In the space of fifteen years, my husband and I have moved twelve times within three countries and two continents. What I have learned from living in so many different cultures is this one,
universal truth: Utility companies, the world over are assholes.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, I guess. Utility companies are like the popular kids in high school; The prettiest cheerleader and the all-star quarterback. They don’t have to work to be nice to anyone simply by virtue of the fact that they have something we all want. In the case of the vapid cheerleader and the dim football player, it is their natural beauty and physical ability that gives them a free ride through their school years. In the case of the utility companies, well, they simply have something (water, heat, electricity or phone service) that we cannot live without.
This knowledge, this power gives the utility companies free reign to treat the rest of us as if we were all members of the glee club. One call to the utilities and you get the sense that you are being made a complete fool of. The customer service rep speaks from a script saying that they are so sorry for our inconvenience, then covers the mouthpiece on her phone trying half-heartedly to hold in a snort of laughter. Maybe she even puts us on speaker phone to let all her colleague-buddies get a good laugh, too. Calls for help to utility companies are the equivilant to being tripped while carrying a loaded lunch tray in the cafeteria.
For the first 14 months (MONTHS) that we lived in this mildly remote farm house, the quality of our phone lines were so bad that we gave up making phone calls—even home to our families in the States.
This is what my phone call home to my mother on Mother’s Day last year sounded like:
‘Hi Mom, happy Mother’s Day!’
‘Mom? Can you hear me? Happy Mother’s Day!!’
‘Is anyone there?’
‘I WILL CALL YOU FROM THE NEIGHBOR’S HOUSE, MOM—HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!’
Worse than not having phone service was that, because our internet comes through the same line, we had just intermittent use of that, too—at best.
Over the fourteen months, I calculated that I spent, and I am not exaggerating here, at least 40 hours on the phone with the phone company trying to get them to fix our phone lines.
My conversations with British Telecom would go like this:
‘Thank you for choosing BT, how can I help?’
‘Hi there—my phone lines are very bad, I need an engineer to come—‘
‘Hello? Thanks for calling BT, is anyone there?’
‘Yes, I am here!! Can you hear me?’
‘Ah, yes. How can I help?’
‘As you can hear, my phone lines need to be serviced—there is something wrong with th—‘
‘Alright, thanks. If you could hang up I will run a line check to see what the problem is and call you right back.’
‘Oh—Great, thanks, bye.’
‘Hello? I said that I must run a line check—are you still there?’
‘YES! I. WILL. HANG. UP.NOW!!’
2 minutes later…
‘Hello? This is Sara from British Telecom. Is anyone there?’
‘Hello, I’ve done a line check and there doesn’t seem to be a problem.’
‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you—what?’
‘I’ve said that I’ve done a line check and there doesn’t seem to be a fault.’
‘Yes, I hear that, but our system does not show a fault.’
And that’s literally how it went for more than a year. On several occasions, my phone calls with BT brought me to tears.
After fourteen months of infuriating calls and eight different engineers coming out to the house, the phone lines were finally replaced and the phone and internet worked perfectly…for one week.
Then a farmer took down three telephone polls with his tractor and we were out of service for another two weeks, while those were being repaired.
For the past three months, though we have had flawless service. I’ve appreciated every crystal clear moment, and am in the process of repairing my relationship with my mother (after she thought I forgot not only Mother’s Day but her birthday as well).
Then last night our neighbor came over to ask if she could use our computer because her phone line and internet were no longer working. She told me that all should be sorted tomorrow, though—BT had simply given her a new phone number.
‘I’ll give it to you so that you can get a hold of me whenever…’ she trailed off.
‘Great—glad this was fixed so quickly,’ I replied, secretly feeling a bit jealous.
‘It’s 0121 656 120,’ she said
‘No, silly kitten—that’s my number. What is YOUR number?’ I chided her.
She checked her BT document containing her new phone number, ‘Yea—that’s the number they just gave me—that’s my new number.’
So, as it stands now, my neighbor and I are sharing a line.
I would call the phone company to try and straighten things out, but I don’t have the stomach for it-- they've worn me down. I'll just put up with sharing a line until we move...then I'll be in a new country with new utility companies to contend with.