I’ve learned a lot about how people speak over the last 6 months. You’d think after umpteen years on the planet I’d have a fair idea of it, but when your job is listening day in and day out to people asking this and questioning that you get a whole new perspective on the subject.
For the most part there’s nothing much to report. If you’re lucky you get to exchange a bit of banter and it’s all pretty civilised and normal. Occasionally you’ll get an antsy caller, or a caller that just sets you on edge. That’s pretty normal as well, in its way. That happens in real life, just not as frequently because there’s not the same volume of contact.
There are loud talkers, people who speak to you with the caps on. There are the annoying heavy breathers, who have no qualms about exhaling loudly into the mouthpiece as you investigate their query. There are the equally annoying people who choose to carry on a conversation with someone else while they’re waiting for you to respond. Pretty rude in my book. There are people who speak softly, and others with such rudimentary speaking skills it’s a struggle to understand what they’re trying to impart. That’s not to mention those with heavy accents for whom English is a second language – that can be very challenging.
Then there’s the fast talkers. You answer the phone and the words come at you in a rush, as if they have been straining at the leash waiting for the phone to be answered, or have a bus to catch. This always triggers a quite irrational irritation in me. It seems vaguely un-Australian to start with. Aren’t Australians meant to be laconic? You begin to understand how foreign a language can seem.
So often travelling I’ve listened to foreign tongues and thought how unintelligible it was, one word seemingly running into the next half-dozen. I couldn’t imagine how English could be heard in the same way. Now I can.
Whenever I hear a fast talker my instinct is to slow down in response. I’m certainly one of more laconic Australian speakers. I speak at a measured pace, not slow, but certainly not quick either. I slow down though whenever a fast talker comes on the line. Part of it is a gentle encouragement to them to ease up a tad, and perhaps a reminder that it won’t happen any quicker by talking fast. Without meaning too I tend to peer down my nose at these talkers in a hurry.
My favourite callers just about are from senior citizens, particularly women. They’re so genteel and polite on the phone, self-effacing and reasonable, so that you want to do everything you can to help them out (there’s a lesson in psychology there). It’s a pleasure to reminded of such good manners and breeding – they’re always so thankful. There’s a sentimental thing happening to. I always think of my grandparents.
Otherwise some of the characters calling in from the bush are a lot of fun. They’re the laconic Aussie type, good-natured and dry of wit, and happy to yarn all day given a reasonable excuse.