February 20, 2006

Culture Shock

When I moved to Berkeley in the mid 1980's from London, I called Pacific Bell to order a new phone and phone line for the apartment I moved into in downtown Berkeley. Within ten minutes I had a firm time for the next day when the phone line would be installed, I was given a choice of several numbers to use for this line, and I was told the bill would arrive within a few weeks. The next day I had a working phone and phone line.

In London, when I moved to my then-new place a year earlier, I had to order the new phone and phone line from British Telecom six weeks in advance, paying an advance deposit of £150; I was told I would not be told what number I would be getting until after the phone was installed (in fact I was asked why I needed to know); and that I had to be there the entire day of the installation (with no indication of even which half of the day the installer might turn up...). When finally installed (a week late, on a day's notice...), the phone did not of course work; it took me more than another four weeks to get them back out to fix it. At one stage when I got exasperated and asked why it would take so long to get a working phone line, the phone worker just looked at me as though I were a little dim and said that since London's phone system was the oldest and most complex in the world -- all Britons seem to know that Britain invented the phone, along with television and computers, and every Londoner "knows" that London is the biggest and most complex city in the world -- things like this were inevitable, weren't they?


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