Saturday, February 28, 2009

Speaking the international language of contempt...with an accent

For as many differences I’ve pointed out, there are twice as many similarities between the United States and the United Kingdom. It just so happens occasionally I get on a path that has a few more of the differences than similarities, and often times that path turns into a full-on highway without exits for like 147 miles. You might have noticed that already. But really, the two countries are comparable in a lot of ways.

One of those ways would be the dumping of unfriendly technology upon a helpless public. We call it an automated phone system. You know what I'm talking about...those despicable recordings that tell you to press one for this, two for that, three if you don’t know something, or four for anything else. It used to be that you could press the ‘0’ and get a person, but they’ve discovered that loophole and patched it up with the stress-relieving, “I’m sorry. That is an invalid entry. Please try your selection again.”

I just have to say that hearing all the menu options with a British accent is not any less stressful than hearing them in an American one.

Anyway…our new house required new utilities: phone, cable, internet, water, gas, electricity, garbage pick-up, etc. I was the lucky girl to make those calls, and anyone from the States who tried to make contact with me during the first month and a half I was here will tell you that I was beyond unlucky with one provider in particular.

British Telecom, or BT, is the single most heinous company (next to US Bank) on the planet, and they hold the power over whether you (as a person in the UK) can have a telephone or internet. It’s as simple as that. They own the line that goes into your house and therefore have control over it, meaning that if you don’t choose them to be your telephone, cable TV and broadband company, then they rent that line to any other telephone, cable or broadband company you choose. Simple, right?
Wrong, wrong, wrongity wrong.
It’s not simple if BT decides that you don’t have their line in your house and to get one installed you must pay them one hundred and twenty-two pounds AND wait almost a month for a technician to show up to do it. Even if you are actually CALLING THEM FROM THE BT LINE. (True story…plus I actually have a giant box in the front yard with the letters BT all over it.)

I all began in December 10th, when after securing a cell phone, I called BT. I spoke to a lovely chap named Andrew, who gave me all the information I needed about the packages and prices and such. I told him I wanted to run it by Husband, to check and see how many international minutes we should get, and to ask whether we needed two, four or eight mb speed on our broadband. (And although I wasn’t going to tell Andrew and look like a total tool, I was also going to ask Husband what the hell an mb is.) We were on the line for almost a half-hour….and apparently that is the amount of minutes $30.00 buys on a pre-paid phone. (It wasn’t 30 dollars, but actually pounds, but since I don’t have the pound symbol on my keyboard I will just describe it: it looks kinda like a wavy capitol L with a squiggly thing in the middle of it. Look it up. Here is that website I keep sending you to…but really, it’s so helpful, no? )
ANYWAY….I digressed again. Sorry. At the 30 minute mark, there was a beep noise, and then 30 seconds later the call was ended. As a newbie to the world of prepaid cell phones, it took me a few minutes to realize what happened. And then I said a few words that would appear like this if I were a cartoon: *^#!

Fortunately, I had already given Andrew our cell phone number…or, as they say, our “mo-by-ul” number, so he could call me back in 20 minutes, after I talked to Husband. (Incoming calls don’t use up the minutes, so I although I couldn’t dial out, I could still receive calls.) Andrew wanted to make the sale and I wanted to get the whole thing squared away. It was a Wednesday, and I figured (in all my American-ness) that we’d have a phone and internet by Friday. I figured wrong.

I couldn’t call Andrew back without going to the T Mobile store to re-load the phone. The whole reason we had a stupid pre-paid phone was absurd, in my opinion, and made me feel like a drug dealer or terrorist….or at least speculate on how it might feel to be a drug dealer or terrorist. Husband wasn’t keen on letting me near the T Mobile store, either…he didn’t think they wanted to hear my opinion about their ridiculous policy again. (Another story for another time) But even if I wanted to go to the store and re-load, I couldn’t do it because, like everything else around Chester, the store CLOSED AT 5:00. Good for the folks working at the store, bad for Renee.

So I waited for Andrew to call me back…he eventually did, about three days later. However, by that time I was told that there was no BT line in the house, that I had to get a BT line installed in the house, it was going to cost $122, and it couldn’t be scheduled until the end of December. I was determined to NOT pay for anything being installed in this house…there was most certainly a line and it was most certainly a BT one.

