Diary

The Shalom Aleichem Calls

22 February 2014 | Diary

Darkest February and we’re getting nuisance telephone calls from a person who says “Shalom Aleichem!” and “Shalom Aleichem?” and then hangs up.

The line is always crackly and the caller speaks neither English nor French, so I suspect he’s calling from overseas. I think I can hear good weather happening in the background too.

It would certainly explain why the calls invariably arrive between 2 and 6am, when I’m in my absolute best mood for receiving telephone calls from people I don’t know.

The typical Shalom Aleichem call goes something like this:

Caller: Shalom Aleichem!
Me: Look, you fucker, it’s four in the morning here.
Caller: Shalom Aleichem?
Me: I’ve told you before, you’re dialling the wrong number!

There’s a pause followed by a frustrated little sigh, which says he knows he’s speaking perfectly clearly so he must be dealing with a complete imbecile, and he hangs up.

Honestly, it’s like something from a Muriel Spark novel.

And doesn’t “Shalom Aleichem” mean “Peace be upon you”? What a phrase to be shaken awake with.

I’ve tried again and again to tell the man he’s got the wrong number and that he shouldn’t call here.

An early attempt involved putting my girlfriend on the line. Samara speaks Hebrew so, I figured, she’d be able to clear this up once and for all.

When the phone rang in the middle of the night last Friday, I took the handset into the bedroom, woke her up and put the still-ringing phone in her hand. There’s no way this is a bad idea, I was thinking.

“In Hebrew!” I said.

“שלום,” she said into the phone.

A pause and then, “?מה קורה”

She handed me back the phone.

“That’s not Hebrew!” she hissed, “it’s Arabic. And I’ve got work in the morning.”

I was going to protest, but thought better of it. The moonlight illuminated her face for a second and in that second it became clear to me that writing about our domestic life in a blog is not actually work no matter which way you slice it, that bed-related stories are forbidden and that this had better not make it into the blog.

Arabic, eh?

The next morning, I Googled around for the Arabic for “You have the wrong number,” so I could be prepared for the next call. I couldn’t work out the exact phrase but I got as far as Asif, al-rakm khate’e, which means “incorrect digit”.

Caller: Shalom Aleichem!
Me: Asif, al-rakm khate’e!
Caller: Shalom Aleichem?
Me: Look, it’s four in the morning. I don’t know what language you speak. And what’s that sound? Volleyball? Are… are you on a beach?

And he hung up.

So now I’ve taken to sleeping with a list of foreign-language phrases by the side of the bed.

This Tuesday’s attempt: Yeh aap ka matlooba number nahi. With a slight accent, I grant you.

Maybe the caller is trying to reach the Ukrainian humourist Sholem Aleichem, whose work provides the basis for Fiddler on the Roof. It’s possible.

Sadly, Sholem Aleichem has been dead since 1916 so he’s not going to be much help.

What is hopefully a final turning point in the Shalom Aleichem phone calls happened this morning. For once, the call arrived as we were having breakfast instead of in the middle of the night so I was somewhat more sensible to deal with it.

Caller: Shalom Aleichem!
Me: Shalom Aleichem!
Caller: Haha. Shalom Aleichem?
Me: Shalom Aleichem.
Caller: Ah.

He hung up.

Is that all he wanted? For me to say the same thing back to him? Is that possible?

It’s a prediction based on absolutely nothing, but I think that’s the last we’ll hear of him.