Phone calls from call centre operators have been the bane of my existence for some time now. They ring on my landline at the most inappropriate of times, like just before the school drop off or pick up, and invariably at mealtimes, interrupting my daily yell to get the TV turned off and hands washed.
A ringing phone is something that’s hard to resist and being techno-challenged, I can’t quite find the ‘ringer off’ button on my phone. If I do, it’s likely that I won’t remember how to turn it back on again. So to keep life simple, I just don’t try. This warped philosophy allows persistent call centre operators to try and talk to me about everything from solar panelling, new phone plans, cheap calls to India, sorting out my computer problems, and of course, invitations to free dinners and seminars.
I’ve tried everything from blocking my number to pretending I can’t hear them, to just not answering the phone after 5pm, but I sometimes have to bow to the inevitable and endure a frustrating conversation trying to convince them that what they’re offering is of no value, or interest to me whatsoever.
But recently, I inadvertently came across a new weapon. The phone rang as usual at 5:15pm on a Monday, while I was busy getting dinner organised downstairs. As the hands-free was upstairs, I asked my older son to answer it.
“Hello!” he bellowed into the phone, probably creating a sizeable crack in the caller’s eardrum. The phone was on its speaker, so I could hear the conversation.
“Is your mum home?” asked a male voice, somewhat testily.
“Is – your – mum – home?”
“Vhott?” Even louder.
“Your MUM. Is your mum home?” asked the voice, practically yelling this time.
“My mum? My mum?” As if he had any other!
“Yes, yes, your mum!”
“I can’t hear you, did you say my mum?”
“Never mind, I’ll call later,” was followed by the engaged tone.
I had to hold onto the kitchen counter to stop myself falling over laughing.
Now my sons know the intricacies of how to download apps and operate my mobile phone way better than myself, but when it comes to actually conducting a conversation over the landline telephone, they are sadly lacking in phone etiquette. I was so delighted by the unexpected outcome of that call, I had to experiment again.
Once more a few days later the phone rang, this time around 3:30pm in the midst of their afternoon tea.
“Hello!” bellowed my son, once again.
“Please can I speak to your mother, Mrs Dixit?”
“What? Oh sorry, I beg your pardon!” said my son. Now this polite repartee was a result of being told off by his dad, who had inadvertently called the landline one day and had been treated to a few vociferous ‘What’s’. He had taken pains to explain the fundamentals of politeness, especially when communicating with unknown people over the phone, some of whom mum works with. Apparently some of that had indeed, made sense.
“Please can I speak to your mother,” said the mild female voice with a distinct Filipino accent, a little louder this time.
“Okay! Mum, there’s someone on the phone speaking Indian,” he said, walking over to me, holding out the phone.
“Indian? What do you mean, Indian?” I asked indignantly. “I’ve told you a hundred times, there’s no such language as ‘Indian’. India has over 1,500 languages that have developed over thousands of years…”
“Yeah, yeah, but she sounds like she’s talking Indian, like Punjabi or Hindi, or something,” he said dismissively, handing me the phone.
The lady had hung up.
Getting my boy to answer the phone was turning out to being quite an adventure. The next time he answered it, the result was unexpected.
“Hello!” went the now-familiar bellow.
“How are you?” asked a suave voice.
“I’m okay, how are you?” asked my son, polite for once.
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Sid, what’s yours?”
Now this is still a hotly debated subject. Did they say ‘Matt’ or ‘Bert’? Whatever it was, my son burst out laughing hysterically, “Butt, butt, his name is butt!” he yelled joyously and his younger brother joined in the merriment.
They hung up.
My editor is probably the only person who is impressed with the boy’s phone technique. Possibly because she answers his yell by saying, “Hello, Sid!” That’s when the wax mysteriously melts from his ears and he can hear, hallelujah! When I got on the line after she’d had a conversation with him, she seemed just as impressed as I was surprised. I thought there might be something wrong with my hearing when she mentioned that he was ‘articulate and polite’.
But now, like most kids of this precocious generation, his nearly nine-year-old brain has figured out that he’s being asked to do a chore, i.e. answer the phone. Requests of money for doing the task being rejected, he has now started ignoring the rings, or he picks up the receiver when the person has hung up out of frustration.
I’m now thinking of enlisting the younger one to the task, particularly because he has his own charming brand of eccentricity that lies only within the comprehension of close family. He has ‘opposite’ days and ‘repeat’ days, among other strange and hilarious traits like wishing people ‘Happy Birthday’ when it’s the New Year, and vice versa. I can just imagine the conversations.
“Goodbye,” he would say
“Goodbye! See you later!”
“But… but… can I speak to your mum?”
“No!” and he would hand me the phone.
By which time, the poor confused caller would have hung up.
Another conversation would go like this:
“Hello, how are you?”
“Hello, how are you?”
“I’m fine thank you, how are you?” the confident voice would respond, happy to come across a polite child.
“I’m fine thank you, how are you?”
“Errm, can I speak to your mum?”
“Errm, can I speak to your mum?”
“No, no, YOUR mum!”
“Yes, yes, YOUR mum!” he would say, reverting to his ‘opposite’ avatar.
At this point I would take the phone from him, and if the caller is still on the line doubting their sanity, I would take at least a couple of minutes to actually listen to their selling spiel. They would need convincing that the world is, as they know it, a normal place. So that they could hang up and confidently move to the next caller… you, I hope!
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