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Operator from India

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"You have reached the Operator From India page. My name is Tom. How may I be helping you today?"

A Race Trope, where phone calls are redirected to outsourced operators in far-away countries. Expect the problems other native speakers encounter with foreign accents (and overuse of the Military Alphabet so both parties can understand each other) to be comedy fodder. it doesn't have to be India, but it usually is.

One aspect of it might be using a stereotypical "English" name, when you can probably guess that they don't have an English name. They do this in part to make it seem less like they've routed your call outside the country and in part because you're not likely to be able to pronounce their real name.

While this is a relatively recent thing (almost unheard of before the 2000s), the trope is now firmly established as Truth in Television. For English speakers, the most common call center locations are in India (and other parts of the former British Raj), but the Philippines have also become more common, particularly for American callers, as the Philippines were an American colony rather than a British one. Other languages will have their own "ex-colonial" locations for their call centers (e.g. Algeria for Francophones). The trope often relies on quirky and incomprehensible accents, but modern-day call centers tend to have well-trained speakers — people have been learning proper English in India and the Philippines for over a century now (using the accents of their former colonial masters — hence Indians for the UK, and Filipinos for the US), and the only way you can really pick up on their real location is if you recognize the odd turns of phrase that have infiltrated English in these places over the years. And as they get better, they get more expensive, so the really cheap companies might move their tech support to Eastern Europe or wherever.

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Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • Discover's commercials mock this phenomenon with a bearded male phone operator with a heavy (seemingly Eastern European) accent, in what appears to be Siberia, calling himself "Peggy".

    Audio Play 
  • In the Big Finish audioplay Fall to Earth, Ianto is trapped on a privately-owned Space Plane that has suffered a calamity and is falling to Earth. Unable to reach anyone else at Torchwood, Ianto suddenly gets a call offering him health insurance. Deciding to keep the Middle Eastern-sounding woman on the phone, he readily agrees to any terms and even gives her his credit card number (it's not like Torchwood is short on money). The entire audioplay involves Ianto chatting with Zeynep, a call center woman in Izmir, Turkey, while trying to figure out how to bring the craft safely down. It turns out the call was no accident, as whoever was behind the sabotage (probably the Committee) wants the building Zeynep is in to be destroyed as well, so the falling craft is actually homing in on Zeynep's headset signal. Fortunately, while the craft does crash into the building, Zeynep has managed to evacuate everyone and has run out of the building just in time, while Ianto finds a parachute and ejects. Zeynep is happy to survive but refuses to meet Ianto for a proper thank you, telling him to call her instead.

    Film 
  • Transformers: a distress call from a US Army soldier in Qatar is redirected to a disinterested Indian operator. According to director Michael Bay, this was based on a true story, presumably minus the giant robot attack.
    Capt. William Lennox: This is an emergency Pentagon call! The Pentagon, do you understand—?
    [the window behind him explodes]
    Lennox: I DON'T HAVE A CREDIT CARD!
    Operator: [bored] Sir, the attitude is not going to speed things up any bit at all. I'm going to ask you to speak very clearly into the mouthpiece...
    Lennox: I'm in the middle of a war! This is FRIGGIN' RIDICULOUS!!
  • In Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal gets an internship at one of these places. The workers are supposed to pretend to be British, and are even briefed on British soap operas to maintain their guise. Jamal isn't actually in charge of the phones — he's just a lowly chai wallah — but he does take a call when no one's looking and pretends to be British, rather unsuccessfully:
    Jamal: I live near Loch... Big... Ben. Loch Big Ben.
  • The Other End Of The Line is a romantic comedy where a woman with this job falls in love with an American customer she first contacted about... well, it was something about identity theft, but that was just to get the plot rolling.
  • In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Andy calls customer support for Viagra-like drug after having an erection for more than four hours. Of course, he never actually took the drug.
  • Outsourced, both the film and the TV show, feature these call centers.
  • "Gregory" from Horrible Bosses. The guys make a game effort at calling him by his real name, but find it unpronounceable.
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    Literature 
  • The novel One Night @ the Call Centre by Chetan Bhagat is a partial inversion of this trope, being told from the perspective of Indian call centre workers and going into some detail about how frustrating they find their customers.
  • The novel Bangalore Calling by Brinda Narayan digs into the inner workings of a call center in Bangalore and the inner lives of some of its employees. It attempts to examine the sociological and psychological effects of call center employees having to shrug off their real culture and appropriate a different one.

