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Operator?  Operator?

July 31, 2012

Our cottage, wild and primitive though it may be, has a vacuum cleaner 6 on the premises: a fine but exceedingly ancient Filter Queen.  We bought it for a song at a second hand store many years ago.

It is my job, as The Husband, to do the vacuuming.  I sometimes think that any woman reading this would say, “Wow!  I wish that I had a husband like that!”  But then I reflect that the vacuum is, after all, a machine, and many men are quite interested in machines, so quite possibly running a vacuum is The Husband’s job in many more households than ours.

Also, if the machine breaks down, figuring out the cause of the trouble, and attending to its repair, are things that people like me are quite comfortable attending to.  I can have wheels and cogs and wires spread out on the dining room table in a flash.

But I digress.

One of the things that must be attended to when opening up a cottage after a long winter is, of course, vacuuming.  There are cobwebs by the hundreds, dead insects, plus all the dirt that is tracked in as we arrive (and as certain people run in and out of the place trying to get the water running).

So, shortly after we got here, out came the vacuum.

And the carpet-beating attachment didn’t work.  The brush inside it wasn’t rotating.

the carpet-beating attachment to a 'Filter Queen' vacuum cleaner
The carpet-beating attachment
(there’s a rubber band inside)
Which was not the end of the world, because cobwebs and dead insects and hard floors don’t need a carpet-beating attachment to get cleaned up.  Of course, the rug that we do have didn’t get the beating that it deserved.

I knew what was wrong, too.  There is a tight rubber band that allows a small motor to rotate the brush.  Such bands often break after much use.  The problem for me was locating a new one; because Filter Queen is unlikely to operate a replacement parts store anywhere within a day’s journey of this cottage.

But surely there is a general, multi-brand, all-purpose vacuum-cleaner repair shop somewhere close by?

As it happened, a directory of local businesses appeared in my mailbox 7 one day, so I took a look inside.  Yes!  Right in the town of Hawkesbury there is a listing for “J. Frechette - Vacuum Repair/réparations de l’aspirateur” at 123 Main Street. 8  And a telephone number: 819-242-3456. 9

So I went to the phone and dialed the number.  A woman’s voice answered in French.  I panicked and spoke to her in English because nothing she said sounded either like “Frechette” or “aspirateur.”  “Is this the vacuum-cleaner repair store?”  “No it isn’t,” she said, in quite commendable English, “It is the Centre for the Treatment of Auditory Ailments.” 10

“Oh,” I said.  “Would you mind telling me what your phone number is, so that I can dial more correctly next time?”

“No problem, it’s 819-242-9179.” 11

I thanked her, and ended the call, somewhat perplexed because her number and the one that I had dialed were not remotely alike.  It would be very hard for anyone, even someone like me, to mis-dial a number that wildly!

Very very carefully, I dialed 12 again.  819-242-3456.

A couple of rings.  A female voice answers unintelligibly again in French, but there is something familiar about this.  “Frechette réparations?” I asked hopefully?  “No sir,” came the reply in English, “This is still the Auditory Ailment Centre.”

I apologized very profusely, and ended the call.

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What would you do next?

Surely this is a case of crossed wires somewhere in the system!  So, what would you do?

Me?  I dialed “0” for “Operator.”

Please tell me that this is what you would do, too, if your call was being accidentally misdirected?

Here in Québec I expected a click, and a voice that says, “Téléphoniste – Operator.”  Whereupon I would ask him or her to help me place the call.

an antique rotary dial telephone
A ‘dial’ telephone
(is an ‘operator’ as obsolete as this thing?)
Well, it didn’t happen.  Instead a machine came on the line that said, “Bienvenue chez Bell!  Welcome to Bell!  For service in English, press 2.


I listened carefully through all the options that the machine was giving me and none of them went anything like “...for assistance in placing a phone call, press ‘x’.”  I had certainly not pressed “0” in order to discuss TV, or Internet, or Wireless, or my most recent bill.

I finally got to a point in the menu where the machine said that I could press a number and get “technical assistance.”  However, by accepting this option I found that it would not allow me to proceed another step if I did not also enter my cottage telephone number.  I thought, “This is crazy!  A real operator can usually see my number on her screen!”  But I entered it.  I didn’t have much choice.

Keep in mind that all I wished to do was telephone a vacuum cleaner repair store, to see if they had a particular type of rubber band!!!

The next thing I heard (after being mechanically warned that “this call may be monitored for quality assurance and training purposes...”) was hold music.

Uh-oh. 13

Eventually, a click, followed by: “This is Pierre; how may I help you today?”

