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India, Inc.
Outsourcing American jobs has heavy psychic costs -- to me, for one. I was a paid guest two times on the now-aborted Jesse Ventura show, debating him on SUVs and smoking bans. One show was shot here in Hollywood; I was flown to Minneapolis for the other. Enroute to the Minneapolis show, I made the mistake of eating a hamburger at the airport. The hamburger, actually, wasn't that bad. It cost me $6.49. The very sweet young production coordinator offered to reimburse me. I gave him the receipt, and sometime later, received a check for the princessly sum of $6.49 -- which probably cost NBC $25 to process. Well, maybe they'll be just as kind in picking up my ensuing mental hospitalization costs, too.

A few days ago, I got a 1099 form in the mail, from NBC, for $6.49, made out to Amy Azicon instead of Amy Alkon. It had my social security number, but was sent to my home address (where the car picked me up for the show, but where I only get junk mail) instead of to my mailing address. Problem -- the $6.49 wasn't work income. I would have just lived with being taxed for it, except I was worried about a possible IRS mess-up, thanks to the misspelled name and the address that doesn't match the address on my taxes.

I called the number on the top of the 1099 that says "QUESTIONS: 1-212-664-4444." Cleverly, they put on the main number of NBC in New York, not the number of anybody who has anything to do with correcting wrong 1099s. After much "push one if you'd like to be executed immediately; press two if you prefer extended torture," I finally got transferred to accounts payable, and was promptly ordered to dial 1-866-665-7340. This, most charmingly, got me connected to a lady on the lower east side of Calcutta. The phone conversation started like this:

INDIAN WOMAN: Hello.

ME: Hello, I have a problem with my 1099.

INDIAN WOMAN: Hello.

ME: Yes, hello, I have a problem with my 1099.

INDIAN WOMAN: Hello.

ME: No, no, no...this is not going well. This is the part of the conversation where you're supposed to say, "Hi, but I'm the wrong person," or "I'm the right person, and how can I help you?"...something, anything...please speak!

The conversation only degenerated from there. Highlights included my assisting her in spelling my proper street address. PIER Avenue. And the "avenue" part wasn't the problem. I'm not making this up. It took five minute to get P-I-E-R on the page. P. Is for Paul. Extended waiting period. And so on. And then she read back that it was P...for Beer! And so on. Arrrrrrgh!

Ultimately, I called NBC in New York to complain. After being shuffled from wrong person to wrong person, I finally get some help from a really cool woman in accounting with a New York accent (what a relief). She's sharp, and on-the-ball, and she calls me twice -- the second time to give me the number of the guy in accounting who might be responsible for the Calcutta employees. He's going to get an earfull tomorrow -- from me -- about how she's the kind of person NBC should be hiring to do the jobs now being outsourced to India.

Is NBC really saving money on this? (Don't answer that too fast -- not without tabulating the costs of my electroshock therapy, six months of institutionalization, and a Christian Dior strait jacket with matching bed restraints.)


UPDATE: At 7:30am, Pacific Time, I was awakened by another limited-English lady from India.

LADY FROM INDIA: W.G. (who is lucky I am not mentioning his full name) sent me an email saying you have the wrong address. Your address is 1099?

ME: No! No! My address is not 1099. (I start to tell her my address, then stop). It's a wrong 1099 form! And you know what? I'm not going to talk to you about this. I'm going to call W.G. and he's going to deal with this!

I call W.G. at NBC and leave an enraged message, noting that I've just been visiting a friend in New York who has been in a coma, and kind of needed to catch up on my sleep -- a rather difficult endeavor, when non-English-speaking Indian ladies are calling me to not resolve my problem at 7:30 am Pacific Time!...thanks to NBC's unpatriotic and irritating practice of giving American jobs to people in Calcutta!

Posted by aalkon at February 5, 2004 8:25 AM

Comments

I've had a similar experience, and I feel so nasty complaining about the super-polite Indian call-center people, but the cultural differences are pretty great. But then you can imitate them to great effect afterwards, and that's always an amusing thing.

