This week’s episode of the This American Life podcast has a segment about Mexican citizens, with perfect American accents, who are deported back to Mexico and get jobs working in call centers speaking to Americans. As someone who works in a call center, this segment interested me greatly. It begins at the 27 minute mark.
Seth Freed Wessler reports on people going the opposite direction over the US/Mexico border. Each year hundreds of thousands of people are deported from the US to Mexico — tens of thousands more choose to leave on their own — and lots of them make the journey after years and years living in the states. Wessler explains how customer service call centers in Mexico are capitalizing on the fact that many of these people speak English with American accents. They’re hiring such people, and using them to staff customer service lines for American companies. But, for those who’ve left the US, taking calls over and over from the place they used to call home, it can be a complicated experience. (11 minutes)
I can attest to the fact that some people calling into a call center only want to speak to someone who sounds like them. It’s not just native American speakers who ask to speak to an American. I’ve had people ask me, in perfect English, to speak to someone who speaks Spanish. I hate when this happens. Instead of getting a Spanish speaker, I’m required to conference in a Spanish interpreter. Often times, the interpreter speaks worse English than the original caller. These calls quickly become cumbersome and unnecessarily difficult. The original caller will usually grow tired of waiting for the interpreter and just speak over them, in perfect English. The Spanish interpreter will then either disconnect from the call or stay on the line, silent, so that they can avoid getting the next call.
I once had to get a Vietnamese interpreter and the man had one of the greatest voices I think I’ve ever heard. He sounded like a voice actor or a radio DJ. I asked him if he spoke any other languages so that I could call him directly if and when I needed an interpreter. Unfortunately, he only spoke Vietnamese and English.
If only the world was like Star Trek, where everyone spoke articulate and well accentuated English, even the godless Klingons. That, or I had the language skills of C-3P0, who according to him, was fluent in over six million forms of communication.