It’s hard to explain; I am, in writing at least, a fairly eloquent young man, and while that tends not to extend directly into real life, I do fairly well at the few events every couple of months that my work requires me to attend. I’m happy to sit and talk to people, dance, joke, whatever people like really… as long as I don’t need to make a call.
I’m not sure if there’s some deep-seated psychological issue with it, though anybody looking hard enough could probably find something wrong enough with me that my practical incapability when it comes to long-distance conversation would seem a kind of mental disability. Still, there’s really no excuse for the extent to which I lose the run of myself on the phone.
The reason I bring all of this up is that, as part of my work today, I was asked to ring a bundle of web designers about a tender to redesign my company’s blog. It’s not a massive deal, they’ve all been sent the brief, we’re just trying to hurry them along and get quotes for the price. All I had to do was ring them, ask them if they could send us a quote before the end of the week, and move on to the next one down the list.
While I was putting this off, I developed an elaborate filing system so that I could keep track of everyone I’d called and what their responses had been (on the off-chance that one had a quote already prepared and was happy to tell me about it over the phone). I’ve been given out to about not using my second monitor at work, so I used it for my new filing system.
What follows is a rough transcription of the series of events as they unfolded:
So, I pick up the phone… slowly stare at the keypad and realise that all of the instructions are in Norwegian. “That’s alright,” I thought, “I can manage to put it on speaker and dial that way, no bother.”
I dial the first company on the list, a woman answers. Unprepared and suddenly flustered, I panic and respond in a way perhaps best described using terms like any-Hugh-Grant-character-from-the-mid-nineties. When you’re Hugh Grant, the stammering uncertainty is cute… when you’re a man looking to get details of a contract, things start to go downhill steadily.
Indeed, things deteriorated so rapidly that, without thirty seconds having passed, I’m quite sure I’d apologised about four times, for different things. I had yet to ask exactly when we could expect a quote from them. The woman on the phone begins to tell me the details of how she would approach the page redesign, my eyes glaze over…
About forty-five seconds later, I realise she has stopped speaking. I can’t remember the last thing she said, it may have been a question. I search my mind, desperately hunting for the last thing she said, but it’s not there. I had, in my lack of attention, focussed the entirety of my mental faculties on attempting to decode the Norwegian phrase now pulsing across the screen of my phone.
“Trebbe i Trask!” It implores me. The letters are bold, black on green, they have a tiny shadow. I focus on the minutia as the seconds stretch out endlessly. She says something again, but I am by now so panicked that I manage not to understand her accent.
The phone blinks, “Trebbe i Trask,” and the text starts scrolling from left to right, its shadow following the jerky progression across the two-inch-wide screen. I open my mouth, and before I can think to say anything, my brain registers a total nervous panic… I feel it as much as I hear it then, my mouth shaping the words as though I’ve known them all my life, guessing at an accent I can’t possibly have ever encountered before,
“Trebbe i tras-“ I get most of the way through the third word before suddenly blacking out. I am left with no memory of our phone call, but when I start to come back around, I’m horrified to find that I’m still talking, smoothly and evenly, using the kinds of words that normal people might use on the phone, at the kind of speed a normal person might.
I close the conversation by giving her my phone number, realising in a cold and detached manner that I’m condemning myself to answering the phone to this woman again, without knowing whether or not it’ll be business related.
To cut a long story short, I need some kind of phone counselling.
Also, I think I might be engaged now.