All I wanted to do was pay The Communist's telephone bill.
So I rang British Telecom.
The first person I spoke to asked for his account number, and couldn't understand it no matter how I said it, so passed me on to a second person.
Person 2 could understand the account number, but said it didn't exist.
"Where did you get it from?" he asked suspiciously.
"This piece of paper which has BT BILL written on in. It follows the words Your Account Number
so I guessed that the account number might follow."
"Does it have any letters in front of it?"
"No. Just a number."
"Hold on." The line went silent. Finally it rang again and I was through to Person 3.
This person seemed to be able to make the account work.
"Thank you," I said, "and could you change his surname so it's correct? It should be double S not double F."
"Sorry? I'm afraid I don't understand."
"Double S. Two of the letter S. Not double F. Not two of the letter F."
"Sorry? I will pass you on to my colleague."
"Can I help you?" asked Person 4.
"Well, you're the fourth person I've spoken to so I hope so."
"I am very sorry for that." - - And she was fine. And finally she understood the new spelling, after two or three goes. And paying the bill had taken about four times as long as it should have done.
Then I got another phone call later: a lady with such a very strong accent and such a very quiet voice that I could only make out the word "Nassinome." Which wasn't a word which made any sense to me. Could she repeat what she'd just said, but more loudly and also more slowly?
She said exactly the same thing in exactly the same way, culminating in the interesting word "Nassinome."
I thought she might be a wrong number or a cold call and very nearly hung up, until I remembered that I'd been confused this way before.
"Are you from the nursing home?" - -- Yes, she was. And after only a couple of dozen "sorry?"s and "pardon?"s I managed to get the crucial piece of information which is that the hospital has arranged transport to take the Communist to his eye clinic appointment tomorrow morning.
To start with the BT call: well, I don't know whether the call centre I was speaking to was abroad, but everyone I spoke to was foreign, and they all had very strong accents, and I found them hard to understand, and I'm used
to hearing lots of different accents. A couple of them were having problems understanding me
. And, as those who know me will testify, my voice is clear, loud and, if not quite Standard English, well certainly hovering around Northern Posh. (Girls' grammar school, 1970s, it's not my fault, honest).
It's very annoying: don't BT know
that? When you ring up with a perfectly straightforward, everyday kind of query and find yourself struggling to understand what's being said to you, and struggling to make yourself understood, you find yourself getting very cross very quickly.
The case of the woman from the Nassinome was not just annoying, but upsetting too. Is she the one who'd ring to tell a son or daughter that their parent has died? In any case, if she'd tried to tell my mother anything at all, no matter how crucial, my mother would be neither able to hear her (too quiet) or understand her (too strong an accent).
The BT people were all Asian and the Nassinome woman was from the Caribbean. So my complaint could be taken to have racist overtones. But I would be just as cross if they had, say, an impenetrable Glasgow accent. If someone's job involves talking to members of the public, and they have a strong accent, then they should be trained to speak loudly and slowly and clearly. But firstly, Those In Charge must understand that it's important, and I think that's a fair way off.