Steve Allen's book Dumbth devotes a lot of time to hours* he's wasted in conversation via telephone with people who just don't get it and never will.
I had such a conversation today.
Our office is participating in a program whereby employees are screened for common health conditions that can potentially raise insurance rates. I am not here to go into the pros and cons of this plan -- I've heard enough grumbling from co-workers on the subject to last a lifetime.
Unfortunately, I'm in the position of coordinating this project, which will take place in late January. Yesterday I retrieved a phone message from a young lady whose speech was full of hiccups and "up-talk" -- you know, when every statement is phrased as a question. "My name is Jennifer Smith? I'm calling to set up your screening?"
She starts off by mispronouncing my name. Understandable if she was reading it off a piece of paper, with the name having been recorded incorrectly by someone else. But then she corrected herself, showing that she's simply a poor reader. "I'll be off tomorrow? But you can leave a message and I'll return your call on Friday?"
I left a voice message, speaking in a slow, clear, relatively loud voice, being sure to pronounce my name carefully. Today she called back.
"Hello, I'm calling for [name again mispronounced]?"
"Yes, this is Correct Pronunciation."
"Yes, this is Jennifer Smith? I'm calling to set up your screening?"
We went through the whole routine, with her asking questions about our building, where they'd be setting up, what time they'd arrive, primary and secondary points of contact, etc.
Then she said she'd need directions to our office, and I knew I was in for an ordeal. I asked if she'd like to have the screening team call that morning or the day before, rather than relaying the directions to Jennifer and having her attempt to read them to a third party. But no, she was quite insistent that she should be the one to take down the directions.
All righty, then. Right off the bat I knew this was going to be difficult, because she expressed bewilderment at such basic concepts as interstate highways, compass directions and exit ramps. I kept having to go back, more slowly each time, and repeat the information. The directions to our office are fairly simple. You just have to have your "listening ears" on, as my son's kindergarten teacher used to instruct the class.
Jennifer continually interrupted me to read back what I'd said, and I was soon in a semi-permanent state of face-palm, listening to her interpretations of what I was trying to tell her.
I give directions to visitors every day. We're located on a service road that some GPS systems pick up, but others don't. So I give the most common landmarks, such as streets that have signs -- many of them don't -- and related markers such as the "airport ahead" sign. It's a simple drawing of an airplane on a dark green background. Then I always tell the caller that they will know they've arrived at our road when they get there -- it's easier than trying to describe it verbally. Just look for the street names I give you and the airport markers, and it's really quite difficult to lose your way.
Ah, but this was Jennifer! Jennifer is, I suspect, approximately 19 years old. She's never been to the South, and she has a very limited knowledge of popular music.
It was at "Old Dixie Highway" that she became hopelessly confused.
"Okay, so, you go past Old Highway Sixty, then make a left?"
"What? Old Highway Sixty? Where did you get that? No, I said Old Dixie Highway. Dixie. D-I-X-I-E."
And again, I get this "Old Highway Sixty" crap.
Feeling very old by this time, yet managing to resist the urge to address her as "Honey," I spelled the name again, clarified that it is NOT a number, but a name, and even debased myself by singing a line or two of the popular song: "I wish I was in DIXIE, hooray! Hooray!"
"Oh...?" That one little word told me all I needed to know: Jennifer has NEVER heard the song, and probably never even heard the name "Dixie." She wouldn't have the slightest idea, from either a history class or a music class (do they even have music classes in schools anymore?), what the name connotes.
So I asked her to repeat my phone number, so that the poor souls who try to find us on "Old Highway Sixty" will manage to get to us so that our all-important health screening doesn't need to be rescheduled.
I wonder if she's ever heard the phrase "Oy vey." Somehow, I suspect not.
*"Hours" can denote actual clock-hours or merely minutes that feel like hours...