I dial a number on my phone.
“Thank you for calling Corporation X. All our representatives are unavailable. Your call is valuable to us. Please stay on the line until the next representative is available.” While waiting, I hear a series of recorded promotional messages, often delivered in a seductive tone appropriate for deep sexual intimacy. Messages also boast of the many services Corporation X offers. Unfortunately, these do not include timely live responses to my current call.
Having invested so much time to speak to a representative, I’m torn between hanging-up or hanging-on. Often, an abrupt disconnection makes that decision for me. I call again. Once more, I’m assaulted by sounds that pass for music and the sexually arousing voice repeatedly promising me that a representative will be with me shortly. While waiting for fulfillment of that promise, I wistfully remember the days when live human beings would answer business calls. Finally, a representative breaks in, “My name is (mumble), how may I help you?” I’m usually challenged by a representative whose foreign accent is so thick that his speech barely resembles English.
I’ve developed a technique to deal with globalization. I catch two or three words that are intelligible, and then repeat what I thought he said in my own words. At the end of my recap, I ask him to let me know if I had understood him. He has only to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
I have also developed two other techniques. I listen to the initial menu options. If none of them relates to my need, I press for the menu again and employ one of two tactics:
- Press an option that has to do with sales. A response to that option is immediate and is always spoken by English I understand. I then ask the sales representative to connect me to a representative I sought in the first place. On a really lucky day, I get someone with whom I don’t have to employ my ‘yes’ or ‘no’ tactic. But there is always a strong possibility that a native-born American’s English is at least as unintelligible as that of someone with a heavy foreign accent.
- If I hear an automated voice that begins with, “All right, let’s get started: Do you want to ask about your account? Say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ I say anything except ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ She will then (ever so gently) apologize, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that. Will you please repeat that?” And this is where the fun comes in. I just say, “I’m sorry, too,“ or “Merry Christmas,” or “Good Shabbat.” The surrogate human then says, “I’ll connect you to a representative.” I must admit I’m elated by the success of my subterfuge.
I miss those days before our extremely rapid communication technology slowed down communications.