‘Bueno?’ Answering the phone in Mexico

You might ask why I dedicate a post to a general telephone call in Mexico. Well, simply because it is really different from any other type of call that I’ve made during my life.The most fascinating aspect of such a call is definitely the beginning or opening of the conversation. Therefore, I will write about that particular part.

Roughly, you can divide the beginning of telephone calls in Mexico in two categories:
1) Answering the phone when you know the person that is calling you, and
2) Answering the phone when you don’t know the person that is calling you.

Mobile phones make it easy to see if you know the number that is calling you. If this is the case, you might answer directly by saying ‘Hola (name of the person), como estas (how are you)?’ After a polite response from the other side, the conversation may slowly turn to the reason of the call. However, you could also decide to pretend that you didn’t see who was calling you. In that case, you should answer the phone in the same way as number 2) Answering the phone when you don’t know the person that is calling you.

Now it’s becoming interesting. In Mexico, the beginning of a conversation over the phone with someone you don’t know, takes a long, long time. Especially for a Dutch person who is very keen on directness, this is something to get used to. It is also a form of politeness and mutual appreciation that is part of a social framework which is very important in Mexico. Don’t get me wrong: I love Mexicans and the way they socially interact. But sometimes, it’s just very confusing to be a foreigner in this country.

So, this is what the start of such a call looks like (not literally, the cartoon is just a joke):

Source: http://www.ecards.co.uk/preview/2823/214/Mexican.html
Source: http://www.ecards.co.uk/preview/2823/214/Mexican.html

*phone rings*
Person A answers the phone: ‘Bueno?’ (hello – literally OK/good)
Person B is the one who is calling: ‘Bueno? (hello/OK/good)
Many times, the signal is bad, so this repeats.
Person A: ‘Bueno?’ (hello/OK/good)
Person B: ‘Si, bueno bueno?’ (yes, hello hello)
Person A: ‘Si, bueno?’ (yes, hello)
Person B: ‘Ah, buenos días.’ (ah, good morning)
Person A: ‘Si, buenos dias.’ (yes, good morning)
Person B: ‘Hola, como esta?’ (hello, how are you)
Person A: ‘Bien muchas gracias. Quien habla?’ (I’m fine thank you. Who’s calling)
Person B: ‘Que bien. Habla señor Lopez.’ (Great. It’s Mr. Lopez)
Perhaps the signal will let you down one more time…
Person A: ‘Bueno, bueno?’ (hello, hello)
Person B: ‘Bueno, si?’ (hello, yes)
Person A: ‘Ah señor Lopez, hola, como esta?’ (ah Mr. Lopez, hello, how are you)

So there goes 2 pesos of your saldo. This way of conversation may be longer or shorter, depending on both of you and the telephone signal. Seems kind of complicated, right?

In The Netherlands, my parents taught me that the only polite way to answer a phone is by picking up the phone, saying ‘Hi’ and provide your complete name. After that, the other person will start talking. It took me some time to get used not doing this any longer. Safety is the main reason why many people in Mexico do not pick up the phone in the sense that I’ve been taught. When you provide your name to the person on the other side of the line, there is always a possibility that you might get caught into a web of extortion. Unfortunately, Mexico still suffers from extortion over the telephone. It works very simple – When you tell them your name, they can look into any available information on the web and use this to extort you. A tip for travelers in Mexico: Practice the above lines for answering your phone in Mexico!

Once Mexican providers or organisations got their hands on your telephone number, be aware. You’ll be called many times! I always tell them that I’m not interested, but recently I use the Mexican method. In the beginning, it was very funny to hear my friends answer the companies’ questions politely. By the time their patience was over but the other person didn’t stop talking, they simply hung up the phone! The reason for this act? ‘I don’t want to be rude, so it’s better to cut off all communication as if there were a bad signal.’

Have you ever had such an experience? Let us know!

© 2016 by Debbie – AHORITA YA. All Rights Reserved.
Photo main page © 2016 by Debbie – AHORITA YA. All Rights Reserved.


3 thoughts on “‘Bueno?’ Answering the phone in Mexico

  1. lol 😀 I’ve had this same discussion with other foreigners about phone conversations in Mexico. Honestly, it does get tiresome and sometimes when the phone rings I don’t want to answer it! hahaha! But seriously, when I teach classes on how to answer the phone in English, I have a very hard time explaining to Mexican students that they don’t need to make any small talk, just answer the phone and get down to business. This is something that seems inconceivable to them, and even rude, but I suppose that it’s the little cultural differences that make this an interesting world. FYI, one of my foreigner friends used to think that answering the phone with “Bueno?” was absolutely hilarious!

    -Fabi at My Heart Of Mexico


    1. Great to hear about your experiences Fabi, thanks. I completely understand your writing about the English classes as I’m a teacher myself. Well I guess that’s the beauty of the intercultural aspect of teaching internationally, right 🙂 Have a good day. Saludos, Debbie


  2. I can always tell it’s a Mexican on the phone because thay say “with Betty please”. I understand now, that they are trying to say “can I speak with (to) Betty please”? Does that have something to do with the word “with” and what it actually means in Spanish? I could never understand that….. it would be hard for me to just say “with Bill please”. That means nothing to me.


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