The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug
I personally experienced Mr. Twain’s quote a couple of weeks ago when the telephone company crossed our phone lines with that of another customer. Upon calling customer service I explained the problem and noted something different about the employee’s accent.
“Where are you located?” I asked him.
“The Philippines,” he replied.
He was unable to resolve my problem to my satisfaction so I asked to speak to his supervisor. Big mistake, as the supervisor had a thicker accent. To make a long story short, I finally got through to the person on the other end of the line that they needed to check my phone records, or rather the phone records of the number I was calling from—which wasn’t my number, and they would see how to resolve the problem as this was the second time they had switched my phone line with this person.
After much checking and rechecking on what I’d said, the phone company employee gave me a time that they would attempt to fix the problem. He said the technician would come to our apartments and look in our phone boxes. I repeatedly told him neither of us lived in apartments and there should be no need for the technician to come into our homes. We lived in houses a mile apart and no one had been messing with our phone boxes. The problem was on their end, or rather in a relay box somewhere near where we live. He then proceeded to tell me he could fix the problem from the Philippines, but a technician had to come to our apartments and check our phone boxes. Having experienced this same problem a year ago, I knew he was dead wrong about fixing it from another country. A technician in our town physically touched the lines that caused the problem then– and this time too. I should have taken the hint right then that we weren’t on the same page, English-wise or culturally.
Then he said we should keep our phone lines open.
Now I don’t know what that meant to him, but to me it meant staying on the line. “Do you mean you want me to not hang up the phone?” I asked, wondering how that make any sense and how it was going to work for the allotted time (4-5 days) it would take to fix the line.
“No,” he said, “keep it by your side.”
“Keep it by my side?” That made about as much sense as putting Godiva dark chocolates on a hot sidewalk. “Do you mean you want me to carry it around with me?” I asked.
“No,” he replied.
I searched my brain for another definition of keeping the line open. “Then do you want us to not make any calls or take any calls on our lines?” I asked.
He said some other unintelligible phrase, obviously as frustrated as I was at his botched attempts. Finally, he blurted out, “Don’t unplug the phone.”
“Why would I do that?” I asked, completely bamboozled at his definition. That, I thought, would be a stupid thing to do, and had absolutely no relationship to the phrase “keep the lines open.” What he tried to express to me, with what appeared to be a very basic understanding of English, was as close to lightning as lightning is to a lightning bug.
I hung up, frustrated as all get out by our exercise in miscommunication, and for the next four days we received someone else’s phone calls. If I have to deal with the phone company again, I’m asking where the customer service employee is located and calling back until I get someone in America. Hopefully, they’ll know the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
Do you have any funny stories about customer service from a foreign country?