Posted by: KateCoe at February 6, 2004 7:40 AM

Hear, hear. I thought I was the only one who would rather speak to someone in the US about whatever than to some outsourced country person.

Posted by: Tawanna at February 6, 2004 9:46 AM

The other funny thing is when they use Western-sounding names. I'm pretty sure the Dell service rep I talked to the other week wasn't really named "John."

Posted by: Jim Treacher at February 6, 2004 10:55 AM

As an Indian woman, I am insulted and dissappointed that there are still people in the country that feel this way. You are so closed minded. Isn't it unpatriotic to not support global trade? Mabye we should not sell or buy things from any other country and let our economy sink into recession.

As for you referring to people as "Indian women" -I will inform you that Indian Women have NAMES just like every person on the planet. Would you like it if I called you the "White Lady". No. Because it's disrespectful and you have a real name.

Sravan Kameratt

Posted by: Sravan Kameratt at February 6, 2004 12:56 PM

You can call me "pasty white woman who does not speak Portugese," for all I care, because all of that is true. If you had to call Portugal to speak to somebody to correct something (that took five minutes when I talked to a guy who spoke good English at NBC this morning), and it took eons, and wasn't corrected...wouldn't you think it was stupid to outsource those jobs. Moreover, there's global trade and there's giving away American jobs. That was the latter. Notice the unemployment rate at home? Well, maybe I should make an aggressive attempt to watch the BBC instead of NBC.
--Amy Alkon, Irritating White Bitch

Posted by: Amy Alkon, Irritating White Bitch at February 6, 2004 2:07 PM

PS Neither woman on the phone identified herself by name, and I did not name names when I had them, because these people are not public figures. When the snappy lady from accounting called me, unlike the ladies in India, and when W.G. called me, they didn't start out their conversations "Your address is 1099," but by identifying themselves by name and company. If you are such an advocate of the Indian economy over the American one, that doesn't make you much of a patriot, now does it? Are you yet another one of those people from foreign countries who comes and sucks off America, all the while complaining what a horrid place it is? Luckily, those of us, white or brown or whatever, who aren't humorless, and don't have our heads up where there's a complete lack of sunlight, manage to recognize the merits of this place, and feel compelled to try to support our economy -- by hiring and buying American, when possible.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 6, 2004 2:14 PM

I don't think you can possibly blame "foreign countries" for this problem! It's the business interests in the USA who are so caught up in greed and squeezing every possible cent out of everyone else, that are screwing the rest of the US and the rest of the world.

Posted by: Terry at February 7, 2004 12:55 AM

No, Terry, I blame American companies who outsource American jobs to India. And thanks, Peggy. I may be many things, but a "femalunatic" isn't one of them. Lunatic, however, I'll go with -- although it seems a tad colorless for my taste.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 7, 2004 1:19 AM

Interesting meme.. perhaps the market will sort it out. I know that in the UK, where I exist, I will do no business with companies who outsource to the third world. I have no axe to grind about skin colour/religion/geography but try to base my business to benefit the following in the following order.
Me/ My family/ my friends/ my neighbours/ people in my town/....and on and on until we get to the kiddie thing of 'the universe/somewhere'

The real point is that exporting jobs has a short term benefit, but a long term downside in brand appreciation. I'm for the long term.

But as keynes said, "In the long term we are all dead"

Ho Hum

Posted by: Matthew at February 7, 2004 8:09 AM

Hey Amy,
I have a thick foreign accent and it can take a toll on you. I recently called 411 to ask for a number and the operator transferred me without warning to a Spanish-speaking operator. I started crying. Once in a while, you just freak out and wish you could just blend effortlessly. But I've been on the other end, struggling with a tech support guy with a thick accent on the phone, and boy, this can be tiring.
There was a story on 60 Minutes marvelling at these customer support centers in India and how well their employees can take a British accent or a US accent. But the reporter never once interviewed customers. And you can see it backfire: more and more letters of readers to newspapers and magazines complaining about the same thing than you do - except they're not as funny!

