You’re not gonna reach my telephone: Giving out your phone number in China

One of the little cultural quirks that I’ve come across living in Dalian is how easily Chinese people ask for (and provide) their cellphone numbers. I kept my number very private when I first arrived, but have since adapted to the Chinese ways. Allow me to provide a few examples to illustrate this point…

Once a week I sing songs and play games with five-year-olds at the DUT preschool. Last week I noticed that outside of each classroom, the teachers have their photos, names and cell phone numbers posted, presumably so that parents can contact them. This makes sense, but I don’t think that you would see such a public display of a teacher’s cellphone number in the US. Maybe the times are changing, I don’t know.

When I first got to DUT, I communicated with my boss primarily through email. It seemed most professional and convenient for both parties. However, after a grading snafu at the end of last semester, I got her cellphone number and she said I could call whenever I needed to. It is normal for me to receive phone calls from her on her personal cellphone. Sometimes she calls late at night, sometimes in the middle of the day, and sometimes on the weekend. Professionalism is different here, and I’ve realized that it is perfectly acceptable to call her cell if I ever have a problem.

The other day while grading papers in a coffee shop, an outgoing young gent came over and struck up a conversation with me. He explained that he was very happy to meet an American, and would like to practice his English. Thirty seconds into our conversation, he gave me his business card, explained his name (Michaeling- “It’s my English name and Chinese name mixed together. Isn’t that clever?”), and asked for my phone number. My phone was sitting out on the table, how could I say no? So I gave it to him. I’ve given my number to many a Chinese lad. Sometimes they call or text, sometimes I think they just brag to their friends that they met an American. It’s 50/50. (For the record, Michaeling called, and I said that unfortunately, I wasn’t free for dinner.)

The other night after drinking with friends, I gave my number to the cab driver who drove me home. He also called, but I didn’t have the guts to pick up that call. The key to randomly giving out my cellphone number is that I make sure I have the other person’s number saved in my phone, or I don’t pick up calls from random numbers…

I’ve also started giving out my number to my students. Last semester, under the impression that I would be swamped with calls and texts from annoying 19-year-olds, I made lame excuses each time a student asked me. (“Ehh, I forgot my cellphone number. Sorry!”) But this semester, I decided that I might as well give it to them if they ask. The result is that every once in a while I get a student who texts me a question about homework, or tells me that they won’t be able to come to class, or tells me that it’s getting cold and I should wear a jacket. It’s also easy for me to send a quick text message to the class monitors, who can then disseminate important information to their classmates. Basically, it’s a win-win situation.

The last, and most annoying type of people that I’ve given my number to are people looking for an English tutor. At a bus stop once, a man approached me saying that he wanted to find a tutor for his girlfriend. We exchanged contact information on the spot. Another time a person (professor?) came into my classroom in the middle of class and asked me when I had free time to tutor. I gave him my number, but didn’t pick up when he called because I wasn’t interested in tutoring his son. He was extremely persistent, so eventually I picked up and he got angry with me for not picking up my phone or returning his calls. Sorry, buddy, get the hint. Now when people ask me if I am free to tutor, I usually give them my number, but I’ve learned better than to accept tutoring gigs willy-nilly. I have a set, hourly price and I am very stern about when I’m free, so usually after one phone conversation, they stop bugging me.

All of this number-swapping means that I can rattle of my cell number in Chinese with remarkable speed. I’m also getting better at talking on the phone and texting in Chinese, two things that intimidated me beyond belief when I first arrived.


3 thoughts on “You’re not gonna reach my telephone: Giving out your phone number in China

  1. Kimber, you’re just so sociable and approachable. I must tell you that I really enjoyed how you referred to the Chinese guy at the coffee shop as both a “gent” and a “lad.” Love the vocab!

  2. interesting post, Kim. i was wondering whether you more likely to exchage facebook accounts when meet new friends rather than phone numbers, just like what shows in TVs.


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