Thu Aug 13th, 2009 at 02:32:43 PM EST
As you know, I haven't been writing lately and, before you get all excited, be warned that this is gonna be both uninformative and fairly pointless, but I need to get this off my chest.
I just really felt the need to offer some advice to my new friends in Mumbai.
As some of you know, what's been keeping me away from writing has been a rather impressive conglomeration of real life events, some disastrous, others wonderful. The disastrous bits have usually had some sort of financial aspect - bankruptcy, threatened foreclosure on both first and second mortgages, various hostile encounters with utility companies and collection agencies, you name it.
And what each of these things has in common is that, eventually, telephone calls had to be made. Obviously, things were just not being communicated or understood or resolved in any sane fashion when business was conducted strictly on paper.
For example, I needed to know WHY I was being served with foreclosure papers for 77 cents. Or how come I asked every month for my old telephone and internet package to be disconnected and yet, it never was and I'd get a new bill.
So I was forced to call and, invariably, I would eventually end up talking with someone who I suspect was speaking to me from India. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not here to judge and this is not about off-shoring or out-sourcing or anything like that. That's all beside the point for purposes of this post.
And I want to say that all of these people I'm discussing here have been nothing but unfailingly polite and helpful. Well, with the exception of the AT&T guy who actually hung up on me, but that's another story.
But by and large, it's been great -- they've been knowledgeable, level-headed, and speak better English than is usually heard here in Los Angeles.
But here's the thing. I say I suspect them speaking to me from India because I don't know for sure. And that's the problem. I feel uneasy, like I'm being lied to. Or tricked in some way.
Now, I'm not normally a paranoid type. I don't go around thinking that everyone with an accent is speaking to me from some call center across the globe. Hell, I don't even think an Indian accent necessarily means I'm connected with Mumbai. But what I AM is chatty. And a reader. And socially sensitive, perhaps overly so at times.
So I know these call centers exist, I've read all about them. And when I'm chatting with the bank representative with the lovely, lilting Indian accent and the unlikely American name and he tells me he's talking to me from Arizona, I'm fine with that. Totally accepting.
"Oh, what city?" I ask, "we're practically neighbors."
"I am in Arizona" he repeats, after a slight liar's pause. Suddenly, I can sense he thinks this is a pop quiz. Suddenly, I kinda feel like it is. "So... are you in Phoenix?" I ask helpfully. Then have to jump into the pause with "Phoenix, Arizona?" just to give him a clue.
"YES!" he exclaims gratefully, "I am in Phoenix, Arizona."
Ok, so that was weird, but I left it. Then we had some further discussion and came to some impasse with my situation and I was supposed to call someone else and call this Arizona guy back. Having by now forgotten all about the prior "Phoenix" discomfort, and it already being, like, 4:30 or something here in Los Angeles, I innocently asked what time zone he was in so I'd know how long I had to call him back.
His answer? "I am being in the Central Time Zone, 2 hours ahead of you and open till 8."
I was outraged. I was all "I thought you were in Phoenix? Phoenix, Arizona?"
"Yes, yes -- I am in Phoenix, Arizona being in the Central Time Zone."
"But Phoenix is in the Mountain Time Zone, or Pacific, depending on whether it's daylight savings, which they don't observe." (and, yes, I admit to having too much knowledge of Phoenix's time zone details, but I had an ex-husband from there. Don't ask.)
So he just repeated that he was being in the central time zone and assured me I had time to call him back. Which I did, sorting it out and managing not to bring up either Phoenix or time zones again, and got my situation resolved.
But it left me shaken. I was convinced that the man, as nice as he was, was not talking to me from Phoenix. Or Arizona. I was convinced he was flat-out lying to me. AND I don't think he was happy about it either. Which led me to ponder -- was he in one of those call centers in Mumbai? Are they actually instructed to lie to us? His name probably wasn't even George! Are they assigned cover stories? Names? Or do they just make crap up at random?
At the time, I was too preoccupied to really think much more about it, but there have been incidents since. Other slight cultural missteps and awkward hesitations taken during conversations that have left me convinced that I'm speaking with constructs, a bunch of people with bad cover stories and not enough prepping.
This all came flooding back tonight. I had to call tech-support for a website. I was speaking to another nice man with a lovely, lilting accent. He told me his name was Abner. And, honestly, I wanted to call him on it. I wanted to tell the poor man that no one here is named Abner anymore, and that the ones who were all had Southern accents. I wanted to advise him that perhaps comic strips weren't the best place to pick your "typical" American name. I'm thinking "Abner" is a dead giveaway.
So I'm wondering who I can tell about this? And if perhaps I can parlay this sort of advice into a telecommuting job in Mumbai. So, call center in Mumbai, shrouded in mystery and fabrications, if you're reading this and want my services, call me. My name is "Izzy" and I'm being in the Pacific Time Zone.