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US: the telephone system

Getting started

New Residential Service ou New Business Service. Getting started First of all, from any phone in your area, dial 0 and tell the operator that you want to open a new residential or business account. You may ask the operator to let you pick the number you prefer amongst those that are available. The basic service (Basic Hook-Up) will allow you to call within your local area, to receive calls from anywhere and to have your name and number listed in the phone book. There may be a charge to keep your number unlisted. Two different billing plans are usually offered to residential users: -an unlimited number of local calls for a flat monthly price, or -a "measured" service, billed call per call. Rates, fees and state taxes vary, ask the operator. Your local company also offers additional services, such as: Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, Caller I.D. and more... For a description of these services, ask your local company, or refer to the first pages of your phone book.

How to get a telephone:

In the USA, telephone companies do not lease telephones. You must buy a telephone from any electronic store. Prices vary with the degree of sophistication, roughly from $10 to $300.

A close look on your number:

Your full telephone number is made of 11 digits: 1, which is the country code for the USA, is followed by a group of three digits (xxx) -your area code- and the last group of seven digits is your number. When you give someone your telephone number, spell it digit per digit: 1 -pause- 8-0-0 -pause- 4-1-7-5-0-9-3.


You will receive a monthly telephone bill. Most companies show call per call activity: the number you called, plus the date, time, duration and price of each call.Usually, bills are paid by check or money order but more and more companies accept payments by credit card or by virtual check on the Internet.

Emergency calls:

Only one phone number for police, ambulance, fire, wherever you are in the US: 911.

The phone books:

White pages list residential subscribers; Yellow pages list business subscribers; Blue pages list government services;

Directory assistance

Dial the 411 to get assistance in your local zone. Thi is usuaelly free from a public phone. But you will have to pay from a private line. To get information on outside your local zone, dial 1 then the Area Code followed by 555-1212

To call to a foreign country:

To place an international callDial 011 Followed by the country code that you want to join and then the number of your destinatery. To call Germany, for example, dial 011-49- etc. To call Japan, dial 011-81- etc.

Toll-free numbers.

The number which area codes are (800), (888) ou (877) are toll free numbers. Toll free directory can be obtained by dialing: 1 (800) 555-1212. Attention: a federal law now allows public payphone companies to charge up to 35¢ per call to any toll-free number. Please, refer to the "Calling Card" section of this guide for an important note. Only toll-free calls placed from a payphone will be subject to this charge.

Collect calls

A collect call is an operator assisted call that will be paid by the party you are calling. This may not be the cheapest way to call… Dial 0, then the area code and number to be called and wait for the operator. You may also use a private collect call company.

Pay phones:

You will need change to call: 25¢ or "Quarters", 10¢ or "Dimes" and 5¢ or "Nickels". You don't need change for the 911 to the emergency services.

Calling Cards:

: There is an ever increasing number of prepaid calling cards on the market. Some are reasonably priced and others are very expensive. Attention: A great domestic rate may hide a high international rate. Like regular calling cards, prepaid calling cards require the user to first dial a toll-free access number and may be subject to the connection fee described at the end of our "Calling Card" section.


". Two systems are commonly offered: Cellular telephone or Personal Communication Systems (PCS). This is an extremely competitive market and it is recommended to ask frequent users for their advice. Long distance calls placed from your portable phone may be very costly: peak and off-peak periods often apply and you may additionally be charged for "air time" and recurring access fees. Make sure that the area where you live is covered by your prospective provider and inquire about their "Roaming Charges" -Access charges when you travel out of your service area. Note: A good calling card with low international rates may come handy when you have to place international calls from a portable phone.

The Federal Communications Commission :

The "FCC", is the Federal Agency in charge of the Telecommunications in the USA. Should you have a problem with your local, long distance or portable phone company, you may write to -or call- the FCC:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer Protection Branch
Common Carrier Bureau
Mail Stop 1600A2
Washington, DC 20554
1 (202) 632-7553
Web site:

Some vocabulary for french speakers:

Appeler : to call  
Etoile : the star key
Composer : to dial  
Opérateur : operator
Joindre : to reach  
Liste rouge : unlisted number
Allo : Hello  

Changer de Cie. : to switch cny.

C'est moi : speaking  

Occupé : busy tone

Rappeler : to call back  

Prix par min : rate per min

Décrocher : to pick up  

Couper : to disconnect

Raccrocher : to hang up  

Ne quittez pas : hold on

Faxer : to fax  

Parlez plus fort : speak up

Le combiné : the handset  

Moins vite : slow down

Appuyez sur... : press...  

Parler à... : to talk to...

Dièse : the pound key      


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