I first got a cell phone in high school. And yes, dearest husband, it’s a cell phone. No mobile phone for me. (I’m not British.) It was an awesome, Nokia-style one, although I can no longer recall the brand. Check it out:


I had a boyfriend, you see. And my parents needed to be able to check up on me when I stayed out to the dangerously-late hour of 11 p.m. We were crazy kids, really—watching movies, eating Skittles, and generally causing mayhem.

My freshman year of college I got a “camera phone.” It’s humorous to think about that terminology now, isn’t it? Nowadays all smart phones (“esmarfons” in Spanish) come equipped with GPS, and a camera goes without saying. How else are we to Instagram?

In Spain, the trend is a bit behind the US, but it’s catching up. There are, however, a few differences between how people use cell phones here vs. in the US.

  • Voicemails. Spaniards do not like voicemails. It costs more money to make calls here, so people prefer not to have to waste €0.07 for when the voicemail message starts to play. I had a voicemail on my phone a few years ago without realizing it until someone told me to “take it off.” Practically no one leaves voicemails. So there’s no use having a voicemail inbox.
  • Dropped calls a.k.a. “toques.” A dropped call (llamada perdida or toque in Spanish) are a way of life here in Spain. You call someone, let it ring, but hang up before they answer. The other person then, perhaps somewhat mysteriously, knows what message you are communicating. For instance, Mario’s parents often give him a dropped call when they arrive somewhere safely. A dropped call can also mean “call me” if the other person has free calls. In the US, I never even think about doing this.
  • Whatsapp. Whatsapp, pronounced as “wasap” here in Spain, is a way of life. It’s text messaging, but it doesn’t use the standard SMS platform. You can send texts, photos, videos, and audio. Mario’s friend even sent me his location when I asked where they were one day. Since most Spaniards do not have unlimited texting, like we often do in the States, it’s a way to save money while still being constantly connected to your friends. I like it because it allows me to text friends in the States.
  • iPhone. The iPhone is popular here, but not nearly as popular as in the US, based solely on anecdotal evidence. It’s becoming more and more popular, but a lot of Mario’s friends have BlackBerries, which are smartphones, but not on the same level as an iPhone or an Android phone. I remember when BlackBerries were the thing on my college campus, but that was back in 2007. I doubt the Blackberry is anywhere near cool nowadays. I read an article saying they were “the cell phone equivalent to Myspace.” Ouch. Remember: the BlackBerry is feminine—la Blackberry.
  • Abbreviations. We all use shortcuts sometimes. Although I’m not one to text things like “How r u?” to my friends, I’m not going to pretend to be above abbreviations altogether. Spaniards also abbreviate, but—duh!—in Spanish.
    • xqporque/por qué—because/why
    • n—no—no
    • k—used instead of q, like kieres instead of quieres
    • +—más—more
    • Absence of vowels—writing vr instead of ver or hblr instead of hablar
  • Landlines. I don’t know about you, but many people in the States no longer have landlines. At my parents’ house, there’s no longer a home phone, much to my mother’s dismay. In Spain, however, having a landline is still a thing. When you sign up to get DSL with many Internet companies, you get a landline as well. They’re nice because you often get free calls from your line to anyone else in the country. And if you have to call some customer-service line … fewer euros out of your pocket! Always a good thing.

In 2008, I survived a whole semester without a (Spanish) cell phone. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it. Most of the other students got them; I just didn’t see the point. Four years ago, but my attitude seemed to be of another decade. Nowadays I’ve always got my phone. What about you?

11 thoughts on “Telephone

  1. Whenever I studied abroad I insisted on not using a phone. That attitude lasted a whole 2 weeks. I don’t know how you went an entire semester without one!

    It’s interesting to note how you need to show your passport when getting even the most basic phone in Spain. I’ve heard that this is attributed to the Atocha bombings, which employed mobile phones.

  2. I was never a big SMSer, as I may have been if I were five years younger, but I think the predictive keyboards on iPhone and ‘droid devices, along with over-IP texting apps like WhatsApp and iMessage, will eventually kill the texting abbreviation dialects. Hard to believe we used to type with up to three button presses per letter, isn’t it?

    1. See, I think you have been so influenced by Spain because you say “SMSer,” and I would say “texter.” I don’t know, though.

      I agree with you about the predictive keyboards. Ahh so nice. Up until a few months ago Mario was still doing the tap three thing. I don’t know how he did it.

  3. Oh wow, I remember that Nokia phone! That thing was so heavy. My parents used to have them. I didn’t get my first cell phone until I turned 18, when I left for college (nowadays 10 year olds have cell phones!). I bought the pay as you go phones when I studied abroad and when I lived in Madrid for two years. My family has yet to graduate to smartphones.

    1. Yeah I think my model was a bit lighter, but still — heavy for what it actually did (not much).

      Most of the students I was with also bought the pay-as-you-go phones in 2008. I bought one in 2009 when I was doing an internship in Salamanca, but I’ve now hopped on the esmarfon train, and there’s no going back.

      My whole family has iPhones. Oh God, are we those people?! :)

      1. Iphones help make it easier for your to be so far away. We can exchange photos to share what is going on in our countries, we can talk on Skype for free wherever we are and the whatsap is awesome to text anytime I want. I appreciate my Iphone :) But if you move back I won’t give it up because Siri and I are such good friends.

  4. WhatsApp is my favorite thing ever!! I love that I can still talk with you even though you’re waaaayyyy over there. =)

  5. They also do the “toque” thing in Latin America (well, Colombia at least I know for sure it’s very popular) for the same reasons.

    Another benefit of landlines I’m surprised you didn’t mention (that I consider a major one) is that if you have to call emergency services (911 here) then they immediately know your exact address, whereas with a cell phone they can only get a half-decent approximation (I’ve heard from a 911 operator they can, under good conditions, get it narrowed down to a 200 square meter block, which is nowhere near accurate enough to pinpoint a specific address). If you have a medical emergency that renders you unable to speak, the difference between life and death may very well be the difference between using landline or a cell phone to call for help.


  6. I brought my samsung galaxy from home (which I can’t even use here :() and any time anyone here sees it, they’re really impressed…especially the teens/kids! haha. I guess that’s the cool phone to them now.

    also, I sometimes call them mobile phones! I don’t know where it comes from, I’m not British!

What do YOU think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s