“Hello, Pierre,” I said, “All I did was dial ‘0’ for ‘Operator,’ because there seem to be some crossed wires when I tried to place a call.  I keep getting the same wrong number even though it bears no relation to the number that I was dialing!  Will you give me a hand in placing this call?”

“Oh no, sir, that is not the kind of technical assistance we give here.”

“Well then, can you connect me to a real telephone operator?”

“‘Operator?’  What is that word?”

“In French it is ‘téléphoniste.’  How do I get to one who can help me place a simple call where wires seem to be crossed?”

But Pierre had no concept of an operator, or of calling one to get assistance in dialing a phone number!

So there it is: a Bell Canada employee – at Bell’s help desk, no less – does not actually know what a telephone operator is.  Hello???

Instead, he told me that I should dial “411” (which is directory assistance), for which there would be a $2.50 charge.

Floored, I said some things that I probably shouldn’t have said, and hung up on him.  I drove into Hawkesbury to look for the physical address of the repair store, with results that I will mention in a minute.

The crowning glory came several hours later.  I never mentioned who I am to young Pierre, but as you know I did enter my ten-digit phone number before he came on the line.  Evidently he had access, as a result, to all my contact information.  Thus, although he could not assist me in making a simple call, he was able to send an email to my Manitoba email address!

The email claimed to be from “John Watson, Executive Vice President Customer Operations, Bell Canada,” and it said, “Thank you for your recent call to Bell, at 2:49 PM on 
13 July 2012.  We’d love to hear how we did.” 14  The Vice President then asked me to fill out a short survey about my customer experience with the technician named Pierre Labelle!

Well, I filled it out alright.

Enough said.

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Fixing the Vacuum Cleaner

As you know, not only did the directory give me a telephone number for the vacuum-cleaner repair store – albeit one that didn’t work – it also gave me an address: 123 Main St., in the town of Hawkesbury, only 25 kilometres from here.  So I drove into town after that frustrating exchange with Pierre, and cruised down Main Street looking for Mr. J. Frechette’s store.

But it wasn’t there.  In fact, I couldn’t even find anything with that street number!

Which might explain at least part of the reason why I couldn’t reach it by phone.

But there was a storefront at a different address with the word “Aspirateur” on the sign, and vacuums in the window!  “Best vacuum repair ever!” said a sign in the window (in English!), “Filter Queen models serviced here.”


Pull the door.  Uh-oh.  It was locked.  The place was closed.

However, a list posted in the window stated its normal hours: “Open for business – Monday to Wednesday, 9:30 AM - 4:30 PM.”

I was there on a Friday.  I would have to come back.

I did quite a numer of other errands before returning to the cottage.  The day was not entirely a waste.

On Monday I went back in, and a very nice man repaired the carpet-beater attachment for me while I waited.  He didn’t have the correct rubber band in stock, so he cannibalized one from another used Filter Queen which he happened to have in the store.  If he were to order a new rubber band from the manufacturer, I would need to wait for a week or two, and then drive into town yet again, so this was a real courtesy.

And, he charged very little for the service.

My vacuum works like a charm.

It’s just Bell Canada that doesn’t.

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Next: The Revelation.


6  Readers from British cultures would call the device a “hoover,” but to us, that’s just a brand name for one type of household vacuum cleaner.  Oh yes, and operating the thing is called “vacuuming,” not “hoovering.”  So there.
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7  When I said earlier in this blog that “nothing” was in my mailbox, what I meant, of course, was that nothing with my name and address on it was in there.  It is, after all, a Canada Post mailbox, and therefore crammed with junk mail.  A year’s worth, in fact, when we arrived.
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8  Names and addresses in my little narratives are often fictitious.  “Frechette,” at 123 Main St. is one of them.
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9  Phone numbers are often fictitious too.  Don’t try to dial this one.
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10  This name is fictitious too.
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11  In case you’re wondering, this telephone number is also fictitious.  I think you’re getting my drift, so I’ll stop reminding you now.
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12  The day of the rotary dial on a telephone has long gone, but it’s interesting to note that “dialing” is still the appropriate English word for entering a telephone number into a communication device!
By the way, I said that I would stop reminding you about fictitious things, but I’m not stopping writing footnotes!  I like footnotes.  I always read them myself, and I like to encourage others to read them too!
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13  By now, regular visitors to my personal blog will detect a grave similarity with that horrendous experience that I had with Bell Canada in 2006.  Believe me, the similarity – particularly with the hold music – was frightening.  I expected to be connected to a voice in Calcutta any minute!
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14  Nothing fictional here!  This is the exact text of the email.  It has the precise date and time of my call and the full given name and surname of the guy that I talked to (that name I did fictionalize).  Note that my adventures happened on Friday the Thirteenth.  A mere coincidence.
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