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Accent on Success -- Writer's Poke #349

Dan Rather hid his, but when he had to spend hours on TV covering an election or some other big news story, it would sometimes come to the surface. He was from Texas, you see, but since the CBS nightly news broadcast to the entire United States, his regional accent had to go.

I’m not sure that there is an “American accent,” as the television age certainly greatly contributed to the weakening of the regional voice. Nevertheless, when I moved to Minnesota, people recognized that I wasn’t a native to the state, but most weren’t very good at guessing where I was from. It made me chorkle when some guessed I was from Texas. Texas? Not bloody likely. 

When we’re calling customer service to help us with our problems, we want to be able to understand the person on the other end of the line; however, I find it humorous that Indians are being trained to speak with an American (or Canadian) accent. According to Thomas Friedman, Indians working at call centers develop “self-confidence.” Now, I think Friedman is suggesting that the job gives the Indian worker self-confidence, but it troubles me to think about the supplemental point he chooses not to focus on: Indians gain self-confidence through a loss of identity. If these customer service agents do their job optimally, then the customer will never know that they are speaking to someone from halfway around the world. In fact, although Friedman doesn’t mention this, Indians not only learn to hide their accents, but they are also provided with suitable names. Thus, Vikram, for purposes of making the customer feel more at ease, becomes Victor – or more probably, something even simpler, like Bob.

It’s the continued generalization of the world at work here. Yes, I can understand why Indians appreciate call center jobs. They pay well for the region, and they give the workers opportunities to continue their education. Friedman even suggests that they give female employees leverage when it comes to deciding who to pick as a mate. 

Is the opportunity to “transform a life” worth transforming, or losing, one’s identity? 

“Accent your positive, and delete your negative.” – Donna Karan


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