Bob Driver sig (new)

Every few days — or hours — I get a phone call from a stranger, male or female, who wants to sell me a product, a plan or an idea. The caller — let's call her Sue — speaks distinctly and loudly. She may or may not apologize for taking my time, but within a few minutes she tells me her name, who she works for and the purpose of her call.

Sue doesn't mind if I have a question or two. She does not interrupt. There is no noise in the background, such as children playing or Sue's fellow workers making their own calls. Our civilized conversation is usually a pleasure, no matter how it ends. It's a dream experience.

I get maybe a dozen such phone calls in a month, or even in a year. The rest of the sales calls I receive tend to leave me asking these questions after I hang up: (1) Who ARE these people? (2) Who hires them? (3) Do they get more than an hour's training before their bosses set them loose on the public?" And so on.

I don't know the answers to those questions, but I can guess,

(1) Most of the callers were born in another continent, usually west of Hong Kong or Rio de Janeiro. They remained there until warfare or starvation drove them to find food and employment elsewhere, i.e. between Boston and Los Angeles.

They immediately took lessons in "You Wanna Speak English?

In Just Three Weeks? Sign Up Here!"

(2) At graduation they are greeted by recruiters from Half-Fast Employment Agency and other leading lights of capitalism who guarantee them $6 a week to make phone calls ten hours a day. Which sounds pretty good to many of the new applicants.

(3) Their quick training often has some holes in it. Most of the callers flunk when I ask them: "Please name the difference between shoo-fly pie and apple-pan dowdy." Or "Who was Abraham Lincoln?"

Most of the sales calls I receive are from persons with pronounced foreign accents. Which is not a crime, but makes me ask the caller to slow down and speak as carefully as possible. Some do, some don't, most can't.

Who hires these people? My guess: companies who need phone salespersons but who can't or won't pay a living wage to the persons they hire. The solution: go recruiting overseas. An exception to that rule: purebred U.S. citizens who, even at age 30 or so, cannot speak understandable English.

Or, even if they can, they are desperate for income at any level.

This nationwide assault by telephone marketers had led to a new custom for you and me. We're at home, doing any of a hundred things. The phone rings. We check the caller-ID slot. If it shows the name, phone number or other identification we don't recognize, we have a few choices.

One, let the phone ring. But this can wake the baby in the next room, or interrupt the ball game or film we're watching. Or we can pick up the phone and say "No spikka da English!" and then hang up. This often does the trick. Or we can simply bury the incoming call beneath the sofa pillow.

I'm not recommending any of these responses. You probably have methods of your own. They're mostly ill-mannered, just like some of the persons who are telephoning you.

My favorite is "Please print your sale pitch and mail it to me."

Then I hang up. That usually ends things.

I will cease this kvetching right now. I admit that, to this point, I sound like a grumpy old man, which I often am. So please forgive me.

My rock-bottom attitude to telephone sales callers is sympathy, or compassion, for anyone who must — for whatever reason — spend their working hours calling strangers, hoping they will respond in civilized fashion to whatever message is scheduled for delivery.

In the old days we used to call this "stoop labor." A more honorable title, I believe, is "honest work." I've done my share of it, and will again. Meanwhile, we will all cope. Isn't that what much of life is about — coping?

Bob Driver's email address is