My Experience of Diversity
Bob Collins, the Chief Commissioner of Northern Ireland's Equality Commission, has said that migrant workers 'brought experience, expertise, knowledge and skill, which could enhance Northern Irish lives and communities', and 'offered the values of diversity, vibrancy, openness and freshness'.
These might be welcome values in a community which has had the utmost difficulty integrating with itself, never mind anyone else, for nigh on 370 years; however, I experience the freshness of diversity on a daily basis in my work as a customer services adviser for an organisation whose specific territory of operations is the UK.
Let me share the freshness with you.
In March this year a Romanian called me a 'stupid motherfucker' because I would not reconnect his account until he paid his bill. That incident occurred 10 minutes into an 11-hour shift, the first of three on consecutive days; a great start to the weekend.
In October 2004, a Greek shouted at me 'Why have you not done my fucking port (transfer of cellphone number between handsets)!'? The temptation to tell him to fuck off back to Greece had to be resisted, on pain of losing one's employment.
On several occasions, I have been verbally abused by white South Africans, perhaps the rudest, most ill-mannered people on the planet, people who in my experience seem to think the British are no better than white kaffirs, there to service them.
Australians are not much better; neither, it is sad to say, are some expatriate Americans.
I have been required to offer a semi-apology to a Spaniard for what he perceived as the severity of my ultimate employer's rules in regard to the provision of credit.
I regularly have to explain the personal nature of contracts to young English men of South Asian extraction, some of whom seem to spend a great deal of time trading each others' postpay sim cards and consequently find themselves in danger of breaching the UK's stringent laws on data protection when they call to enquire why the phone's been barred and they have no authorisation to discuss the account.
There is a South Asian businessman in North London whose name is burned in my memory for the torrent of abuse he unleashed at me at 19.30 on a Saturday evening because of our courier's failure to deliver a unit within his expected timescale.
An occasional phenomenon amongst some South Asians, though not by any manner of means as common as in other environments where I've worked, is that a young male who is not the account holder will phone up, the account holder will be their parent and the young male will say something to the effect that, 'yeah, they're the account holder but they don't speak English'. It has taken several years to find the perfect answer to this gambit; it is 'I'm afraid English is the language of the contract'. On the few occasions this has been deployed, the parent's knowledge of English develops almost immediately to the extent that they are able to confirm their name and address when asked to do so, even by someone bearing a heavy and presumably unfamiliar Glasgow accent.
Three weeks ago, I required to explain to an African that the reason the top of the range handset he'd bought wasn't working was because he'd downloaded entirely incompatible software on to it.
Another African has hung up on me immediately, calling me a 'fucking wanker' because I was not the female he'd been dealing with previously; in a call-centre where calls are routed mechanically, this was not a state of affairs I was able to do much about. Another phoned looking for his 'fucking wi-fi' settings, in an accent even my practised ear found hard to comprehend; and then immediately hung up.
One sometimes wonders whether native East Asians fear their mouths will seize up if they stop talking. Either that, or they just don't trust people. Every single call from an East Asian takes at least twice as long as it should, because every single detail must be reiterated again and again, the same question often being asked again and again. Yesterday, it took a good 10 minutes to go through the procedures involved in barring a lost handset, and making a subsequent insurance claim, with an East Asian. The optimum call time for that procedure should be two. He phoned back five minutes later.
Today, I had a Frenchwoman complain she couldn't understand me; I guess I should try Arabic next time. Again today, I very nearly gave the rough edge of my tongue to a condescending wee Scandinavian bitch who didn't like what she was being told - a sensation which has also recently bubbled to the surface with a Polish female (whose accent was also almost incomprehensible), an Italian and a Czech male of 25.
What did Bob Collins say migrant workers brought again? Ah yes - it was 'freshness'...