Montreal

Meet the Louisiana grandmother Quebecers keep drunk dialing, hoping for a ride

Ruby Palermo, 79, has taken to unplugging her landline at night during the holiday season to stop getting calls from intoxicated Quebecers trying to reach Opération Nez Rouge.

Ruby Palermo's phone number is easily mistaken for Opération Nez Rouge

Opération Nez Rouge receives about 60,000 calls every year in Quebec, though many users accidentally dial a Louisiana grandmother. (Daniel Coulombe/Radio-Canada)

Everyone receives a phone call from a wrong number from time to time. 

But come holiday season, a grandmother in southwestern Louisiana gets more than her fair share — usually from inebriated Quebecers hoping for a ride home from the bar. 

"They always call from 11 p.m. to 1 or 2 a.m.," said 79-year-old Ruby Palermo.

Palermo's phone number, it turns out, is very similar to the one used by Opération Nez Rouge, the volunteer service that offers holiday drivers a free ride home in their vehicle if they've had too much to drink. 

The province-wide number for reaching Nez Rouge is 1-866-337-5273. When well-lubricated Quebecers omit the 866 prefix, the call is often redirected to Palermo's home in Sulphur, La.

People who rely on (our services) are not in the best capacity so they might just dial the wrong number.- David  Latouche , Nez  Rouge spokesperson 

"People who rely on (our services) are not in the best capacity so they might just dial the wrong number. It's unfortunate but it can happen," said David Latouche, a spokesperson for Nez Rouge.

Palermo has lost count of how many late-night calls she's received, but Nez Rouge fields around 60,000 calls every year in Quebec. She's has taken to unplugging her landline at night during the holiday season.

"I told my children and my friends, 'If you need me during the night, call my cell phone,'" Palermo said. 

'Cajun French and y'all's French'

The problem, which has been going on for about five years, is made worse by the fact she doesn't understand much French.

"The Cajun French and y'all's French is altogether different, but I can tell the numbers like dix, ten, sept, seven. I know those words are numbers," said Palermo, who has never been to Canada.

"I can tell that they're from Quebec. I know what it is immediately. I tell them right away: 'You are talking to someone in the United States.' I think everyone knows 'United States' whether they can talk English or not."

Nez Rouge hopes the shift to mobile phone apps will alleviate the consequences of imprecise, late-night dialing, or some of them anyway.   

"All we could do is apologize to her [Palermo] on behalf of those people who are dialing the wrong number," Latouche, the Nez Rouge official, said. 

"It's probably better that she just unplug the phone at night. People aren't calling this number at noon, they call it at night."

While Palermo would like Nez Rouge to change its number, she has reconciled herself to this strange annual nuisance.

"I'm not mad about it happening," she said. "I know what it's like. I've partied before in my younger days."

About the Author

Julia Caron

Journalist

Julia Caron is a journalist, radio-maker and art lover based in Quebec City. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Julia has lived in over a dozen military towns growing up. She has called Quebec City home since 2008, and proudly calls herself a franglophone (yes, it's a thing).