For Your 411

The lives of ex-pats are far from peaches and cream. Two days ago, we received postcards from United Parcel Service stating they attempted to deliver to us, but could not find our name on the doorbell. Easy remedy, call and give them the name of our business which is on the doorbell. Problem solved. 

What they had for us was our new Diners Club – MasterCard cards with…are you ready for this, a microchip. Now I am impressed since European and Asian credit cards have been using the chip for almost a decade now. We ran into a problem using our card in Malaysia once, because they only use the chipped cards, so they did not know how (or did not want) to use it the old-fashioned way, but swiping it or even more old-fashioned, call it in for approval. 

The difference with this chip card is that you need to know your pin number each time the card is used in a chip terminal. Well, that is a hassle, remembering yet another code. Still, I am applauding one US company for getting on the band wagon of modernity. Now, I need to call in to confirm receipt of the card to activate it. On the letter and the card itself, it states for calls from outside of the US, call us collect at 1-514-877-1577. 

I have mastered collect calling from Hungary. First I call AT&T at 06-8000-1112. A friendly automated female sing-songy voice states “AT&T”, then a second sing-songy voice from an obvious second woman commands “Please enter the number you are calling…NOW!” Emphasis on now. I have often wondered why one woman didn’t get both gigs to record the messages. Maybe one was the winner and the other a first runner up or understudy when woman 1 gets as sore throat. I entered 1-514-877-1577 after which the AT&T lady starts to get greedy with the prompt “Enter your calling card number and pin or your credit card number and 4 digit expiration date NOW!” You just have this sense she is ready to start working the cash register as you rack up a bill making this call. The trick here is not to touch the keypad of the phone. This moves you into the next prompt. “Please say calling card, credit card, operator, collect, NOW!” By this time, I am never sure whether I should salute at the NOW command or just do Heil Hitler

Experience has taught me that if you say collect, you are setting yourself up for another go around of calls. Almost 100% of the credit card companies have robots answering their phones to is that sicking sweet voice sharing “Welcome to Diners Club! If this is an overseas operator, YESSSSSS, we will accept the call.” Their yes makes them sound like you have been kidnapped and they have been waiting for the ransom call. The AT&& robot doesn’t play nice with others, so instead of trying to communicate, it turns to you and says “It seems as if we have reached a machine. Please hang up and try your call again later.” What a hypocrite coming from a machine. 

I made my call using 1-514-877-1577, saying operator instead of collect. This is where the bait and switch is really evident. Until now, all the voices were like your Italian grandmother’s welcoming you to the Sunday dinner. Once you get a real person, you can go one of two ways: the Wicked Witch of the West or your Fairy Godmother. My first attempt with this call was the witch. 

Me- “Yes, operator this is a collect call, but it will be answered by a machine. I need you to stay on the line.” 
Witch – “I don’t’ handle collect calls to Canada.” Click, she hangs up on me.
Me – Scratching my head, thinking Canada? What is she talking about? This is Diners Club US I am calling. Maybe I dialed it in wrong, so I call again.
Fairy Godmother – “I am sorry, but I cannot handle collect calls to Canada.”
Me – “You mean that the 514 area code is Canadian? But it says right here on my card to call this number collect if you are outside of the US. I am outside and far away. They said on the literature with the card that I could call this number toll free from anywhere outside of the US. What do I do now?”
Fairy Godmother – “That may be, but I cannot do collect calls to Canada, only US numbers. You will have to have a Hungarian operator place the call for you.”
Me – “Apparently AT&T has not heard about NAFTA. Thanks anyway. One last thing, do you know the number for a Hungarian operator?”

411 is the number for calling telephone information anywhere in the US. Now I have to hunt one down for Hungary. I asked 7 Hungarians how to reach an operator to make a collect call and not one could tell me.

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