Sunday, 3 February 2013


The phone rings, shattering my peace and interrupting my train of thought. But I have to answer it: what if one of my daughters is sick or in trouble? What if she needs money? What if somebody I love has died, or a friend just needs to talk? And finally, what if by some crazy quirk a wonderful bit of good fortune is about to fall into my lap? I am both an optimist and a pessimist, so I absolutely have to answer the phone.

And of course it is an annoying telemarketing person, just doing the only job she can find, but still driving me half wild. These people have been tormenting me for years now. They have brought me flying into the house from the garden; they have forced me to scramble down from ladders; they have vexed half a dozen sleeping cats who have been dumped off my lap so I can rush to the phone and be interrupted. Even one or two of these calls a week is too many.

And then a tiny lightbulb of inspiration flashes in my brain. I will have some fun with this call: it is my phone, it is my time, and it is my right.

"Hello?" I say in a low, respectful tone, the kind of tone you would use if there was an elderly invalid in the house and you were a totally out-of-touch menial whose job it was to answer the phone.

"Hello," says a brassy voice. "Is this Mrs. -- uh . . . " There is a long pause and then the lady mispronounces my husband's name.

"I'm sorry," I say in the same quiet voice. "With whom do you wish to speak?" I aim for posh east coast American since I can't do British.

The woman repeats herself, doing a little better this time, but still struggling with the consonant cluster.

"Ah," I say. "Just a moment. Madam is sleeping at present, but I will see if I can awaken her again." I pause. "This may take some time."

The woman apologizes so quickly I feel a twinge of remorse. "No, no--please don't bother her! It was just a courtesy call!"

Courtesy call. My remorse vanishes in an instant. "May I take a message, then--?" I start to say, but the woman has hung up.

I put the receiver back in its cradle and go back to what I was doing, smiling a smile of deepest satisfaction. I'm still nowhere near finished with the chapter, but I have still managed to achieve something extraordinary: in barely 30 seconds, I have managed to get a telmarketer to hang up on me.


Lisa Shafer said...

That is beautiful! I really need to try your trick and see if it works.
To share similar humor: one of my gay friends used to love it when a telemarketer would call and ask, "May I speak with the lady of the house?" My friend would use his deepest voice to say, "Speaking." The unwanted caller would usually hang up. :D

Ruth Kelly said...

My son used to play games with the telemarketers. I don't have much problem with them now that I switched to a cell phone and got rid of my land line but I used to tell them that Mrs. so and so was dead.

Mirka Breen said...

I've accomplished the same with much less finesse. Brava, Mary.

Have I told you how much I miss your regular posts? It's a good day when I wake up to one.

Miss Footloose | Life in the Expat Lane said...

Hi Mary! Oh, you made me laugh with this story. Now that I am back in the US (from Moldova), I might have to try something similar. Thanks for the inspiration.

meredith said...

I am so adopting your technique!

Kit said...

Great story! Here they ring on our cellphones too, which is even worse as they get you when you're driving and really shouldn't answer. The clue to the identity is that the phone flashes up Private Number... always a sales call. It's a horrible job and I ought to feel sorry for them, but never sorry enough not to cut them off very quickly.

Kim Ayres said...

My standard response to someone trying to sell something to me on the phone is usually, "listen, either you are on commission, or you have targets to reach, and each moment you spend on the phone with me is preventing you from talking to someone who you might actually be able to sell to. So I think it's in the interests of both of us if we draw this call to a close."

9/10 times it gets a positive response as the caller no longer has to play the game as it's clear they've been rumbled, and everyone can now go about their business.

If the caller insists on carrying on after that will I hang up on them.

Charles Gramlich said...

Thumbs up! I'm gonna have to try this.

Mary Witzl said...

Lisa -- This works a treat, and I suspect if would work especially well if you happened to have acting talent, so you're a shoo-in. Let me know how it goes!

Ruth -- My mother-in-law has been gone for about 47 years now, so I'm always tempted to tell the people who ask for Mrs. (Husband's Last Name) that too.

Mirka -- I'll bet you have! I'm a late starter and I don't know why it's taken me so long to find a solution to this irritating problem. I'm so glad that I've discovered this source of innocent fun.

Thank you for your kind comments about missing my posts. I'd write a lot more of them if I had the time!

Miss Footloose -- Have fun with this when you get your irritating telemarketing calls. You could talk to them in Dutch!

Meredith -- Please do and let me know how it turns out!

Kit -- I feel sorry for them too and I really do feel a little mean. But after so many times of being interrupted, woken up, or disturbed in the middle of dinner, you develop compassion fatigue. And for pity's sake, life is just too short not to have a little fun.

Kim -- I've done the same thing! I've told them that I am a total cheapskate who does not intend to buy whatever they're selling, that talking to me is a waste of their time, etc., and sometimes they still persist, which is beyond irritating. In those circumstances, hanging up is quite refreshing.

Charles -- It helps to make yourself sound extra creepy. Let me know how it goes!

Marcia said...

Long ago, out of misplaced politeness, I let the caller get way too far into her spiel before telling her I wasn't buying. She got upset, and I'm sure it was because she thought she'd finally, finally scored. Now, I say we're not interested and hang up immediately. Turns out it's actually kinder.

Vijaya said...

Mary, I've missed you ... and this post made me smile. I let my kids answer the phone (hatehatehate the phone) and when they were little, they'd babble and be nonplussed when there was no person on the other line. Of course, now that they're in school I do have to answer the phone, but I say I'm not interested and hang up ... though I should have some fun like you. Sometimes the caller asks to speak to a parent. Hee hee ...

Anonymous said...
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Barbara Martin said...

A brilliant idea! And wonderfully told slice of life...

Saeed Zia said...
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Christina Farley said...

Very clever of you. I don't have that kind of art!