I have a colleague – let’s call her Miss P – who lived in Australia for a few years, in Melbourne and Perth, and has a bank account there (with ANZ). She had some questions today about her account, and has tried calling a few times but is daunted by the English required, so today I called on her behalf. What followed is a classic example of the excellence of Australian service.

Stage 1: The General Line

We called the general help line, and a middle-aged-sounding woman answered the phone.

  • Me: explains situation, asks first question
  • Her: Gives slightly confusing answer, then says “But actually, it’s probably just easier for Miss P if she calls the overseas line, because they’ll be able to find her an interpreter.” Gives me number.
  • Me: Perfect! Thank you. We’ll try that.

This is cool! So off we go…

Stage 2: The Overseas Line

We call the overseas line. A youngish-sounding chap answers, and after my explanation he transfers me to some other department in customer service. Here I’m greeted by another middle-aged-sounding woman with a very strong Australian accent.

  • Me: explains situation and asks for interpreter
  • Her: Oh yes, we can definitely do that. What you need to do is call Miss P’s bank branch, and they’ll find her one [what is this, every ANZ branch has a UN office inside it?]
  • Me: Okay, could you tell me the number
  • Her: tells me the number, then says “How about I transfer you? Just a moment.”

Unfortunately, the phone cut off (we’re using Skype). So … we call directly.

Stage 3: The Local Branch

So we’re calling a bank branch in Perth. Let’s just get that clear right now. Another middle-aged-sounding woman answers the phone, and has a very broad accent and speaks slowly and clearly. Excellent. I don’t think she’s going to be our interpreter though…

  • Me: explains situation and how we just got cut off. “I was told you could maybe arrange an interpreter?”
  • Her: Ooooh, mmmm, I don’t think we do that here, but just a mo [<- she actually said this], I’ll see if anyone here can help
  • Me: Okay, thank you …
  • …. long period on hold …
  • Her: Hello, um I’m sorry but I’ve called around a couple of departments and they don’t seem to have any service like that in this branch.
  • Me: Oh, we were told you would have
  • Her: Well, I don’t think we do. But I tell you what [<- she actually said this], the Surfer’s Paradise branch might have an interpreter. There’s a lot of Japanese up there! Hold on a mo [<- she actually said this] and I’ll give it a go [<- she actually said this].
  • … short period on hold …
  • Her: Hello! We’ve found someone in Surfers [<- she actually said this]. I’ll just put you through…

Now, just for clarity for my foreign reader(s), Perth is in, well, Perth is in Perth. Surfer’s Paradise is in Queensland. This is the opposite end of the country. This is literally, actually, like someone in London saying “just a moment, I’ve found a Russian speaker in our Moscow branch. I’ll just transfer you.” That’s the distance involved here.

Stage 4: “Surfers”

So we get transferred to “Surfers” and this time we don’t get cut off. A moment later a youngish-sounding woman answers the phone.

  • Her: Hello, this is M [<-Japanese name] speaking, do you need a Japanese speaker?
  • Me: Yes I do, my colleague Miss P needs to ask some questions and it would be much easier for her if she can do it in Japanese. Are you the interpreter.
  • Her: Yes I am, please put her on the line
  • Miss P: もしもし、Mと申します。よろしくお願いします

The conversation proceeds as I write this. Miss M had a Japanese accent mixed with ‘Strayan, a phenomenon that is extremely funny. She must have lived in “Surfers” for quite a while. And so, international communication was able to proceed smoothly …

How good is that service?

On a related note, my ‘Strayan is sometimes hard for my students to understand. The other day, while speaking to my Chinese student, who is doing a dynamic model of HIV epidemiology in China but is concerned she has overestimated the price of needle syringe programs, we had the following exchange:

  • Me: Are you using the retail price of needles?
  • Her: Um…
  • Me: ???
  • Her: What do you mean “retile”?
  • Me: [putting on my international accent] Oh, “retale” means an object sold through a normal shop, not like through a big warehouse
  • Her: Oh, you mean “retail!” Oh yes, I’m using the retail price, but even if I …

If I influence someone’s english long enough, they’ll even pick up the lilt… “I’m goin’ to the hospital to die…”