The subsequent phone calls to other providers unearthed the monopoly BT has on the whole home communication biz. Absolutely NO ONE can start service of any kind without a BT line installed. Everything coming into your home has to be on a BT line…the provider (in my case, Sky) has to rent the line from British Telecom. So not only was my phone and internet being held hostage by BT, everyone else’s was, too, and all the other service providers are at BT’s mercy as well. It’s like BT has the entire country by the short and curlies.

So after that realization, I bit the bullet and got the installation date set. I was actually looking forward to my big fat “I TOLD YOU SO” moment when the technician was here and had to call in to his lovely colleagues at BT and say, “Uh, yeah, Nigel? Simon here. I’m at job number 3422 and I’m not sure why you sent me here, as there’s already a bloody line in the house.”

The day before the installation, I get a text message from BT telling me that their technicians have determined that a line exists on the premises and to please call customer service for further instructions on how to begin enjoying my BT service. Oh, but I am already enjoying it so.

Every time I called BT I would take notes. I wrote down the date and time, as well as the person’s name with whom I spoke. I’ll spare you the details and give you a synopsis. Here are all my new friends’ names and the date we met.
12/11/2008 – Stacy
12/16/2008 – Helen
12/19/2008 – Annette
12/24/2008 – Raj
12/24/2008 – Emily
12/24/2008 – Sareesh
12/29/2008 – Ruth
1/2/2009 – Chloe (but she’s not really my friend…she hung up on me because she couldn’t understand me. Rag.)
1/2/2009 – Jamie
1/2/2009 – Faye
1/2/2009 – Christine

In addition to the lovely conversations with the lovely customer service representatives at BT, I was also fortunate enough to reach their automated voice recognition system, which is inappropriately named, in my opinion. Rather, it should be called the automated accent recognition system, because the day I tried to use it, my voice was working just fine and yet I got NO WHERE with it.

Here’s where it gets sketchy, because trying to spell how an English accent sounds might not come across correctly. If you want to venture a guess on how an American “faking” an accent sounds, try to sound like the Queen, but throw in a bit of Steve Irwin. (He’s Australian, I know, but to the average American, there’s no difference. Most of you reading this are average Americans.)

So I call BT, and I’m asked to speak an account number. No option to press the keys…gotta speak.

Me: “Three four two, two nine three four.”
BT: “I’m sorry, I did not recognize that account number. Please try again.”
Me: “Three four two, two nine three four.”
BT: “I’m sorry, I did not recognize that account number. Please try again.”
Me: “Three. Four. Two. Two. Nine. Three. Four.”
BT: “I’m sorry, I did not recognize that account number. Please try again.”

I realized then that my accent was what was messing it up. The account number was correct…hell, it had worked when I talked to Stacy, Helen, Annette, Raj, Emily, Sareesh, Ruth, Jamie, Faye and Christine. (Maybe that witch Chloe was behind this!) I decided I’d have to try to “sound” English.

So I did my best to channel Hermione and go for it. I looked around to make sure no one was listening to me…Husband and the boys were downstairs. I walked to the corner farthest from the staircase, turned my back toward the door, hunched over the phone, and spoke softly but clearly. I was confident that I was going to get it to work now.

Me: “Thray, fo-wr, tew, tew, nyyyyn-uh, thray, fo-wr.
BT: “Please hold while your call is connected to the Disabled Services Department.”

Seriously. I got transferred to the department that assists people with disabilities. My attempt at an English accent made me sound…special.

Needless to say, the person who answered my call in that department wasn’t exactly pleased to get me on the line. Apparently he didn’t get the same warm fuzzies from helping an American as he did when he helped a person with a disability.

If only he knew.


  1. Is there a Pat Pesco at BT?

    "Hulluh, suh..!! Suh!!! I can't unduhstand yuh... SUH, yer fading innun out!!!"

  2. Oh Renee. So very funny. I feel a little guilty laughing at your expense. I tried not to laugh out loud. As if it would be less rude or something. Perhaps this is something you can laugh at...years from now. Then I can join you - guilt free. :-)
    Julie (who is trying not to LOL)