Mobile Phone Usage: Smartphone etiquette across the globe

Mobile Phone Usage: Smartphone etiquette across the globe - Lovefone, London

Mobile phones have certainly come a long way in the last 25 years, from the ‘brick’ phones owned by a handful of yuppies in the early 1990s, to a technology that’s now used by three-quarters of the world’s inhabitants.

Interestingly, mobile usage statistics show that mobiles are used in every country around the world, although usage is at its lowest in Eritrea, North Korea and Myanmar, where just 6 percent, 10 percent and 13 percent of the population own a mobile phone respectively.

But while mobile phones are now ubiquitous, the way they are used differs between cultures. So, join us please as we take look at a few of the more interesting quirks of mobile phone usage around the world.


Mobile phone names around the world

Mobile phone sounds like a sensible name for a telephone you can use on the move, but not every country seems to agree. In the US, the mobile is known as the cellphone, because each phone tower and its coverage map look like a biological cell. In Japan, the mobile is called keitai, meaning ‘portable’, and in China its shou-ji, or ‘hand-machine’, which both seem logical enough.

In Bangladesh, they have gone for muthophone, which in English becomes the snappy ‘phone in the palm of your hand’. In Sweden, they’ve opted for the frankly bizarre nalle, which means ‘teddy bear’, and in Israel its pelephone, or the ‘wonder phone’.

Mobile Phone Usage: Smartphone etiquette across the globe


Mobile phone etiquette around the world

  • Japan – The Japanese are renowned for their impeccable manners and their mobile phone usage reflects this. Train commuters are bombarded with messages telling them to switch their phones to ‘manner mode’ (silent or vibrate) because public mobile use is frowned upon. Social harmony is valued highly, so a phone should never be a disturbance to others. That means, if someone’s phone does ring in public, the user will usually silence it very quickly and look flustered.
  • Southern Europe – In countries like Italy and Spain, people love to talk about anything, anywhere. People are not averse to discussing their personal lives in public at great length. In fact, a Spanish state-owned train company once promoted its journeys as the perfect opportunity for people to call their partners. The Italians take a similar approach and are happy to take calls in restaurants, during meetings and wherever else they may be.
  • India - Indian society has a long history of tolerance, and that manifests in what we would consider to be some fairly brazen mobile phone use. It’s not uncommon for people to take calls in cinemas and even at official functions and during speeches. Another common quirk is for the caller to hear a Bollywood song rather than a ringtone.
  • Africa – African mobile phone usage is similar to Indian, in that people use their phones everywhere. Part of the reason for this is that mobile phone users just want to show that they have a phone. The only place mobiles aren’t used is in mosques and churches. It’s also common to have Bible quotes rather than a ringtone. Multiple SIM ownership is also popular across Africa because many of the service providers are so unreliable that users want to give themselves the best chance of getting a signal. There is also ongoing conflict between phone service providers as most of them are not compatible with each other. Meaning if your friend is on a different network, you can't contact them at all

Mobile Phone Usage: Smartphone etiquette across the globe


Who uses their mobile phones the most?

In Europe, it’s not the Southern Europeans but the Finns who chat on their phones the most, spending an average of 257 minutes a month on calls. The Austrians are also quite chatty with 240 minutes of use, just trailing the Finns. The Maltese use their phones the least, chatting for just 46 minutes per month. However, the worldwide winners are the Indians, who chat for an average of 346 minutes a month. That probably has something to do with their incredibly low rates of just 0.5 rupees (about one penny) a minute.

Have you noticed any ‘quirky’ mobile phone usage on your travels? Please share your thoughts with our readers in the comments below.  

February 15, 2018