Thursday, April 28, 2011

Impressing the Swiss

Last week, I spent some time waiting for a bus at this road intersection in Croatia. The direct bus from Bihać in Bosnia goes to Zagreb, but as I was going to Zadar, I had to get off at the intersection and wait for the bus to Zadar.

As I was waiting, I found a mobile phone in the gravel beside the road. It was switched on. The menus were in German, and the phone (and SIM) were branded with the Orange network. I threw it in my bag, and thought little more of it for the moment.

However, when I got back to London, I realised that I still had it. I couldn't switch it on again, because the SIM in the card was PIN protected. However, when I put my own SIM in the phone, it worked fine. The phone was not network locked. After a little navigation through the menus, I managed to switch the phone to English language mode. There were a few SMS messages stored in the phone (in German, and apparently describing a trip to Bosnia) and of course there were phone numbers stored in the address book. However, these were all in national format, without a country code. Numbers that were clearly people's mobiles were of the form 07xxxxxxxx. A number entitled "pizza" was of the form 08xxxxxxxx. A business number, presumably.

Now, whose phone was it? Orange do not have a network in Croatia or Bosnia, and the phone was set to German. So the phone belonged to another foreign visitor. Orange do not have a network in Germany either, but they do have a network in Austria. Many, many Austrians visit Croatia - they used to rule it - so my first guess was that the phone belonged to an Austrian. However, a quick check of the Austrian telephone numbering system indicated that Austrian mobile numbers have the form 06xx, and 07xx and 08xx are all kinds of extraneous services rather than regular numbers. So, German speaking but not Austrian or German. Who then?

Further checks indicate that Orange does own a network in Switzerland, 07xx does denote mobile numbers in Switzerland, and 08xx is used for free and shared cost services often used by businesses. So, Swiss.

At this point I am on a roll, and national stereotypes come into it. I would expect a Swiss person to try to return my phone to me, so I am going to make an extra effort in return. (I might not do this for certain other nationalities. On the other hand, strangers have on occasion gone to some trouble to return lost phones to me, so in any event one wants to return the favour, as it were). There is also a sense that if I do get in contact with a Swiss person, that the contact will then be uncomplicated and hassle free, due to their being Swiss. I don't have the name or number of the owner of the phone, so I look through the names in the address book. One of them is listed as "Mama", which sounds promising. Mama's date of birth is listed in the phone as some time in 1970, so Mama presumably is okay with being sent text messages. (She also has children old enough to lose phones while travelling in the Balkans, despite being younger than me. Perhaps I need to get a move on with certain aspects of my life. But I digress).

I look up the country code for Switzerland, which is 41. I change the (national) number for Mama into an international number, and send two text messages (in English) to the number, stating that I found a phone belonging to one of her children in Croatia, and that if provided with an address, I will return the phone.

The next morning I receive a phone call from Switzerland. A young man speaking excellent but (slightly) accented English tells me that I have his girlfriend's phone, and is slightly amused when he discovers it is in London. ("Ah. 44 is England"). He gives me an address in the Swiss town of Chur, capital of the canton of Graubünden, near the Austrian border and just south of Liechtenstein. I haven't been to Chur, but I have been quite close nearby. Interestingly enough, Graubünden is the only canton of Switzerland where the Romansh language is spoken. I doubt Samsung make phones with Romansh menu options (although Linux probably has Romansh options). However, as the town's name was spelled "Khur" by the man on the phone, and that is the Swiss German spelling, I guess the phone did in fact belong to a German speaker.

I actually verified the address with Google Maps before sending the phone, and as Google gave the name of the town as "Chur" (the standard German spelling), that is what I used. I suspect it will get there.

Unfortunately, I missed something, of no relevance to the problem of returning the phone, but still irritating. The Swiss telephone numbering system mixes geographic and non-geographic numbers in an ugly way, and as it happens 08x, is used for freephones, shared cost numbers, and the town of Chur, for which the code is 081. As it happened, the pizza shop actually had a local number, so I should have been able to figure out that the phone came from Chur. However, I wasn't looking carefully enough, all I really wanted to know was the country, and I was not expecting the number system to be that inelegant.

Attentive readers will also probably suggest that it would have been simpler to simply read the SIM number off the SIM, obtain the mobile country code from the SIM number, and find out that it was Swiss that way. This is true, but the SIM number is in tiny writing, and my eyesight is not as good as it used to be.

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