Posted by: Emmanuelle at February 7, 2004 8:18 AM

So you had a bad experience with someone in customer service.....who hasn't? Everyone has a bad experience - however not everyone is so quick to draw the ethnicity card and start waving the flag. By reading your column you would get the impression that everyone in India was incompetent. How insular! Open your eyes - there's a bigger world out there than your "Goddess" Website.

But just for kicks - let's take your logic a step further. Let's not allow ANYONE to take American jobs! All Europeans / Indians / Asians / Mexicans living in our country - take a hike! Next lets shut our borders to all incoming foreigners and save millions of American jobs. What a thrill! Let's call this the 'Goddess Doctrine' - and the premise will be that no one can take a job designated for an American because it's unpatriotic. It's brilliance is only undermined by it's sheer stupidity.

Sravan

Posted by: Sravan Kameratt at February 7, 2004 8:33 AM

Uh, Saravan, you're the one who drew the "ethnicity card." This wasn't about Indians, specifically. It was about a stupid practice -- outsourcing troubleshooting to people who can't speak English -- and these people just happened to be in India. The story would have been the same if they'd been in Yugoslavia or Upper Volta. You're clearly one of those people who sees discrimination in the word "check please" or "excuse me, wrong number." Then there's the sense of humor issue. Perhaps, in coming years, they'll be able to offer you a transplant. As far as the logic of exporting jobs to other countries when there are people who aren't even counted on unemployment lists because they've been unemployed too long in this country -- please tell me how your logic says you're loyal to America? Because it doesn't. See Matthew's response above for the appropriate logic. PS I don't hire illegal aliens. Again, I consider it to be unpatriotic. Any questions?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 7, 2004 9:16 AM

My 'blog' above was not mean't to be funny but rather sarcastic. Aren't you a writer? Funny you can't tell the difference. Mabye we should outsource your column to India.

Posted by: Sravan Kameratt at February 7, 2004 10:13 AM

Oh, I know humorless when I see it. And you're humorless. Maybe we should send you back to India as a trade representative to American companies looking to shaft Americans out of jobs in the name of saving 25 cents.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 7, 2004 10:51 AM

Now we're getting somewhere - I've been trying to get a response like that out of you and it finally worked! You were just waiting to say it. Deport the Indian. Get her out of this country - doesn't belong here. Maybe while we're at it we can deport unstable columnists with short tempers.

Posted by: Sravan Kameratt at February 7, 2004 12:14 PM

Sravan,

Frankly, Amy would probably deport all of the SUV-driving, snotty-kid raising white women, too. Has nothing to do with ethnicity--it has everything to do with attitude. We're all sick of the stupidity that pervades our society, no matter how it's manifested. Politics, religion, education--anything is fair game, including stupid outsourcing of work to people who CAN'T DO THE JOB!!!

Whether the jobs were outsourced to India or some redneck-hicksville town, the point is she had to deal with people not equipped to do the job they were getting paid to do. Yes, we've all had bad experiences with customer service. And will it ever get better if we don't do something about it? At least she has the guts to go up the chain and tell people why their corporate policy sucks and that they should not bother employing people (regardless of where the people are located) if they CAN'T DO THE JOB!!!

I'm pretty certain that if Amy's experience had been that these workers handled her issue quickly and accurately, her post would have said "Wow, why the hell can't we get customer service centers in America that work as well as this Indian call center did?"

As far as keeping work here--duh! Every nation is concerned about creating and maintaining jobs for their people. I'm sure India was glad to get the revenue that was generated through this outsourcing. But if they CAN'T DO THE JOB, then bring the work back over here and find someone who can do it, and quit driving your customers away with crappy, insufficient service.

Of course, this goes back to a huge theme--we are extremely greedy and cosumer-driven, so we constantly look for the lowest price rather than the best quality. We'd rather have more, even if it's crappy, than settle for less of higher quality. Viva Wal-Mart!

Posted by: Peggy C at February 7, 2004 3:59 PM

Actually, I've always noticed that the Indian call center people speak excellent (if accented) English. Don't most educated Indians? Isn't that why the call centers are there and not other countries?

I don't see anything so terrible about outsourcing jobs like these. Illegal immigration is a much bigger problem.

