We had a call duration meter provided by PTT (KPN’s predecessor) that indicated the duration of our phone calls. At the end of each call, we would write down the new meter reading in a grubby-looking notebook. Somehow, a few calls always ‘got lost’. Generally, quite a few of them got lost – calls made to parents or boyfriends/ girlfriends living in other towns. But no one ever knew who had made the calls, so the associated costs would be divided among us, much to everyone’s chagrin. We made our calls in our shared living room, in the presence of our flatmates, until we shelled out for a longer cable that allowed us to drag the phone into our rooms. If one of us was on the phone, the rest of us would not be able to receive a call.
EM exists 20 years and under the category 20 years EM during the Christmas period all kinds of articles that look back on twenty thick years of Erasmus Magazine will appear. In the section ‘When I was 20’ the permanent editors of EM look back on their study time, now one, two or more decades ago.
When the phone rang, you would answer it, even if the call was generally not for you. You would then loudly yell someone’s name to inform them there was a call for them. If your flatmate was having sex and hoarsely called from inside his room that he was unable to take a call, it was up to you to tell his mother that this was not a good time, and to ask if you could take a message. When you came home from uni in the afternoon, there would often be notes stuck to your door: ‘Call your Mum’.
When my boyfriend was studying abroad, he would call me once a week. Every Saturday evening he would make a reverse-charge call from a phone booth in Helsinki. A friendly lady would ask beforehand if I was willing to accept the charges, and then she would put him on the phone. Once, when we were having a long-distance fight, I made sure I wasn’t home during his call.
The first mobile phone used in the Netherlands was called Kermit. It could only be used near a Greenpoint (so called because frogs are green – a little joke by the telecommunications operator). The proud owner of such a phone in the Delft hall of residence where I used to hang out had to stand on a balcony and lean over it in a precarious manner in order to make a call. We used to laugh at him.
We’d grab the phone we all shared and doodle in the Yellow Pages until someone would bang on the door and tell us to hang up now. We never ran out of calling credit. We never suffered a broken screen. We never had poor reception. And quite often, we were blissfully unable to take a call.
Wieneke Gunneweg (1972)