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What to Do When the Phone Rings in Mexico

Businesswoman talking on a cellphone
Credit: Dejan Ristovski | Thinkstock

One of the things new expats often are unsure of is what to do when the phone rings in Mexico. It’s just one of the many everyday things you have to get used to when living in a culture other than your own.

Today, I would love to share with you a little bit of my experience answering the phone in Mexico, as this is interesting both culturally and linguistically. Once you have a Mexican phone number, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, you will probably be called many times by local providers or companies who somehow got your number. I will bet you are struggling with such situations right now, at least I did and still do from time to time.

What got my attention from the moment I arrived and heard my Mexican friends answering the phone, was the way in which they opened the conversation. Often, this took a long, long time. I was used to Dutch directness in which you answer the phone, say your complete name and talk directly to the person about the matter you want to talk about.

Here in Mexico things are a little different. And as in most things, a little bit more laid back. To start with, I learned not to answer my phone by just saying my name. Too dangerous! Even when I think I know who is calling me, I do not do this anymore. Unfortunately, a downside of Mexico is its insecurity in some regions and I got to learn that extortions over the phone might be part of life. Better safe than sorry, so I entered the no-name game.

When you are absolutely sure who is calling you, you may say your name directly to the person and immediately ask how the person is doing. He or she will probably ask you the same, and perhaps also what you are doing, which is typically the first part of a long conversation over the phone.

However, when you do not know who is calling you, you can use the amazing word Bueno. Bueno literally means good, but it can be used in many ways when you answer the phone. Bueno can be your new first name, your new hello, your new how are you, your new way to ask who is speaking.

I will explain it to you via this example of what a call might look like when you don’t know who is calling you, or when you don’t know whether you are talking to the right person on the other side.

Person A answering the phone: Bueno?

Person B calling: Bueno? (Many times, the signal is bad, so this often repeats)

Person A: Bueno?

Person B: Si, bueno bueno? (yes, hello, hello)

Person A: Si, bueno? (yes, hello)

Person B: Ah, buenos días. (ah, good morning)

Person A: Si, buenos dias. (yes, good morning)

Person B: Hola, como esta? (hello, how are you)

Person A: Bien muchas gracias. Quien habla? (I’m fine thank you. Who’s calling)

Person B: Que bien. Habla señor Lopez. (Great. It’s Mr. Lopez)

Person A: Ah señor Lopez, hola, como esta? (ah Mr. Lopez, hello, how are you)!

The length of this part of the conversation depends on your phone connection, whether you are talking to the correct person or perhaps something else. Luckily, when you know who you are calling or who is calling you, you might do with just one Bueno, which will probably be answered by the same word. Then you continue to the chitchat and eventually to the matter.

Finishing the conversation, you might talk about when you will see each other (hasta luego, hasta mañana), say adios or the popular bye. When you are talking to a bothersome salesman you might pretend that the line is bad and just hang up.

What is your telephone technique in Mexico? If you have any questions about phone etiquette, let me know!