Last night when the phone rang, my wife checked the caller ID before she handed it to me. "Something from Minnesota?" She gave me a puzzled look as I made up my own mind about taking the call. It was past eight o'clock at night, and the people I know in Minnesota are the responsible type who would be in bed at that hour, given their time zone. When we do get wrong numbers, they are invariably for the Chinese take-out place that has a number one digit away from ours. I had finished my late-evening commitments and knew that I had some time to kill before it was time to tuck myself and my little family into bed, so I pressed the green button to answer.
"Hello!" I enthused, expecting to hear a recorded announcement on the other end.
Instead, I was met with, "Hello, may I please speak to the person who is over eighteen who has had the most recent barthday?" Her accent was not too thick, but I could tell from the question that it was supposed to randomly generate a response from within my household.
I lied. "Yesterday was my birthday!"
What happened next was a lengthy and laborious survey about my preferences and opinions about major retail chains. I was asked to rate various aspects of my experience at drug stores, appliance outlets, and convenience stores, all with that challenge of a second-language delivery. Guadalupe, as she told me her name was, worked through the intermittent substitutions of "B" for "V" as well as a number of words that do not come trippingly off my English-speaking tongue: procedural, accommodation, for example. Through it all, I listened patiently and marveled at her patience. Not with me, but with the seemingly endless script that she was asked to read from start to finish. I was enthralled by the effort she put into her job, and thought about all those English Language Learners I teach all the vague and incomprehensible rules for pronunciation compared to the much more pleasant and carefully defined sounds of Spanish.
When it was all over, Gudalulpe thanked me for my time, and I told her how much I appreciated hers. I'm sure the next one will be easier. I wondered how she got the job in the first place. Given that the call came from Minnesota, I suppose she was probably Canadian.