I work at a call center. Sometimes I get asked a lot of crazy and complex questions by a lot of confused and befuddled people from all across North America, phoning in at all hours of the day and evening up to midnight sometimes, asking me some pretty nutty questions, to which I’m supposed to know the answer.

For example, the other day, a lady called me up from an area around the border between the Provinces of Québec and Ontario in Canada, where issues over bilingualism are prevalent, and was concerned over whether the ‘Furby’ stuffed toy she’d purchased online for her daughter was indeed going to be an ‘English Furby’ and not a ‘French Furby.’ Now of course we wouldn’t want any self-respecting unilingual English-speaking Canadian parent to antagonize her pre-school age daughter by giving her a stuffed toy that might actually speak to her in another language, now would we? She might actually learn something!

In cases such as these, we’re never supposed to say ‘uh, I don’t know lady… what the heck is a Furby and are you asking me if I really care?’ But instead we’re supposed to offer them what is known in call center ‘corporate buzz word parlance’ as a ‘willingness statement’, something to the effect of ‘sure, I can help you with that’ or ‘sure I can look that up for you’ when in fact you’re saying to yourself ‘lady I don’t know what you’re talking about, leave me alone, will ya??!!!’

So since you don’t have the answer off hand to tell the customer right away and don’t know where to look for it on your system, you’re instructed to ask the customer’s permission to put them on ‘a brief hold while I look that up for you.’

Then you put the customer on hold and desperately put up your hand for floor support to come and help you figure out how to, in other cases, merge some person’s online account with their credit card, even though their account is inactive, their credit card information is out of date, their e-mail address doesn’t match with what we’ve got on file…arrrgh!!! Brain fart!!!

So you spend a lot of time on hold figuring out your next move, then go back on the line with the customer and try and figure out all this crap with her. Usually after putting her back on hold one or two more times, you get it figured out and you can get the problem resolved, but not before causing your nerves and your neurons a considerable amount of anxiety and stress for having to solve what appears to be rather complex problems within such short time frames, all while having people in Asia listening to the call evaluating your every word and action to see if you offered the ‘willingness statement’ (if not, you’re docked a certain number of points and could need to be ‘coached’). Did you greet the customer properly with the correct salutation and brand name, and did you close the call properly by offering further assistance, then thanking them then saying goodbye by branding the call over again with the correct brand name of the corporation you’re representing, etc….

All very much worth the $10.50/hr + $2.00/hr bilingualism bonus I’m earning, that’s for sure. I never thought in my wildest dreams that mastering both of Canada’s official languages would enable me to be in command of such an advantageous socio-economic situation!!!

Oh, and by the way, the lady with the Furby? I asked her permission to put her on hold and looked up that item on the website. Wouldn’t you know, she had nothing to worry about her daughter getting infected by the scourge of Molière’s language. The website informed me, in quite official fashion, that Furbies spoke ‘mostly Furbish’, but that the more you spoke to them the more they spoke back to you in English!!! Wow!! So don’t worry lady, I told her, no danger of any ‘Fringlish Furbies’ contaminating their already complex mish mash of Furbish and English with French! (I’m not sure what you would call any supposed language that would combine Furbish, English and French, but I think our kids are already mixed up enough already so let’s not go there, OK?)

But getting back to the whole ‘willingness statement’ deal. I guess as long as I show myself as being ‘willing’, I’ll be able to advance courageously in this brave new post-modern, post-industrial, global economy. Just as long as the Quality Department in Asia, who earn five times less than me and whose first language isn’t even English, don’t dock me for not using the proper language on my next call… sigh… just as long as they don’t start babbling at me in Furbish!!!!

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