I think part of what's going on here is we're all in bad moods when we have to call customer service in the first place, no matter where it is. The Wall Street Journal had a good article this past week about how being yelled at during the day, all day, affects the home lives of customer service people. I resolved to be nicer.

I'm glad I refrained from yelling or even snapping at the Arrowhead customer service people yesterday, for instance, because of bad service. I'm just cancelling Arrowhead instead.

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at February 7, 2004 4:45 PM

Sravan, once again, you find racism where there is none -- as you did initially, with your silly notion that I was somehow being anything other than descriptive of the person I was speaking to -- ie, a person of feminine persuasion located in India. What do you suggest I call the person: Madame de Stael? Lauren Bacall? Person of feminine persuasion who didn't give her name with a telephone job in a country on the other side of the globe populated by many Indian citizens? Because you are desperately seeking racism, much like a pig hunting truffles, you see some kind of racial hatred there. Ridiculous. What do you do, google "India" every day, and hop on blogs accusing people of being hideous racial haters? I've never seen you post here until this day -- so that is quite possible. Moreover, I didn't actually say "deport" you (naturally, you were salivating with glee as you interpreted that way, bien sur) -- I was actually imagining some sort of emissarial employment in an area where, if your posts sniffing at the outsourcing are any indication, you appear to excel - promoting giving American jobs to people in other countries. Your posts certainly don't reflect a lot of concern for improving the American economy (something of great concern to me). I'm all for being global -- assisting Africa in stemming the tide of AIDS, for example -- but there are many, many people out of work in this country -- many of whom are no longer on the unemployment rolls because they've been out of work so long. Moreover, you seem to think I should be quite placid about spending an hour and a half of my time fighting to get a tiny error on my 1099 corrected simply because NBC penny-wise and pound-foolishly hires accounting troubleshooters who are unable to communicate with their employees with accounting issues. Check this out: I had an error in my 1099 from the Ventura County paper, and it took about 30 seconds to correct, when I called and spoke to a rather pleasant lady with a rather extensive command of English in the accounting department at that paper. Vive la difference. Your last post shows, as I've suspected, that you have merely been seeking to foment racism where there is none. If you're looking for it in me, you're going to come up way empty. In fact, I break racism down to the biological level, and often say that it just doesn't make rational sense to have disdain for people because they have more or less melanin in their skin. Why don't you go ferret out some real racism? There's plenty out there. Your posts here attacking me for being racist because I generically referred to somebody as "Indian Woman" show you to be mean-spirited, humorless, and quite frankly, somewhat dim. Oh, and I'll spell it out to help you: this not an attack on you racially, but you personally. Silly woman!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 7, 2004 8:04 PM

Sravan Kameratt: "Now we're getting somewhere - I've been trying to get a response like that out of you and it finally worked! You were just waiting to say it. Deport the Indian. Get her out of this country - doesn't belong here."

Sorry, Sravan, but in your gleeful anticipation of finding a racist, you have misquoted. Amy did not say "Deport the Indian" or anything remotely like it.

She suggested sending you back to India as a trade representative. To the best of my knowledge, deportees are barred from returning to this country until such time as their transfer to the States is legal. A trade representative who is sent to India can come and go as she pleases where the States are concerned. Far from suggesting your deportation, she actually suggested you travel there WITH A JOB FROM THE STATES, NO LESS!

I'm with Amy on this one. You are obviously scouring the net looking for signs of racism. In fact, you just admitted it with your comment "I've been trying to get a response like that out of you..." followed by your willful misinterpretation of what was actually said.

I'm sorry to hear that your experiences have made you bitter. I understand how that can happen. In light of the increasing anti-Muslim sentiment in this country -- and the fact that Mr. Red and Ms. Neck don't usually make a distinction between Muslims and Hindus, Middle Easterners and dwellers of the Indian Subcontinent -- some of the less enlightened hoi-polloi can make your living experiences difficult.

I would suggest you either work past your anger or find a more constructive use for it. Picking fights on the net where no fight is to be had is not a viable solution.

Posted by: Patrick at February 8, 2004 7:41 AM

Advice for the advice goddess: the problem with a pissing match is it's impossible to have one without getting wet.

