Thursday, 11 September 2014

Allô allô

Ever since I changed my phone from a cheap pay-and-go one to a real, grown-up contract a couple of years ago, I've noticed that I get a lot more calls and texts from people who have the wrong number. I once listened my way through voicemail messages from a group of people who were all concerned that they hadn't seen one of their colleagues for several days, I've been invited to many parties by a person called Genevieve and an anonymous texter reliably sends me greetings for every religious festival in the Muslin calendar.

So when I picked up and a woman's voice said, "Bonjour Madame Machin" the other day, I didn't hesitate to explain that I was not Madame Machin and that she must have got the wrong number.

Luckily she tried again, and luckily I picked up again, and luckily I listened again to her first few sentences, because it turned out that what she had said the first time round was not, "Bonjour Madame Machin", but "Bonjour, Madame Machin," which makes a world of difference, because the lady did not think that she was phoning Madame Machin, she was Madame Machin, and she really did want to speak to me.

Now I did know that people sometimes use this formula on the phone as a shortcut for the very formal sounding "Madame So-and-So à l'appareil" that I was taught at school but I guess that a) it's fairly unusual in this day and age for someone to refer to themselves as M/Mme and not just use their full name and b) there's normally a bit more of a clue in the intonation than what I heard on this particular occasion. (Tip: never answer your phone to strangers on a metro platform with a train going by.) Other than that, I don't really have any rules for hearing that critical comma, but I thought that by posting my latest embarrassing adventure in the French language on here, I might encourage a handful of readers to listen very carefully when they pick up the phone and perhaps help you to avoid missing a few important calls.


  1. I tend just not to answer numbers I don't know, especially since with my last French contract SFR kept harassing me from a blocked number. With my belgian number it seems to be people speaking various languages I don't know, so annoyingly I can't even tell what the call was about.

  2. Maybe you should try going to one of Genevieve's parties!

  3. I find miscommunications like that infuriating! I used to have loads of calls from someone who thought I was his Aunty and could not understand I wasn't!