Thursday, November 10, 2011

Telephone Terror

Picking up my phone I can see that it’s an Oslo number I’m not familiar with.

Let’s stop there for a moment!

* * *

We were well trained! Our extended family and our parents’ friends used to commend mom and dad for having children with such pristine telephone manners. It happened often, and the comments were proudly passed on to us by our parents.

I remember trying out an old phone at a museum when I was a kid. I must still have been in kindergarten. It was the kind where you’d spin a handle, talk into a sort of funnel, hold another one by your ear and speak a manual operator before getting the correct line. At home we had a dial with numbers behind, I was good at dialling fast! Then the 90’s took the last charm of the industrial revolution away and we got a white phone with a keyboard. It was really practical though and I used it a lot. Phone manners were for those days. Before you could see who called and while all who called still had somewhat noble intentions.

“Haltvik, vær så god!”

Your own surname to identify that the operator or caller had gotten the right line. Vær så god: please proceed, the word is yours or however you want to translate it.

Our little children voices must have sounded tiny! I can remember my little sister using the same phrase. In fact, I believe it must have been the same phrase my grandparents once taught dad. He used the same phrase and must once have sounded as tiny as sis and I.

Then the displays came and you could go, “yo dude!” –Nothing wrong with that, just a new way of expressing friendliness!

But as time passed past us we started getting calls from numbers that didn’t show up on the screen, and when you picked up the phone you’d hear the slight hum of an office in the background. “Am I speaking to Mr. so-and-so?” (Where are your bloody manners!? I tell you who I am, you tell me who you are! –you don’t ask who I am when you’re calling me, and at least not before you have identified yourself!)
“Yes, speaking!”
“I am so glad I caught you in Mr… (–fill in as appropriate). You see I have this wonderful offer for you where you stand to win a cruise for two if you just give us your e-mail address and order a book –free of charge off course; well in fact, I’ll throw in a second book just to show our appreciation for your first order with us in this order-to-win-a-cruise offer we would like to give you just because we can see from our records that two years ago… (–fill in as appropriate something totally un appropriate; or at least something unrelated).

Dad started using a suspicious “Hello…!?” if he couldn’t see who it was. My “hello” started to border on the militant. Then dad stopped picking up the phone if there was no number on the display. And I chose a meaner version of “hello” if I didn’t know who it was.

Then the punks figured the good people out and stopped hiding their numbers. And so it was today, that I got a number up on my screen that had the same effect on me as a blank screen. I was pretty sure I knew what it was. –but if it was indeed something important I would have to pick it up anyway.

It’s been easy as long as I live abroad. “Dude, I live in England!” “Ok, heheh… sorry, have a nice day!” Laugh’s on you dude! Once the police authorities from a little town North of here called me while I lived in Singapore.
“Hello Sir, I would just like to reassure you that we have now found your wife’s purse!”
–well if you’ve found my wife I’m curious cause “I’m not married! I live on East Coast in Singapore and haven’t been in Norway for months!”

* * *

(You can hear the office in the background)
“Who is this?”
“I am calling from…” (–insert name of random electricity company.)

* * *

When I was a kid, municipal counsels and the likes owned electric production plants. Then, spurred by the socialists (!) we were told that it would be more effective for the government and cheaper for the customers if it was privatised. (What they didn’t tell you was that they just signed a deal with the devil (EU and the EEA) to gain more cred for themselves internationally and possibly give them great positions to retire to after leaving Norwegian politics) and the devil answered back that: “cool, you can be down with me if you sell all your belongings to the private sector and follow me. –Long story short: ever since we’ve had unstable energy prices and particularly high prices when it’s cold (Adam Smith could have told you that before electricity was put into wires); and cold it gets in this country! Welcome to Norway! Additionally, it brought about a fair share of telephone-terror as well.

* * *

“So you are calling to sell me something then?”

“No, I’m not calling to sell you something (slightly frantic). I’m calling to give you an offer to switch electricity supplier. May I know which electricity company you are using?”

* * *

Answering "no" to my initial question is straight forward lying!

The truth would be that we live in the same family villa as we have done since 1930. And my father who has spent an entire career as a distinguished engineer in the hydroelectric power production sector in Norway and Northern Europe finds the best deals to supply our electrical wires. I don’t care who sells it, but I’m sad the proceeds are no longer used to maintain schools, public transport and hospitals. Some of you may be surprised by this, due to my stands on social economy and politics. But it’s all about tangible outcomes of policies. If it “benefits both the sovereign and the people” it’s Adam Smith. Our current policies benefit just a few people, which ironically sounds more like Marx to me.

Tell him the truth…? Previously I was that mannered. I would tell him how the situation was and that I was not interested in his services, and I would do it in a kind way.

* * *

(Hang up!)

The only one more foolish than a fool is the one who quarrels with a fool…

* * *

It felt good! We (family and friends) had joked about what to say to these sales people several times. I had suggested a procedure that would sound something like this:

“Hello! Is Mr. Harald Haltvik in at the moment?”
(Answer in breaking voice on the brink of crying…)
“No! (...) He… he died in a motorcycle accident yesterday!”

Surprisingly, it was our family that found it hilarious and our family friends that found it too morbid. Most people there were laughing so the dinging room was shaking. –Anything to get back at those telephone terrorist bastards, ey?

But it didn’t feel all good. It felt bad interrupting the guy and hanging up in its own way. Something from our childhood has been dying for a while and it’s not being substituted with something better or more advanced. Mom has almost lost it, dad has lost it, sis has lost it and I’ve lost it; the true unwritten courtesy that governed how telephone conversations were carried out. The remnants of the days when gentlemen lifted their hats when you passed by, when you nodded in acknowledgement if meeting a complete stranger on an otherwise empty street (I still sometimes do, to both the fright and delight of my by-passers.) –The days when the telephone was still something relatively novel and had not been intruded by everyone and everything, and had not intruded “everywhere” itself.

Great neo-soul, better computers, cheaper flights, exciting cigars from new markets and fabulous cuisine from the whole world, accessible everywhere!

But still… some things used to be better before!