     Live Action TV  
  • Several Work Coms are based in call centers like this, among them Hello Mumbai, Mumbai Calling, and Outsourced (along with the feature film it's based on).
  • An episode of Zoey 101 had Chase and Zoey trying to communicate by webcam across the Atlantic — the picture fizzes out, and they have to call tech support. The guy on the line is clearly an Indian by his accent, and he has no tolerance for fools — which Chase most definitely is.
  • On Reno 911!, the Sheriff's Department outsources 911 to India, with predictable results.
  • An early episode of The Colbert Report episode used this to illustrate outsourcing. Stephen was flattered that they put his call "all the way through to India", probably because he's a celebrity.
    Tech Support: Am I speaking to Mr Col-burt?
    Stephen: ...Close enough.
  • An episode of The Daily Show also poked fun at this by having Aasif Mandvi interrupt his "live" report from India to take someone's tech support call on his cell phone, while claiming to be an American named "Chandler". He then excuses himself to Jon by claiming this is an "Indian custom".
  • On The Suite Life on Deck, Zack and Cody go to the top of an Indian mountain hoping to meet a religious man who can help Cody reach nirvana. They discover that the so-called "religious man" actually runs a technical-support center for computers... the same one that Mr. Moesby has been trying to contact so that he can fix his computer.
  • In the Life episode "Hit Me Baby", Crews gets tech support for his Bluetooth from an operator in India (though she refuses to disclose her location), and he ends up calling her back during his latest case to bounce ideas off her.
  • Australian sketch show The Wedge has a recurring sketch set in an Indian call centre.
  • Comedy Inc: In a sketch, an operator pretends to be an thick accented Indian to avoid having to actually help the person calling.
  • An episode of My Name Is Earl involves a man who does not have much of a real-world social life but does have a very rich online social life, which included Skype dinner dates with a woman in India... while she was at work for her tech support company. She even takes a tech support call while she's at his funeral!
  • In the curry episode of Good Eats, Alton Brown is trying to prove that curry is not really Indian cuisine. So, he calls the customer service number on his credit card, and asks "Bob" in India about where the best place to get curry in Delhi is. "Bob" replies that he has no idea what Alton is talking about. In the same episode, while explaining the history of what we know today as curry powder, India is represented as a prince wearing a phone headset.
  • The Big Bang Theory usually makes jokes about this involving Raj:
    • When the guys are designing an App for the iPhone, Sheldon appoints Raj to be their support line operator (and instructs him to answer as "Steve from Wichita") to invoke this image and make customers believe that they are a much larger corporation that can afford to use overseas call centers. Raj calls him out for this, but does admit that it's a clever ploy.
    • In one episode, Howard claims that in "Indian Monopoly" call centers are built instead of hotels. He immediately apologizes to Raj for the racism.
    • In another episode, Raj mentions a cousin back in India who works in a call center and goes by "Dave".
    • In another episode, Raj says he's going to use an American accent the next time he has to speak with a call center in India, as he feels like he's mocking them when using his normal voice.
    • In yet another episode, Howard is forced to call a tech support line and laments that he will be speaking to a foreigner reading from the same manual as him. Cue Raj's phone ringing from across the room.
      Raj: That's my father, you jerks!
  • On Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza, during a game of "Question This" (aka Brand X Jeopardy!), Wayne Brady plays a contestant with an Indian accent and an incomprehensible last name. He gets a call in the middle of introducing himself, and immediately switches to a white American accent to answer the phone as "Bryce". He goes back to the Indian accent once the call is finished.
  • Parodied on Comedy Inc. The Late Shift, where an Indian woman gets increasingly frustrated with an operator from Australia pretending to be Indian and not doing a convincing job.
  • Parodied in an episode of The IT Crowd: Jen is having problems with her new laptop, but Roy and Moss are currently out of the office and she's forced to call the laptop's manufacturer's customer support number. She gets directed to a worker who speaks in an extremely incomprehensible French accent.
  • Saturday Night Live subverts this with host Kumail Nanjiani as the only Indian operator in an American call center. This isolated environment leads him to strike up a friendship with an equally lonely foreign woman. After she learns of how he's being treated at his workplace, she arrives in person just to tell them off. The twist? She's Melania Trump.

     Stand Up Comedy  
  • One sketch on Late Night had Andy Blitz attempting to fix his computer with the help of an Indian telephone IT technician... and traveling to India with his computer (in Real Life!) to pester her.
  • Robin Williams has a routine about how he got to one after breaking through the For Inconvenience, Press "1" maze. The operator calls himself "Thomas Edison", and when Robin threatens him, he replies, "Don't fuck with me, Mork, I know who you are!"
  • Discussed in a Jeff Dunham bit where he tells Peanut about how it's more correct to refer to American Indians as "Native Americans". Peanut then says that it's better than trying to tell if "Indian" refers to people who chant and own casinos or people who say, "Thank you for calling customer support!"

     Video Games  
  • In Destroy All Humans! 2, it turns out that even the Furons have outsourced their customer service to India, as Crypto finds out the hard way when he's trying to fix a powerful new superweapon he's found.

