Article published on May 23, 2007
Article published on May 23, 2007

Gaston y'a le téléphone qui sonne. Et y'a jamais personne qui y répond ('Gaston, the telephone rings/ And no-one ever picks up'), warbled blonde-haired, neckerchiefed French-Italian singer Nino Ferrer during the sixties. Having a telephone in the house at the time was a mere dream in many central-eastern European countries. Twenty years later, people were able to start calling not only from the comfort of their homes, but from the street, the bus, even the cinema...

But how do Europeans answer the phone? The Germans and English are the most cautious. The former reply by stating their name and surname, whilst the latter sometimes repeat their phone number when they pick up the phone, both ensuring straightaway that you haven't dialled the wrong number. The Danes prefer to be precise, saying Det er X (pronounced: De'h X - 'This is...'). But nothing beats older Danish people, who have been known to scream their surnames upon lifting the receiver.

The French oui, allô and Polish tak sucham ('yes, listening'), sound rather more reserved, opting to reassure their callers that they are, indeed, paying attention!

The Italians meanwhile are the most pragmatic, with their pronto ('ready!'). It refers back to an age when operators were still waiting for lines to free up before connecting us to other callers.

But perhaps you should be on guard if you're calling a Spaniard or Catalan - be ready to hear them demand diga or digiu ('speak!'), when they pick up the phone.