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An evening with Dutch telephones

August 2003, Nijmegen The Netherlands —

Holland can be exasperating. Last evening, I tried to call my girlfriend Kim. I was walking to the phone booth when she rang me once. Kim had little credit on her mobile phone. My phone, with an Irish SIM-card still in it, does not ring Kim's. We don't know why, but we've accepted that.

Just as I was approaching the 'phone booth, Kim gave me that one ring, to request I call her. Well, I thought, this will be neat. I'll call her just as she was thinking of me. But that was idealized — I'm in Holland.

I could not get the public telephone to work with coin. I tried everything I could think of.

First of all, it's hard enough to find a public telephone. I've noticed about ten of them, in miles of walking in this city of 150k+ people.

Second, it's hard to find a telephone that will accept coin. The key is to find two of them, because in pairs they always include one that takes coin. Many accept only a magnetic-strip card. (I'd check that card out, but what I really need anyway is a new SIM card for my mobile.)

I'd been to this 'phone earlier in the evening, and left the task for later because it wouldn't take my €1 coin (it was Belgian, but that's not supposed to matter....) Now, here I was to try again, with a whole pocketful of different kinds of loose change.

I dialed the number, and it didn't work. I dialed the number with the country-code preceding it. I put the coins in first; I put 'em in last. Everything I could think of, I tried.

I walked over to another set of telephones that I'd forgotten when I had been here with my Belgian euro coin. (This is across the street from the train station — that's why there are several payphones near to each other.) I tried everything that I'd tried on the first telephone again, on the second telephone. I tried everything I could think of — and none of it worked there, either.

By that time, it didn't really bother me. I got a perverse joy from it.

Just after I walked back past that first telephone, Kim rang me on her mobile. I picked up, but couldn't hear her. That happens. I knew she could hear me, and I swore a bit about these telephones. She rang me back, and I could hear her. We talked for a minute or two, and then her 'phone ran out of its prepaid credit.

— 26 August, 2003