     Web Animation  
  • Parodied by Homestar Runner in the Strong Bad Email "isp", where Homestar acts as the tech support for Strong Bad's ISP, and one of the stock phrases Homestar parrots is, "No, I'm not in India."
  • Neurotically Yours: One of the reoccurring characters is an Indian tech support operator, until he's fired and becomes a... less than helpful suicide hotline operator. His cure for all depression is "Just shut the fuck up!"
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • In season five, Sarge attempts to contact Vic while Simmons is exploring the cavern. When Simmons gets too close to Vic's control console, Vic hurriedly hangs up. Sarge thinks this trope is about to kick in and asks not to be transferred to India.
    • In a similar vein, a Season 11 PSA about the NSA reveals that when Sarge calls tech support, he ends up getting their Spanish-speaking teammate Lopez. Sarge genuinely thought he was talking to someone named Tim from Ohio.

     Web Original  

    Webcomics 
  • The plot of Broken Telephone is kicked off when a woman working in a call center in India overhears a gunshot on one of her calls. She then has to try to solve a murder from half a world away.

     Western Animation  
  • The Simpsons: Apu's cousin in India makes his living as an operator for several American companies, each with a matching American accent.
  • In the Drawn Together episode "Toot Goes Bollywood", we are introduced to the king of India. When we first see him, sitting on his throne in full regal regalia, he is wearing a headset and in the middle of taking a tech support call.
  • In Frisky Dingo, Killface gets redirected to one of these when trying to contact his health insurance company, where the operator "shrieks" at him, "terminates" the call, and then gets praised by his supervisor.
  • Monkey Dust has a sketch where a woman phones her bank and is answered by an operator in India who pretends to be the bank manager in Britain. She complains that the bank is too large and impersonal, and asks to close her account so she can move her money to a small, Scottish-run building society. She calls the building society — and then another operator in the same Indian call centre answers, doing a very bad impersonation of a Scottish accent.
  • Family Guy,
    • One episode demonstrates how bad crime has gotten in Quahog by showing the bullies in Chris's school outsourcing their bullying to Indian tech support workers. One tells Chris to give himself a wedgie.
    • In "Road to India", Brian falls in love with a tech-support worker and spends long periods of time using the tech support chat option just so he can talk to her. Things become complicated when Brian goes to India to meet this woman and Stewie tags along.
  • In the American Dad! episode "Four Little Words", Francine runs away to India and is seen working with a computer and headset. "Thank you for calling Apple tech support."
  • In the eighth season South Park episode "Grounded Vindaloop", Cartman calls Oculus Rift's tech support and gets a guy at an Indian call center calling himself Steve, who tells him that he's trapped in a VR state. Cartman tries to convince Stan and Kyle that they're also stuck in the VR world, while they try to convince him that This Is Reality. It ends with "Steve" calling customer service himself and getting a VR version of himself at the other end, then convincing that version to call customer service and create an infinite loop — or rather, a customer service "Vindaloop".

     Real Life  
  • If Indian (and Pakistani) call centers are for the UK and US, and Filipino call centers are also for the US, who does Australia get? Typically, they get Indians and Filipinos trained to sound Aussie. It works; they sound exactly as if they've been trained to sound Aussie.
  • Foreign call centers make outgoing telemarketer calls as well. There's a particularly insidious version where someone from India (or pretending to sound like it) pretends to be from Microsoft, the phone company, the police, debt collectors, tax authorities, you name it and tries to trick you into giving them your password or account details (don't ever say your password out loud — no reputable entity will ever ask you to do it). People have been so used to being redirected out of the country that it sounds more genuine when incoming calls come from outside the country as well.
  • Some companies tout that they don't do this, putting all their call centers within the country. Then they staff them with immigrants from India or the Philippines.
  • Many tech companies are stocked with well-trained and technically savvy Indians, so in some cases, the tech support in based locally, but if you need an expert they'll route you to India. This also means that Indians calling for tech support might be routed to America, to them populated by ignorant foreigners with funny accents.
  • Non-English speakers naturally will have an operator somewhere other than India, and different languages all have their own foreign countries that serve this trope just as well:
    • In Spain, you'll get an Operator from Latin America. Meanwhile, in Latin America itself it's usually an Operator from the Dominican Republic (who can usually speak English as well and do double-duty for US callers).
    • In Francophone regions (France, French-speaking Belgium, Quebec, etc.), you'll get an Operator from North Africa (usually Algeria).
    • In Germany, you'll get an Operator from Turkey or perhaps Bosnia.
    • In Japan and South Korea, you'll get an Operator from China. Heck, if you speak Chinese outside of China (e.g. Chinese populations in the U.S., Australia, Singapore, Malaysia), you'll get an Operator from China. These guys have also been known to target the Chinese-speaking diaspora with incessant telemarketing and occasional scams (now pretending to be from the notoriously bureaucratic and hardline PRC government).
    • In certain parts of Europe, you'll get an Operator from Portugal.


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