Great British Telemarketing

Recent and highly unscientific research reveals that you have to do more than move across an ocean to get away from telemarketers.

Okay, Wild Thing and I knew that already. Since we moved here, we’ve been called by people telling us our computer has been affected by such a dangerous virus that the only way to fix it is to read a credit card number into the phone and take a sledge hammer to the hard drive. We get calls from a recorded voice with an urgent message. So urgent that it doesn’t merit a live call. And so on.

On Wednesday, Wild Thing fielded a call that—well, we never did find out what he wanted. Wild Thing picked up the phone and the caller said, “Can I talk to the lady of the house?”

Some of these calls set off reactions we could never have predicted.

“Believe me,” Wild Thing said, in a doom-laden voice, “you don’t want to talk to her.”

She has no idea where that came from—or which of us was the lady he so didn’t want to talk to.

People here commonly use the word lady where we’d say woman. I notice it and I kind of roll my eyes , but in a detached, mildly amused way. And, I should add, an invisible one—the mental eye roll; the virtual one. Sometimes think I should object, but it doesn’t set off any deep reaction in me. You want to call me a lady? I’ve been called worse things, although I’m not sure any of them were more unlikely.

The lady of the house, or one of them, after a reading in Minneapolis, 2008. Photo by Terri Hudoba

The lady of the house, or one of them, after a reading in Minneapolis, 2008. Photo by Terri Hudoba

In the U.S., the telemarketing calls did set me off. The phone was in my name, so I spent a good bit of time fielding calls for Mrs. Hawley, and very few things push my buttons quite like being called Mrs. Hawley. I can’t entirely explain that, but we can begin by saying that I’m not married and I don’t want to be married, but if I did happen to be married I probably wouldn’t be married to myself. Then I can add that I passionately hate the whole business of women being publicly sorted and addressed by marital status. Top it all off with a hefty dose of I-know-my-reaction-isn’t-helping and throw in a telephone, and even though I told myself over and over not to do it, I’d end up saying, “There is no such person. What can I do for you?”

It was unfair, I know. The callers were following a script. Lots of people we know have worked for call centers, and it’s wrong to make a tough, underpaid job any harder than it already is, but there I was being horrible to the people who read the script, not the ones who wrote it. I knew that. I pledged to reform. And then the phone would ring and off I’d go.

Oddly enough, now that I’m living in the U.K., I’m less rabid about being called Mrs., even though it happens more often here. This isn’t my native culture. It can’t touch me as deeply. That makes no sense, but it’s the only explanation I can offer. It still pisses me off, but I’m more distant about it, and less vocal.

Plus the phone isn’t in my name. That helps.

The lady of the house,  though? Sorry, she’s in the back, and the maid’s helping her with her lace gloves. Can you call back when the butler’s available to take a message?

10 thoughts on “Great British Telemarketing

  1. Back in the day when we had a land line and a telemarketer called, I would say, “Oh, right – I’m in the middle of something – could you hold for a minute?” And then I’d put the phone down and carry on vacuuming or typing or whatever until they went away. Sometimes they came back and we’d have to go through the whole routine again, but it never took more than two iterations. That way, I avoided exploding with rage all over someone who was just trying to feed her 15 children while putting herself through medical school – in fact, I gave her a few minutes rest from talking to obnoxious strangers – all at the expense of the corporation that had bothered me. I found it most satisfying! (But having a cell phone in place of a land line and almost never getting such calls is WAY better!)

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  2. I kept my name after I got married, and that’s proved so confusing to people that I’m constantly going around telling people (even ones who don’t ask), “Just call me Karen” so they don’t call me Mrs. HisLastName.

    Just the other day, I was in a doctor’s office going over my record with a technician and she totally threw me for a loop by calling me “Mrs. Karen.” Wha??? Huh???

    Maybe we should look at that title “Mrs.” not so much as political statement coming from the speaker’s mouth, but rather just as title used out of respect toward a person with whom they are not familiar?

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    • I do think that’s how some people mean it, but why should it be respectful to assume a woman’s married?

      About the first part of your comment–holy batshit, I would’ve thought in this day and age people would be used to a woman keeping her own name.

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      • It hurts me to say this (really hurts) but I think the technician, who was very, sickeningly young (I’m guessing she ordered her first legal drink in a bar only recently) was acknowledging my age rather than my marital status when she called me “Mrs.”

        I’m mostly with you on this issue, though. I just picked up the phone the other day where the caller was looking for my husband, realized I wasn’t him, asked, “Is this Mrs. HisLastName?” and I’m sure the ice in my voice when I said, “No, this is Karen” traveled all the way through that telephone wire and froze his stupid, clueless heart at the other end.

        Would you rather be called “Miss”? I can tell you I’ve been going around for ten years trying to get people to call me Karen and it makes a lot of people (the auto mechanic, the kids in my kids’ playgroup, the police office who just stopped me for speeding . . .) uncomfortable.

        I’ll stop clogging up your blog now with my comments. Loved the post. Made me laugh out loud.

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        • Keep commenting if you like. It’s an interesting conversation. I don’t like Miss either. That too is about whether I’m married. Ms. is fine with me. I know some people don’t like it, maybe because anything new takes some getting used to, but it sits well with me.

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    • I, too, kept my family name after getting married. I told anyone who asked that it’s because my husband and I both have the same first name–Terri/Terry. Since I never actually wanted to change my name, this proved to be a convenient excuse.

      Periodically, we’ll get a call from someone who doesn’t know us. The conversation usually goes something like this.
      Caller: Can I talk to Terry (sp?) please.
      Us: Which Terry (sp?) do you want?
      Caller: Um, Terry (sp?) Senior?

      At which point we typically end the conversation.

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  3. G. had a friend in high school who was raised by older parents who instilled formal manners into the poor soul. I too use my birth last name so he’d call me, “Mrs. Golod” and I’d say, ” Just call me Flo. ” He kept doing it and one day I exploded and said, “J., I didn’t marry my father. Call me Flo.” Poor boy said, “Sorry Mrs. Golod.”

    A mildly related favorite tale: In the early days of databases, when I was at the school, we got an advertising circular addressed to “Mr. & Mrs. Southside.” I kept it for a very long time.

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