Friday, May 19, 2006

Do you make any overseas calls?


Well, I had an incredibly Orwellian moment today.

BellSouth, with whom I have kept my phone service because Qwest doesn't cover my area, called me up.

They just wanted to do a check of the services I had signed up for. I've had my account for less than a month and have yet to receive my first bill, so I figured this was all just SOP.

Yes, I have a phone, yes I have DSL through BellSouth because the fine people at Comcast want to charge twice what BellSouth charges for Internet service, and yes I'm happy with the DSL Extreme even though I didn't order it but I'm now spoiled by being able to download tons of lesbian porn in the blink of an eye, so I must have it. Damn you BellSouth.

Then Debbie, who had a suspiciously heavy Indian accent for a "Debbie", asked oh so innocently, "Do you make overseas calls?"

"What the hell..." I thought to myself. Then a very cold feeling slid into my chest and sat there stealing the sunny May warmth from the room.

Debbie probably didn't know if I made overseas calls.

But Debbie's bosses knew. The NSA knew. General Michael Hayden, who reminds me of Toht, the sadistic Nazi from Raiders of the Lost Ark, knows if I make overseas calls.

Now I don't for one minute think that these folks know who the hell I am. Just a number among millions. But if I ever start making phone calls to acquaintances in Europe or the Middle East.....

I felt paranoid enough exchanging E-mails with a couple of students and faculty members at Beir Zeit University a while back. Oh yes, I've got a file somewhere. I'm sure of that.

But Debbie was waiting and the cold was spreading through me.

I have no doubt I would have received the same rote disclaimer that everyone else is receiving from the phone companies. "We at Dumbassicom respect your privacy and are safeguarding it while cooperating with the government's efforts to maintain security blah blah blah blabbidy fucking blah."

"No Debbie, I don't make overseas calls." I said.

"OK, thank you very much, and thank you for choosing BellSouth."

Don't mention it Debbie. The terror was all mine.

UPDATE: While running spell check before posting, everytime the checker ran across the word "BellSouth" it wanted to substitute "bullshit". It really just doesn't get any better than that.


  • At 10:35 PM, Anonymous JMF said…

    Robert: I should mention that during my own recent switch I found that Working Assets provides both long-distance *and* regional toll call ["Local long-distance"] services. I signed on for both, and at least assume the latter means that NSA quisling Verizon (though still my *local* service provider) will no longer be itemizing any of my direct-billable calls, which will now all go through Working Assets. I've *heard* of Qwest -- and heard good things about it -- but like you, I don't have access from my area. But WA is nationwide for what it covers. ==== P.S. I know you were taken aback by the question, but I'm still surprised you passed up the golden opportunity to respond, "Only to my Uncle Usama". ;-)

  • At 6:37 AM, Blogger Again said…

    But if I ever start making phone calls to acquaintances in Europe or the Middle East....

    "you mustn't grumble, thank your lucky stars" - at least you're warned now...

  • At 7:31 AM, Blogger Again said…


    but i have to show you that - remember the "rude German"? ;-)


    "Yes means yes and no means no...

    There are consequences for all this directness, and this is one. You may be asked why you don't want to come to someone's party or why you don't like Wagner, and then you must explain. You may even have to have a discussion about it, or possible a debate. But perhaps you can do that over tea. Would you like to come over some time?"

    does that explain something about me???

  • At 8:19 AM, Blogger Robert said…

    I love that article. How refreshing. My family are some of the greatest passive/aggressive, never say exactly what you mean types. I was raised that way. So in recent years, when I simply say what's on my mind they don't quite know what to do with me.

    But as an American I am still incredibly guilty of the societal norm of "sparing feelings" and those sorts of little untruths that add up.

    The idea of a nation of people that speak the truth in matters large and small is quite compelling.

  • At 5:01 PM, Anonymous JMF said…

    Again: "Brutally Honest" is utterly, refreshingly magnificent, and appeals strikingly to the [part-] German in me. Candor is often a non-existent virtue in the "Anglo" countries, to the extent that those who have eyes to see frequently wonder what the underlying truth is in those carefully-crafted BS and NuSpeak responses they habitually receive (e.g., "Your suggestion will be afforded all the consideration it merits" -- Huh??) . ==== I was instructed years ago by mentors that such faux "politeness" was far better termed "people-pleasing", a gross form of self- (and other-) denial which serves to enslave one to arbitrary social conventions -- "Should's" -- and bars him from practicing the mentally healthy, time-honored maxim, "To thine own self be true ...". ==== Like Robert, I grew up literally surrounded by that sort of "outward facade" behavior, and it's quite an exposition to occasionally watch your own family melt down into "reality mode" after a would-be "stressful" social gathering -- the torrent of repressed truthfulness that breaks through after the fact, "behind the scenes" can be amazingly venomous! ==== Good stuff; thanks.

  • At 10:28 PM, Anonymous b here now said…

    No wonder Americans never understood me. My grandmother was from Germany and I learned a lot from her and have always been very direct in my answers to things.

    Even though my mom was half German, she thought being polite was the way to go and we were always at odds on that. She never understood me. I never understood her.

    That's vida.

    Btw, I laughed my way through the Eurovision contest last night and only watched because the BBC1 commentator is so funny, and I watched the entry from Germany with my jaw on my chest. It was country! Down to a bass fiddle and cowboy hats. It was hysterically amusing Is country big in Germany these days??

  • At 9:01 AM, Blogger Again said…

    The idea of a nation of people that speak the truth in matters large and small is quite compelling.

    alas, not in matters large and small

    it's just because honesty simplifies life, i guess. As Mark Twain said: “If you always tell the truth, you never have to remember anything” . Lies mean work, you have to create a "faux reality" and you do it only if you want something to profit. And that shows you where the limits of the german honesty are. When people try to get something from others, the honesty ends quickly

    as b told about her mother, our wives, especially the dependend ones without own earnings, need to get something from others without being able to "earn" it - so they often work with "diplomacy". Actually often enough, that women are in general seen as "mendacious". Or in business, when you need others to give you something while you are not able to force them - use diplomacy, be "polite". Germans aren't better than others...

    in fact, the Austrians call us "rude" in the same way, Americans or British do - so my theory is simply, that people living in empires need more diplomacy and can't afford honesty, while the Germans for centuries living "on the countryside" just didn't need to develop such strategies ;-)

    Down to a bass fiddle and cowboy hats. It was hysterically amusing Is country big in Germany these days??

    not as far as i know - sure, sometimes there are Hits here, based on Country, and sure, there are Country-Fans here, but i guess, it's because it's something "new" and new is interesting. I guess it's something like finding a new identity, so Germany tries many things, we are open for every trend ;-) And Johnny Cash is by no means the worst role model


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