Press-agency Reuters classified it as an ‘Oddly Enough’ news story: the phenomenon of calling someone and hanging up before the call has been answered, in order to save on phone-credit or units (belminuten). It is a practice widespread in Africa, from ‘Cape Town to Cairo’ according to Reuters, and, I would say, further up north – all the way to Lebanon. In Lebanon, ‘miss-calling’ is a verb. A miss-call can literally mean anything, its message depends entirely on what is common among friends, or what is previously agreed verbally or by sms:
‘I will miss-call you when I leave the house.’ ‘Miss-call me when you’re done with work so I can pick you up.’ ‘I will miss-call you when I am 2 blocks away from your house, so be ready to come down because I can’t park in your street.’ “I miss-called you, why didn’t you call me back?”
Calling and hanging up before you before you’ve even had a chance to say hello (the trick is to not establish a connection) is not because Lebanese people don’t like talking. They do. They just don’t like to pay for it, and especially not the exorbitant amounts of money that the local phone-companies charge. If you have a cellphone, you have two options: MTC touch or Alfa. There is hardly any difference between the two, other than that one of the companies is owned by the brother of the minister of telecommunications, and the other is not. They both cost the owner of the phone-number about $50 per month, which let’s you send ±180 messages OR let’s you make 22 calls of 2 minutes. Not a very good deal. Hence the miss-calling.
As the Reuters’ article says: there are certain unwritten rules to follow when miss-calling. It is accepted to miss-call your friends of a similar social class only when you know they are at home and their parents pay the bill of the landline. Otherwise, don’t miss-call your friends and expect them to call you back – unless they are seriously rich, in which case you can leave it up to them: some of my better-off friends who know I don’t have a job right now will not pick up the phone when I call them, but will call me back a minute later, pretending they were busy. Other than that, It’s not ok to miss-call someone you want to ask for a favor – but it is fine to miss-call the pizza place and have them call you back to take your order.
All in all, one has to admit miss-calling is quite an effective method of (tele)communication. Consider the following sms:
‘Want to go see a movie tonight? Pick you up at 8pm. 1 missed-call = yes, 2 missed-calls = no.’
One unit spent, and the evening is arranged.