When I was a teenager I read a story about scientists who received radio signals (or something like that) of extra-terrestrial origin but were unable to decode them. After many years of receiving these signals and sending "responses" in their direction, trying to establish a dialogue but without success, Earth finally receives a message from the mysterious origin that it manages to decipher, which is something like: sorry, we are not talking to you (or maybe 'we're talking to the guy behind you', I don't remember precisely).

I've already looked for short stories by Douglas Adams and similar authors but haven't found any clues. Maybe it's just an excerpt from a book and not a short story.

Edit: I must have read this between 2009 and 2011 and I read it in Portuguese but it may have been translated from English. I can't remember where I read it but I think it was in a book.

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    Given its age it's almost certainly not the answer, but the plot resembles "Qu'est-ce qu'ils peuvent bien nous dire?" ("What do you want to say to us?") by Tristan Bernard from 1894 (!), in which Earth picks up messages from Mars. It end with the line "We're not talking to you, we're talking to Saturn." Commented Jan 9 at 7:23
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    actually, that sounds like a quite likely candidate. You should submit it as an Answer.
    – Pete
    Commented Apr 25 at 0:30
  • @ClaraDiazSanchez: I agree with Pete — you should submit it as an answer. It might easily have been the first translation of this story from French into Portuguese, and so have appeared in a recent book,
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Apr 26 at 18:21
  • @PeterShor In truth I don't get much of a Douglas Adams vibe from it, but OK, I'll prepare an answer. Commented Apr 26 at 19:27

1 Answer 1


This closely resembles the plot of Qu'est-ce qu'ils peuvent bien nous dire?" ("What do you want to say to us?"), a short story by Tristan Bernard, first published in Le Figaro in 1894.

Astronomers detect signals from Mars, in the form of giant illuminated areas on its surface. They decide that the Martians are trying to signal to us, and try to reply, in French of course, by writing "Plaît-il?" ("I beg your pardon?") in giant luminous letters on a huge piece of paper laid out in the deserts of central Africa:

Each of these letters were a hundred leagues long. And care was taken to place dots on the i's of such a diameter that an entire army could move there.

They waited for a reply, which duly came in the form of Mars writing the message "Rien" ("Nothing"). Disappointed, a new sheet of paper was laid out, and the message was written "So why are you signalling to us?"

Mars replied:

We're not talking to you. We're talking to the people on planet Saturn.

The text of the story is available from Wikisource.

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