It’s time for Parul to pop out her second (book) and while I’m willing to bet there’s no way it’s going to outdo her other second (baby) I’m also willing to put my money where my mouth is. That is, I mean to buy her book because dudes, I really enjoyed the first one. On the other hand, why buy if you can get for free, right, so here I am zooming in with my entry for her ‘By The Water Cooler Contest’. Autographed copies for prizes, woot!
Now, I don’t have very many funny work tales which is weird because I have worked in some seriously funny setups. I have worked, for instance, in a call centre, and I have even worked as a caller but instead of offering credit cards or free holidays, I was performing in a play.
This play, Call Cutta, had us in a large room of a busy call centre. We worked mainly European hours since our audience was mainly in Europe (both version 1 from 2005 and version 2 from 2007). The idea was of a ‘call centre worker’ (us) talking over Skype to a theatregoer (them in Europe). Unlike them though we ‘chatted’ from a script and while variations were welcome, major deviations were not.
This format led to a wide variety of experiences and some degree of generalisation. For example, I found the people of Hamburg mostly dull and those of South Korea glued to their other, actual phones to the exclusion of the show they were paying to experience. Belgians were fun but not so much the Parisians. The people in Zurich, mostly an older lot, were interesting and fascinating in how they took for granted that machinery and systems would work, that life would not, at the slightest chance, tumble into inchoate disorder – I, living in India, have no such conviction at all!
Mexicans were incomprehensible but enthusiastic while the people of Berlin were wistful and demanding in turns. Copenhagen turned up fun ‘customers’ but I can’t tell you about the Irish voices from Dublin because I went on holiday and missed that month. The people of Helsinki were, for some strange reason, frequently quite scared of us. This despite me promising not to sell them any credit cards or holidays.
Obviously, these are broad brush strokes and there were plenty of people who stood out for various reasons, not least being that they didn’t conform to the generalisations. There was, for instance, Axel the Brazilian with whom I naturally discussed Guns’n’Roses; Frank from Switzerland who started the show with a yodel (Judihui!) and later sent my teddy bear a teddy bear by mail; then there were the Hindi film fans merrily chattering about Shah Rukh Khan; the girl who wept on hearing me sing 'Waqt ne kiya'; and the guy who grew his own marijuana and told me about the care needed for the plants.
It was fascinating work, not least being the water cooler aspect of things. For one thing, in version 1 we had the room to ourselves but no bathroom. So we had to pop downstairs to the call centre/office whenever we needed to use the loo, which could be quite the problem when one had only a couple of minutes free.
In version 2 we shared an office space with people to whom we seemed to be slightly more exotic than a bunch of Vulcans. I could see why they would think so… version 2 ended with us dancing to Hindi film songs on video chat and I clearly remember a hush falling over this huge room in the early days as telemarketers stopped mid-sentence to gape at the sight of us swaying in front of our monitors.
What with one thing and another, perhaps you can understand why I find my current job at the ad agency rather humdrum. Advertising has its moments but nothing beats directing a bunch of strangers down unknown roads in another continent only to have them confuse their rights and lefts and end up anywhere except where you wanted them to go.
So, anyway, that’s my entry. You can read more here. And if you’re planning to write too, please remember that the contest ends on 31 October. That is this Sunday, folks.