Dear Mama

Your request for the phone number in our new home made me take a moment to reflect on the “phones” here on Okinawa. I’m sorry, Mama, but we have no phone. Not only that but we won’t be able to get a phone off base. “What no phones?” I know it sounds un-American and even foolhardy, but to install a phone is to invite financial ruin (in­stallation costs one arm, an eye and ten teeth).

However, that does not mean that people here do not rely on phones. Quite the contrary! One must resort to pay phones, stealing phones or just using base phones (categories A through Z).

Soon after our arrival we tried to phone the base from our hotel. My brave hus­band dialed digit after digit after digit and sat expectantly. Without a comment, he hung up and dialed again. With a quizzical expression, he listened and then hung up once more. “Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked. No answer.

Finally deciding he had been struck deaf and dumb, I hesitantly dialed about ten or fifteen digits. (Surely, this phone system is no different, I thought.) When a voice answered and I didn’t understand a word, I quietly replaced the receiver in much the same manner as my husband. Later that afternoon we did get through to an English speaking voice but by that time it was too late, our voices failed us and the communication seemed lacking.

Today things are different. No matter who answers I have learned to speak right up in English (keeping fingers crossed in hopes of comprehension). One gets further that way usually. Ignoring pay phones that beep at you.(“Oh, no, all I’ve got are quarters!”) lousy connections and numb fingers, I end up one of several ways:

(1) Ring, (or should I say,’ “BRRRR”!), “Moshi, moshi”, “Hello, may I speak with John?” pause “John who” “John Smith” “OK, you wait maybe I find.”

(2) No ring, as I interrupt a conversation, “Sorry, the wires are crossed.” “Nani?” “Oh, well,” I hang up.”

(3) Ring, “Moshi, moshi” “Hello, may I speak with John?” Answer in Japanese, “Oh, well,” I hang up.

(4) Ring “Moshi, moshi” “Hello, may I speak with John?” Answer in Japanese, I hear the phone drop, ten minutes later American voice and conversation ensues.

At this point I should stop and figure out the odds. Jimmy the Greek could start a whole new betting line here. “Ten to one it’ll take me three tries to get the right number and person.” I’ve also noticed that guide books and Japanese conversation books don’t include telephone etiquette. Perhaps they are trying to tell us something!

Sayonara from Okinawa, the land of baby blue pay phones and lousy odds.