Missed calls and a travel tip

On the bus earlier today, I overheard a woman on the phone telling someone “I’ll missed-call you when I’m near your place, so you can come and meet me”

I mentioned this on Twitter, and various people responded, sharing their own versions of this little trick.

“My mum says ‘I’ll give you 3 rings'” (@a_williams)

“Brings back familiar sound of a trimphone ringing three times after grandparents got home safely” (@crouchingbadger)

“Even better, in italian, they have a proper word for it: ‘squillino’ which means ‘miss call’ or ‘buzz'” (@dvydra)

“V standard in Italy…they call it giving someone ‘uno squillo'” (@ron_n)

“In Australia, we say ‘I’ll prank you’ referring to a prank call you’re not supposed to pick up” (@lukely78)

“Known as the ‘one-ring’ round my parts” (@genzaichi)

“When I was little, my mum would get ‘three rings’ when I was heading home from a neighbour’s house” (@philgyford)

I’ve known for a while that people in (especially) sub-saharan Africa have used the missed-call functionality – calling someone, letting it ring once, then hanging up before they answer, so they see a missed call from the original caller, and use their mobile credit or account to call back. They call this “Beeping” and there are established social rules for doing it.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, I’ve heard (but can’t find a reference for, sorry) about pirate radio stations using hangups as a way of collecting votes on a particular track (“If you like this track, beep me now….that last song got 87 beeps”)

Twenty years ago or so, when I was living abroad and travelling around a lot, I used a nifty way of checking in with my family periodically, without costing anyone anything.

The ruse was simple, and played out as follows:

1. Place a collect (reverse charges) call to your family back home via the operator
2. When the operator asks for a name, you tell them you’re called “Alice Oakey”
3. When someone answers the phone, the operator says “I’ve got a collect call for you from Alice Oakey. Will you accept the charges?”
4. The hapless family member says no.
5. The operator disconnects the call, but by this point – for free – your family knows Alice Oakey…or to put it another way, “All is OK” (A friend subsequently invented another version which involved the name “Amy Fine” and a male friend later created an alter ego of “Noel Probbs”)

This means that if you ever had to place a call that needed a response, or you were in trouble or anything, you could give your real name and your family would know to accept the charges. But at all other times, the message would get through, without cost.

I’ve no idea whether this still works, or if they’ve changed the way that collect calls are placed. But at the time, it was rather handy for periodic messageless checking in.

5 thoughts on “Missed calls and a travel tip

  1. when i was a kid, my mum was a supply teacher, and she would often get calls at 8am when we were about to leave for school. family members used to call, let it ring twice, hang up, then call back if they wanted a reply. it’s still code for ‘honestly, pick up the phone’ in our family to this day.

    interesting to see how these things evolve.

  2. My family call them ‘drop calls’ – i.e. “I’ll drop-call you when I’m near” or when I was a particularly broke student, I’d drop call my parents if I wanted to talk to them and they’d call me back. (we’re south african but 90% of our mobile usage has been in the UK.)

  3. In Portugal we say “dar um toque”, which just means “give a ring”. But one of the main networks has also started a service called “Kolmi” (for “Call me”) a couple of years ago, which sends out a text to any number on that network, saying number X asks them to call back and which is completely free of charge (therefore also working if you don’t have any credit at all). I miss those!

  4. We still use three rings to let my non-mobile owning grandmother know that we’re home. The rest of us use texts these days but you feel you have to say something, however inane, about the day/event/journey that way and I miss the mindlessness of the three rings.

  5. When my sister was at boarding school (late 1980s/early 1990s) she was able to dial home from a payphone without entering any coins and get about 1/4s of speech in (shouting “call back”) before getting cut off.

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