Fun With Telemarketers

After spending five minutes of my life that I'll never get back again trying to politely get rid of a slick-talking dude who'd phoned, intent upon selling me seasons tickets to the opera, I asked my Facebook pals "What's the best way to deal with telemarketers?"
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After spending five minutes of my life that I'll never get back again trying to politely get rid of a slick-talking dude who'd phoned, intent upon selling me seasons tickets to the opera, I asked my Facebook pals "What's the best way to deal with telemarketers?"

I got a wide range of responses.

Many had ideas for dispatching them swiftly:

Hand a 3-year old the phone and tell them it's Santa

Just tell them you don't speak English. In English.

I like to belt out a show tune. "If I Were A Rich Man" is nicely ironic.

Modulate your voice and pretend you're an answering machine.

This is why the Tuba is the best instrument EVER.

Start trying to sell them your car.

Try heavy breathing.

Say that you're broke, unemployed and being evicted.

Ask "Where should I send the invoice for this call? I'm a consultant and I bill for my time."

I ask them to describe what they're wearing. That usually shuts them down, although I'm not sure why.

I always say, "He's here, and I know he'll be very interested in your offer. Hold on a minute while I get him." Then I put the phone in a drawer.

Nuke 'em from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

Some folks take the opportunity to have a little fun:

One of our family hobbies is telling whoppers to telemarketers. My son once told a telemarketer that his mother was having a baby and the house was flooded. He said he was talking to her from the roof, and that he needed to get off the phone to call 911.

I tell them a sob story, then ask them to make a donation to ME.

"Wonderful!," I tell them. "You've called just in time for our Family Reading Time. Then I read them "Goodnight Moon." If they stay till the end, I finish with "Goodnight pesky telemarketer." Click!

I put my toddler on the phone. She loves to chat and is obsessed with the phone. "Hi! Hi! Hi! What's your name? Hi! Hi! Hi! Did you see Frozen?"

Say "Congratulations! You're caller number seven and you've won a free trip to the Bahamas. Just give me your full name, address, phone number and credit card information and I'll make all of the necessary arrangements for my vacation... Sorry, I meant YOUR vacation."

My mother tells them that they're wasting their time because they've reached an assisted living facility where the average age is 93. Which isn't true, although she herself is 93. Who knows? Perhaps fibbing to telemarketers is helping to keep her brain nimble.

An anthropologist friend turns the tables on them by conducting an ethnographic interview. "That's an interesting accent," she'll ask. "Where are you from? And how old are you?" She does whatever she can to draw them out and learn as much as she can about their worldview. Her personal best? She kept one guy on the phone for 45 minutes.

Whenever someone from the Philadelphia Inquirer phones to try to sell me a subscription, I respond with: "My attorney has advised me not to speak to the press. And she's also told me I can beat this rap!" That usually breaks them up.

I like to say, in a hushed voice "What's the best way to bury a body in a crawl space?"

Occasionally more than one person gets into the call-deflecting act:

When telemarketers call my workplace, we put them on hold, then transfer them around the office until they give up.

One company wouldn't stop calling my cell over and over and over, until my husband took the call and began talking to them in fake German gibberish. I remember one phrase was "up-n-chuck-in and flinger-grabbin." I never heard from them again.

Some folks make the encounter short and sweet:

Just say no.

Repeat these magic words: "Take me off your call list."

Turn off the phone. No explanation necessary.

Say "No thanks." Then hang up and block their number.

Another Surprisingly Popular Response? Being Nice.

How to respond? Reach down and get to your tolerant side and exercise it.

"Thanks for the call, but I'm all set. Have a nice day."

If you don't want what they're selling, make it short. Don't waste their time or yours. Someone else might earn them a commission.

I once had to sell office supplies over the phone so I try to remember what a soul-sucking job it can be, the way the boss listens in on your calls and the pressure to make a sale. I just say "No thanks" and feel grateful that I never have to do that job again.

As somebody who did a lot of phone banking when I worked for a state senatorial campaign, I can tell you that these people have the shittiest jobs in the world. The best thing you can do? Just be polite to them.

All joking aside, here's a response that really got to me:

I was a telemarketer. I am also a human being who was just trying to pay my rent. The best way to be a mensch is to say hello and wish them the best of luck. We telemarketers hate what we do too. Please don't humiliate us. I witnessed so many emotional breakdowns through the years by people
who were just trying to put food in their children's mouths. Enough said.

So what do I plan to do going forward? While it's tempting to come up with a sassy putdown or pull out all the stops with a big fat lie, I am, by nature, a nice, well-mannered person. So here's my script for future encounters:

"Thanks for the call, but I'm not interested. Have a nice day. And please take me off the call list."

But if they won't take no for an answer, I'm picking up my tuba.

(First published on

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