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3/18 Cell Phones

My Facebook status currently says that I "<3 phone plans". What does that mean?

Lemme 'splain.

In America, where around 80% of my readers live, nearly everybody has a cell phone, and nearly everybody with a cell phone has a contract with Cingular, Verizon, or whatever other cell provider of choice. In Morocco, nearly everybody has cell phones, but almost nobody has contracts. I live in the land of the pay-as-you-go cell phones. You walk to your local hanoot or teleboutique, hand them cash, and buy a "recharge card". These cards come in values that match the denominations of the currency (which I imagine makes making change eeasier): 10dh, 20dh, 50dh, 100dh, 200dh, 500dh, 1000dh. About one week out of every three, Maroc Telecom offers "double recharge", when they'll double the value of your card. That is, for 10dh, you buy a 10dh card, but you get 20dh added to your phone.

(Tangent: This is actually incredibly convenient for visitors and tourists. For 10dh, which is about 1 Euro, aka less than 2 bucks, you can buy a new SIM card for your phone, and then buy a recharge card worth 10 or 20 or 50 dh, and *bing* you can make cell phone calls in Morocco.)

So this is how Moroccan cell phones work: You buy a recharge card, add the value to your phone, make calls and/or send text messages until you've run out of money, buy another card... Lather, rinse, repeat.

Calls are 5 dh/minute, text messages are 1 dh/150 characters, and beeping is free.

Beeping? What is this "beeping" you speak of?

This aspect of cell phone culture was new to me in Morocco. Maybe it's common in some circles in the US, but not among people I know.

When you "beep" someone, you just call their phone, let it ring once or twice, then hang up before they pick up the phone. They'll hear the ring, see your name & number, but as long as they don't pick it up, there's no charge. Within Peace Corps, we PCVs use it to get in touch with our staff. We beep them, and they call us back on Peace Corps' dime. Among Moroccans, it's a free way to send a thinking-of-you message.

And it's incredibly common.

There are a couple side effects. For one, people never pick up the phone before the third or fourth ring, to avoid accidentally costing money to someone who might just be beeping them. Ringtones are at least as noisy and varied here as in the US, and probably more so, so this can be fairly obnoxious to everyone within earshot. Also, it means that whenever I've made a new Moroccan friend and exchanged phone numbers with them, I'm guaranteed to get a few beeps within the next week or so, as a way of saying, "Hi, remember me?" These come at any hour of the day or night, which can be annoying, plus I'm also a beeping-troglodyte, so I find the whole practice a bit goofy.

But I digress.

As I said, the vast majority of cell phone owners use the pay-as-you-go recharge card approach, and have no contracts. Maroc Telecom, which is far and away the largest cell company in Morocco, wants to encourage the use of contracts. So they offer an interesting deal: if you pick your two favorite people, you can call them whenever you want, for as long as you want, all for a flat fee. It's not cheap - around 200dh a month, aka 10% of our monthly salary - but it pays for itself if you talk to these two folks for half an hour a month or more. Plus, it *encourages* you to talk to these two folks, both to get your money's worth and just because you know you can.

At 5 dh/minute, we PCVs don't tend to make a lot of phone calls. We send 1 dh texts, instead. But if you're on a "phone plan", as these contracts are called, you can talk up a storm...with your two favorite people. (More accurately, your two favorite people not including those you share a souq town with, whom you see and talk to often enough already.)

So putting somebody "on your phone plan" is a big deal. It means "talking to you is worth 5% of my salary." We PCVs joke that it's the sign of when a relationship has become serious. :)

One of *my* favorite PCVs started dating someone a few months ago, and just recently decided to get a phone plan. And we all know what that means. ;)

Of course, phone plans have *two* blanks on them. So she put down the names of her honey and ME! :D (Feelin' the love...) We've been close friends since stage, but rarely talk on the phone because of the prohibitive expense. In fact, we traveled across the country to see each other about as often as we phoned each other.

But now, thanks to the phone plan, we can talk whenever we want! When I'm having a good day or a bad day or overwhelming day or a happy day or whatever, I can either wait for her to call me, and tell her all about it, or else I can beep her and she'll call me and I can tell her all about it. :D

And vice versa, except that she can just place the call.

So in the past ... four? five? ... days, she and I have had two long conversations, one about an hour, the other about 45 minutes.

That would have been over 500dh in the pre-phone-plan world, but now it's no big deal! :)

Therefore, I <3 phone plans.


1 comment:

  1. We've got the same in Saudi ... lots of people just recharge their phones... so to speak...

    the beeping aspect is .. well.. alien.. we beep when you don't have money to make a call so the person calls back...

    lots of these things are cultural no matter how weired they seem.


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