Why my friends won't stop WhatsApp calling me even though I live in Dubai

Dubai - Columnist Sushmita Bose ponders over international calls and how some 'friends' won't make them


Sushmita Bose

Published: Tue 20 Jul 2021, 6:12 PM

If I took Dh5 every time I told a friend/family member/acquaintance/contact (who doesn’t live in the country) that WhatsApp calls DO NOT work in the UAE only to have them (on cue) call me on WhatsApp incessantly, I would be a millionaire by now. These are the same people who I don’t simply “inform”, but go to great lengths to explain: “Yes, I am on WhatsApp, because messaging works — but don’t call me on the app because I won’t be able to hear you, and neither will you.”

There’s immediately a call, followed by a message. “Hey, I called you, but you didn’t take my call even though I noticed you have been online. You don’t want to talk to me?”

I say, “I just told you calls don’t work.”

He/she: “But how come you are messaging?”

Me: “Again, told you messaging works, calls don’t. Weren’t you listening?”

[Long pause] He/she: “Oh, I see.”

And then: “So how can I call you?” (Conveniently forgetting to add “free of cost”.)

“You spend money and call me, how many times do I need to say that? Or — like I’ve told you earlier — you download an app called Botim.”

“Oh, yes, right, Botem.”

“No, not Botem, Botim.”

“Right… Do you happen to know this Botim’s country of origin? Just wondering…”

I usually say Timbuctoo.

It’s become like a farce playing every now and then. I often think about what’s happening to our attention spans. Why have we become incapable of storing information in our brains? Is it because we no longer need them, our brains that is, and the entire eco-system they trigger? There’s always Google to fall back on, right?

Whatever the case may be, two incidents unfurled last week that I need tell you about.

The first involved a lovable gent based in Delhi, who I want to keep in my good books because he owns a lovely holiday home in the hills that I have access to (and that I hope to illegally occupy someday… just kidding!). I noticed a missed WhatsApp call from him a few days ago. I have, quite a few times, narrated to him my favourite communications story: “WhatsApp calls don’t work in the UAE”. I messaged him the same story again.

“But I want to talk to you,” he pronounced.

“In that case, you have to spend money and call me — that’ll be Rs10 a minute,” I wrote back, most chuffed.

“Happily,” he said. “What’s your number?”

The one you are messaging me on.

“But that’s WhatsApp, I don’t know how to make a regular call from there…”

So I called him instead. “Great!” he exulted, “Now I’ll be able to save your number… finally!”

The second incident involved a former colleague who I haven’t been in touch with for almost a couple of decades. He sent me a Facebook message, along with his number and demanded I add him on WhatsApp. I did. On reflex, the first thing I did after adding him was send him a message apprising him of the WhatsApp calling situation: “WhatsApp calls don’t work here.”

He called on WhatsApp exactly two minutes after he read my message.

Me: “Dude, I just told you…”

He: “Oh, okay, I thought you were joking… so how do we talk?”

Er, by loosening your purse-strings, I wanted to say, but settled for: “Download an app called Botim.”

“Is it a secure app?” he wanted to know. “I’m really fussy about security.”

You really can’t be, I (again) wanted to say, since you’re on WhatsApp. But this time, I settled for, “You know what? Let me just call you — on Sunday?”

“That’s perfect — but, tell me, why do you want to spend money? Shall we do Zoom instead?”

Not terribly keen on a protracted video call. I didn’t say that obviously. “It’s okay, it’s pretty cheap calling from here.” Then, the moot point: “Will keep it short.”

We decided I’ll call him once I’m back from work.

“Hey, I have a great idea,” he suddenly piped up. “Why don’t you call me from work? That way you can make your office pay!”


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