Saturday, March 12, 2005

"Bear with me a moment."

Greg said he missed England yesterday when he was on hold with Mellon Investor Services. He got an earful along the lines of "We know your time is valuable and that is why our customer service representatives are working carefully to serve each of our clients to the best of our ability. It is important to us to be thorough and give each customer the time they deserve." What a load! Hello? Why don't you just hire more OPERATORS? He reminisced about the more mater-of-fact "bear with me a moment" used in England before they would put you on hold for eternity.

People in America would never put up with "bear with me a moment." That would just rub Americans, who are used to comfort and convenience, the wrong way. But in the UK, "bear with me a moment" is like a call to duty. People take it as a challenge. "Bear with me a moment." Oh all right, I'm up for that, I can do it, you'll see. Bearing things graciously is kind of an obsession in England. Witness the birth and popularity there of many a reality-based television show. They thrill to see people who are under various kinds of emotional stress---celebrities, politicians, royalty, people who experience great luck or great tragedy---in order to see how they handle it. Those who hold it together and don't become emotional are treated with great respect. Those who lose it are dismissed as undisciplined, an embarrassment.

While we were there, David Kelly, a Senior British Civil Servant, an expert in Iraqi biological weapons, died under mysterious circumstances. There was an investigation to see if it was murder or suicide. Only a few weeks after his death, his wife testified in front of the investigation commission. She was unanimously praised in the press (see one example here) for being very dignified and not becoming emotional during her testimony. I personally felt that it would have been completely understandable if she had cried or broken down on the stand. Her husband had just died and she was asked to recollect their last moments together. She also had good reason to believe that the way his employers (the government) had treated him led him to take his life. If she had showed anger or hurt, that too would have been understandable in my opinion. But she didn't, and it that way won a small victory. Such scrutiny of people's emotional lives and their self-control becomes so fascinating. Even I, a novice at perceiving the subtleties of it, found it engrossing, though I'm sure I only perceived the tip of the iceberg.

And I am equally sure that I, with my American outbursts, was a source of great fascination (and embarrassment). I think I even stooped so low as to finally beg the operator, when asked to "bear with me a moment," "no, please, don't put me on hold again, I can't bear it, I won't." Such lack of character usually left the person on the other end of the phone speechless. I was doing my part, once again, to fuel the British wonder at the success of America, a country whose citizens are so undisciplined and so childish. I confess that I too often wonder at America's success. I know the British would never put up with that "we know your time is valuable" line. It's way too obvious for them.

1 comment:

Greg said...

The winter of 2000-2001 brought heavy rains and flooding in many parts of Britain. I will never forget the TV coverage one day. The reporter interviewed several people whose homes, in river valleys in the northeast, had been flooded. One by one, homeowners graciously granted an interviews from the upper floors of their sodden houses. Invariably, after describing how much they had lost, they would hasten to add something along the lines of, "but there's nothing for it but to move on and make the best of it."