Cell phone purchased for safety, frightens with ring tone

New culture exhilarating for correspondent

New culture ‘exhilarating’ for correspondent

A cell phone was one of my first purchases in Germany this summer.

It seemed important, for peace of mind if nothing else. After all, anything can happen when you’re alone in a foreign country. From a missed train to attempted assault, there are any number of scenarios in which a well-timed phone call could save the day.

And it’s easy enough to get connected. You don’t even have to commit to a contract. Sim cards are available at grocery stores and kiosks for anywhere from 10 to 20 euros, including prepaid talk time.

But that tiny piece of plastic won’t place calls on its own. And a cell phone from home may not necessarily work overseas. Terms like “GSM,” “tri-band,” and “900 MHz” make my eyes glaze over. All I know is that my old Samsung phone definitely does not work in Europe.

This could have been a great excuse to get a flashy new European phone, but my penny-pinching tendencies ruled that out. Instead, I scooped out a seedy used electronics store and settled on a secondhand Siemens M55, complete with bright orange keys and a charger.

After charging up the phone and inserting my sim card, I was ready to talk. But first, I took another look at my network’s rates. The good news: incoming calls and text messages are always free. The bad news: I could forget about free nights and weekends. And a 10-minute call would cost me about $2.30.

My inner cheapskate immediately made another appearance, and I decided I didn’t really need a cell phone for anything other than emergencies. Which is why it took a while for me to receive my first text message, and to realize that my phone’s previous owner had an interesting taste in ring tones.

Home alone late one night, I was startled to hear what sounded like a mountain lion in the next room.

“Rawr! Rawr!”

Fighting back my first impulse to bolt for the front door, I cautiously poked my head around the corner. Rather than the wild animal and accompanying violent death I had been fearing, I found my cell phone, buzzing and emitting a truly horrific noise.

I had mail, my first text message.

My second text message came the following week, while I was on a crowded train. Since used phones don’t come with manuals, I hadn’t yet figured out how to change the “wildcat” ring tone to something a little milder. When my backpack started shrieking, I did too.

And then, looking sheepishly at the surprised faces which turned toward me, I turned my phone off. It seemed better for my peace of mind.