Staying in touch
After a short week of Malte, I am back in Italy. Today, I am finding out what I already knew: Italians are fond of talking. Whether in real life or over their mobile phone and in both cases, the conversation comes with the same gestures and facial expressions. When Italians are on the phone, it doesn`t look like they are talking to the person on the other end. From what you see, it looks more probable that they are either talking to themselves, or to just anybody happening to pass by.
The fact that many young Italians have several mobile phones is not necessarily born from their love to communicate. Instead, it`s the result of economical considerations. Jose (27, photo) has two mobile phones: one for work and friends, another one for family and boyfriend. She explains that many people choose at least one of their providers to match those of their friends, so they can call each other for free. Alternatively, they use one phone for longer calls and one for quick talks, or they take advantage of different promotional offers on one of their SIM-cards. She adds that having two phones also means that they can use one for showing off, while using the other mainly for it`s intended purpose.
..finds ways to call her friends for free
Jose tells me that the people she speaks to most are her parents and boyfriend:` I don`t live with my parents anymore so I call them every now and then instead.` Most other respondents also mention boyfriends, girlfriends and parents as their most frequent conversation partners. The definition of frequent is not a fixed one. However, frequent in Italy may well mean several times a day.
Graziana (34) can expect 5 to 6 calls from her mum and another 7 from her boyfriend. I ask her what kind of things she typically talks about during these phone calls. `Nothing special, they just tell me where they are or ask me where I am and whether anything interesting has happened. My grandmother calls me to ask if I`m near her place and want to have lunch or dinner with her. You have to understand that the purpose of the calls is not really to exchange information, it`s just being social. I also lived in the UK for a while and at the time it was just too expensive so we spoke to each other a lot less.`
Graziana admits that she doesn`t always pick up the phone: `I check the number before I pick up and I occasionally refuse the call if I know what the message will be, especially if it requires me to do something for that person. If they called again with the number disguised, I would probably pick up and have to come up with an excuse.`
There are about as many different mobile phone behaviours in Italy as there are regional plates. Paolo (35) smiles when he tells me he consistently switches off his two mobile phones whenever he comes home. `Friends know that they can reach me on the fixed line, so they can call me there. Otherwise, it`s probably not very urgent`, he says, adding that he might be a bit different from the average, because he also still likes to handwrite about 4 letters a months to his friends.
Rossella (24) says that Italians would have a hard time living without their mobile phones now that they got so used to them. `Imagine you`re at a bus stop and the bus is not showing up. There won`t be any phone booth, so you can`t tell people you will be late. Or there is one, but in that case it probably doesn`t work.` Also, more and more young people are starting to use their phone for other things that just make calls. They use their phones to listen to music or take photos. Mobile internet has not yet taken off, because it is thought of as too expensive.`
The other way around does seem to take off: more and more people are using internet to make phone calls. At the same time, tradition has so far incited them to keep their fixed connections at home, `because calling from a fixed phone still feels more natural`, and because they will use the fixed connection as an access to the internet.
Valentina (24) does not use SMS, because she prefers to talk to people in person. I ask her how she decides whether to call somebody`s fixed line or mobile. She replies: `Whenever I call from a fixed line, I will try to reach people on their fixed line too. If I call from my mobile, I will first dial people`s mobile number. Fixed to mobile or mobile to fixed are just too expensive. Valentina calls her boyfriend about 3 times a day and the person who most often calls her is her best friend. My parents also call me often. If I want them to ring me, I will just ring them and hang up so they know I want them to call me.`
Like Valentina, Andrea (19) does not use SMS a lot. He prefers to talk to his friends in person, by mobile telephone or possibly via instant messaging. Gianrocco (19) does use SMS but will not use the voicemail function on his mobile phone. `And I don`t know anybody Italian who does. They don`t like talking without nobody responding. I would rather send an e-mail in that case.`
Life in Italy has never been particularly silent. Since the introduction of mobile telephony, silence has become scarcer than ever. Italians will talk if they are able or allowed to: before meals, during meals, inbetween meals and after meals, when in company or thanks to their mobile phone, even when they are alone. Only in church they will remain silent, but Mass attendance is decreasing rapidly. As a result, Italians will soon only have two states of being left: either talking or asleep.
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