Corollary my Grandma used to say: "Stirrin' up shit just makes it smell worse."

Posted by: tom at February 8, 2004 9:50 AM

well, according to the current administration, outsourcing jobs to 3d world countries is GOOD for our economy. From the Seattle Times:

Tuesday, February 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Bush report: Sending jobs overseas helps U.S.

By Seattle Times wire services


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WASHINGTON The movement of American factory jobs and white-collar work to other countries is part of a positive transformation that will enrich the U.S. economy over time, even if it causes short-term pain and dislocation, the Bush administration said yesterday.

The embrace of foreign "outsourcing," an accelerating trend that has contributed to U.S. job losses in recent years and has become an issue in the 2004 elections, is contained in the president's annual report to Congress on the U.S. economy.

"Outsourcing is just a new way of doing international trade," said N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, which prepared the report. "More things are tradable than were tradable in the past. And that's a good thing."

Posted by: regina at February 10, 2004 7:17 PM

Tell that to the Americans whose jobs got traded. And come on -- not exactly an impartial source. Moreover, part of the problem is hiring people who can't do the job -- at least in this case. America Online is smarter about their Indian tech support hires. But for a twinge of an Indian accent, they seem quite capable of doing the job. NBC forgot, it seems, to make speaking the language of the people calling with problems a requirement for those they hire.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 10, 2004 7:50 PM

And I'm just so sure that the jobs were "outsourced" just for the benefit of our economy. Why, of course. Mr. Multi-billionaire CEO just sent his jobs overseas where his employees can work 20 hours a day at 14 cents an hour just for the good of our economy.

Riiiiiight.

Posted by: Patrick at February 11, 2004 2:08 PM

Going back to your 1099 problem. It was for only $6.49? Companies are only required to send them out for total amounts over $600. By sending out 1099s for lesser amounts, they are just creating more work for themselves.

Good luck getting this worked out. As far as the name/address mix up, the IRS would still go by the SSN. The IRS would probably kick the 1099 back to NBC and tell them the name & SSN don't match.

Posted by: RickySuerte at February 12, 2004 9:19 AM

The U.S. joblessness report for February 2004 stunned
observers and investors alike - instead of creating
the forecasted 125,000 new jobs, the entire U.S.
economy only managed to produce 21,000 additional
jobs. That left the 'official' unemployment rate
steady at 5.6 per cent - I say 'official', because
those people who've simply given up looking for
jobs are dropped from the 'official' count, and in
many areas no jobs exist once a big plant closes
and moves overseas [ergo, there are soon 'no j
jobseekers' there!].

What with downsizing, jobs being sent off-shore,
a ho-hum economic recovery, plant closings and
layoffs, I thought some good folks here might
benefit from the results of my own diligent search,
and applied research, on this topic:

'What Color Is Your Parachute' Site, this
book has got to be the 'Bible' for all
serious job hunters!:
http://www.jobhuntersbible.com/

'Quintessential Job Hunt' Site. 'Search jobs!
Post a Resume!' Well, they're enthusiastic, anyway...
http://www.quintcareers.com/jobhunt.html

These guys are good! An executive I know had just
about given up when they took him on, got him
a job interview with a large company president
and a solid job offer - all in two days!
http://www.johnwhitleystrategicconsulting.com

Monster of a job site! Great resource:
http://english.monster.ca/geo/siteselection.asp

Its Canadian 'twin'...
http://www.workopolis.com/index.html

The Riley Guide: Employment Opportunities and
Job Resources on the Internet
http://www.rileyguide.com/

Job-Hunt.org 'Online Job Search Guide...your
objective source of the Web's Best Job Search
Resources http://www.job-hunt.org/

RiteSite Executive Careers Service - looks
pretty helpful, if you're searching via the Net...
http://www.ritesite.com

And if YOUR job hasn't gone to India or China
yet, don't be surprised to find out that it's been
secretly packing its bags - 14 million more U.S.
technical, professional and managerial jobs are
now estimated to be at risk of 'off-shore downsizing'!

Posted by: Peter Atkinson at March 13, 2004 10:43 PM