The other day I ended up calling an institute for horse insemination, a company that makes its money with buying ( or creating?) and selling horse sperm. I asked them whether they send their parcels via express and yes they did. When I called the second time to speak to the shipment person, the secretary on the phone ( I could hear) shouted through their whole office ” there’s a woman on the phone from London and she’s asking about the shipment of horse sperm”. By the time I got to the person I wanted to speak to we were all crying with laughter. Sometimes it’s difficult to stay serious when I hear instructions on an answering machine on how to acquire pig sperm when the office is closed or when someone has such a lovely Austrian accent that it transports me back to my happy little Austrian past as a child.

It’s a call centre market research job I’m talking about.

I’ve started to write down random words that I find funny on pieces of paper and surrounding myself and my colleagues with them. Maulwurfshaut and Steirerfleisch… I think the second one came to me when I called a meat factory and they were called Steirerfleisch… as in “meat from Styria” … They didn’t send any international express but we all had a great laugh on the phone.

The other day I asked the more successful people in my group how they’re doing it and it seems they use a different technique… they pretty much beg the people on the phone to take part and give them the feeling that they’re doing them a great favour by doing it. I did consider trying that but, to be honest, I don’t care about the project really… the companies that pay money to have this research done are not companies I care about so whether or not they get the info… whatever… but I’m interested in the stranger at the other end.

As this interview takes a good 30 minutes it’s difficult to get people on board. When people say yes it feels like a horror both the interviewee and I go through together hand in hand … I bond with the stranger at the other end of the line and when the interview is finished we’re both just happy we’ve done it. Sometimes people tell me they wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for my likable voice and of course it’s wonderful to hear that.

Some others get negative reactions.. I’ve only had someone shout at me once.. and one time when I’d just finished an interview and forgot to put down the phone, and the other person forgot to put it down too I heard how the Austrian stranger sang the forbidden second verse of the German anthem. I was shocked. It was really unexpected. And once someone ended up giving me their busines details because they were convinced I’d be a “pretty” person who would be able to sell their product in England. It’s very interesting how much voice conveys.. how it makes people assume things but they don’t even know they’re assumptions.. to them it feels totally true … as if they’d sat in front of me and had seen me in person.

When I’m on the phone I can be anyone. I mean… I choose to be myself, which seems rather peculiar in a job like this where you depend on the other person saying yes. It’s a bit like a sales job of course, yes. Sometimes I like the idea that the 30 minutes I spoke to them improved their day… I can imagine how they drive on the motorway thinking about this odd conversation they had today over the phone. Sometimes when people aren’t sure why they should take part I tell them that one doesn’t get the chance to talk to a total stranger in London every day…I imagine how while they’re sitting at home in Bavaria eating their Leberwurstbrot for Abendbrot they tell their partner about the unexpected laughs they had from an annoying survey call.

Is it narcissistic to think that these strangers will think of me? I wonder….. probably.

The other day I popped to a supermarket on my break and found a cushion there.. in the shape of a big mackerel. I needed this mackerel and it’s now become a part of my and my partner’s life. Downstairs when we walk into the office there is a thermometer attached to the wall, which everyone holds their heads close to to have their temperature taken… when I brought back the fish I held it against it…. it had no temperature… Poor mackerel.