ago, I only received aprox half a dozen calls from family during the entire 2 yrs we lived in Rio….and calls were only .19 cents a minute from Canada! Of course when I’d call “home” I’d hear complaints about why I didn’t call more often. Now we live in Costa Rica and have a Houston number through Skype which is free to call from Canada (most of my family has the US/Canada Unlimited Calling Plan) and it’s basically the same thing…. Is it that hard to dial a couple of extra digits????!!!!

    P.S. Love your blog!

  4. A.G. Bell

    I called the 360 number 1/2 hour ago and got no answer. Do attempts count?

  5. Laura

    Dear Expat,

    You didn´t mention those expats among us who actually like living far away from home and are quite content with e-mails instead of phone calls. This from a woman who took posession of an office-subsidized Blackberry today, which offers both phone and e-mail options, plus a few other gizmos that I haven´t figured out yet, in one tiny apparatus. And, you must consider that not all husbands are as understanding and resourceful or generous as Mr. Understanding. I have asked mine to set up a phone service for several years now. He´s still acting like he never heard me. Perhaps I should send him a message from my Blackberry?

  6. Flaky Friend

    Ok – I’m one of those clueless people who have no idea how to call you – I tried your 360 number once and got no answer and thought it hadn’t been hooked up. Can you e-mail me your number?

  7. The Other China Princess

    To quote a lyric from the 1967 hit by The Miracles “I second that emotion”.

  8. Klab

    I am the first to say that I am L-A-M-E, LAME! Just know — that China and long distance fees have nothing to do with it. I don’t call any one. And I can’t really play the time card because somehow I find time to read this blog every once in a while. But I have 203 unread emails in my work in-box… and am procrastinating at 9:50pm. Shoot. I haven’t even sent Halloween photos to any one.

  9. maria

    You know spending money either in phone calls,good wine,caipirinhas ,fun ,etc is a must in life.Time is all we have on earth so if we spend money to get precious moments this is a bargain!
    I will call you……now that I have your number…

  10. Tom

    I sometimes wonder if we are just burnt on the availability of communication. Hell, it’s never been easier to communicate anywhere in the world with all the technologies available.

    I admit I don’t call anyone, I let my wife do it. I just read that kids are abandoning e-mail for IM and that if you want to communicate with them, you’d better get with the program.

    I’m holding out for Telepathy at this point. You know, when Wal-Mart has it on sale.

  11. I have been thinking wah, wah, wah, you have people reading your blog, which is more than I can say for mine. And they do comment. I take that as a phone call. Not really, when all they say is “I do”. Maybe what needs to happen is that when people comment, they need to add one fact about their lives.
    I will start. Your father is going to the Husky/Cal football game. He is taking my rain gardening pants.

  12. Winnie

    Yikes! I’m madly scrambling for the Vonnage #! I think I fall into the birthday/holiday gang and I thought I was doing pretty well with that! I’m with your mom in that there’s not a lot going on here that doesn’t involve aging body parts and brain cells that I think would interest anyone in the real world of healthy adults. And, since I rarely remember what happens from day to day, (sometimes hour to hour), it makes being of interest somewhat challenging. Never having been much of a talker or good communicator in my entire life is a bit of a drawback too. However, I will try to do better in the future – (Thing 3’s birthday is coming up, so you can count on that!) To follow your mother’s good example … your father-in-law is playing golf, (there’s a shocker!), and he is wearing a pair of pants that I wish he would throw away.
    One more thing. Radish, I LOVE your blog!!

  13. expat princess

    Winnie: healthy adults? My sciatica’s flaring and Mr. Understanding has a dogged look that not even sleep can cure! I do enough talking for the whole family but am practicing silence as a listening device. Go ahead and throw away the pair of pants – we’ll send him a new pair for Christmas! Thanksgiving is coming up fast too ….

  14. SmartAlecAngela

    You are totally right on with this blog. Very few people took the time to call me in Brazil when I was an ex-pat! Now, unfortunately many of the friends I made in Brazil have a hard time reaching out. It’s a shame, especially with the ease of technology today!

  15. Chris Turner

    Hello everyone,
    I just thought I would let you guys know about another option. There is a new company called ooVoo. They offer free video conferencing for up to six people at once. It’s really great to actually see the expressions on people’s faces, it is so much more of a personal experience than a phone call. You can also use it to send video messages back home to loved ones or friends, I’m sure they will enjoy that.
    Hope this gives a new option for you guys!
    Chris Turner

  16. expat princess

    See! It’s not a club! Thanks for writing in, Chris Turner. We will investigate. But what if I am having a bad hair day? Does the camera add or subtract ten pounds?

  17. Chris Turner

    Actually ooVoo has been scientifically formulated to only add seven pounds! Really though you are right, video conferencing changes the dynamic of communicating online. It really has brought people closer than we ever could have a few years ago. It makes me wonder what will happen in the next ten years. Maybe 3D Holograms or something, that would be fun. Let me know if you manage to keep in touch using ooVoo.

    Have a Great Day Expat Princess!

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