After working in a Congressional Office for over 3 months, I have answered hundreds, if not thousands, of phone calls from constituents. Typical callers want to leave their opinion on a issue, and get their voice heard by their representative. These calls can be regarding hot button issues or ones I’ve never heard of, the callers can pleasant, encouraging, or upset, and the calls can last for all of 30 seconds or upwards of 10 minutes. It all depends on the caller, but by this point I have heard it all. I have a million hilarious stories about my phone interactions while on the job…but if you want to hear those, you will have to take me out to coffee and hear them for yourself!
Instead, I’ll let you laugh at the image of me scrambling for answers to unexpected questions on the phone (English Major BS-ing skills to the rescue!). Usually, people are happy to leave a monologue message with me when they call for the Congressman, and don’t necessarily want or need to have an interactive dialogue with me outside of the basics. I am 100% equipped to deal with these run-of-the mill conversations, and I know my boss’s stances on all of the big issues and can recite them dutifully. But sometimes I get chatty-cathys on the phone, and this is when the holes in my political awareness begin to show.
When this happens, it becomes clear that callers sometimes make assumptions about me that I do not quite live up to! They seem harmless, but these assumptions lead to expectations about my political knowledge can make for some awkward conversations, at least on my side of the phone.
1) People seem to think that I possess extensive knowledge of politics. I mean sure, I can tell you how a bill becomes a law, and what issues are on the headlines. But no, I can not tell you the specifics of the fine print on that random bill you are interested in. And while I know the generalities of a law, I am usually not versed in all of the different aspects of the bill.
2) The Congressman is my best friend. Yeah, and we gossip like schoolgirls over coffee every day and he tells me all of his plans. (Imagine the sounds of crickets chirping). While he very friendly and always says hello and asks how I am, no, I am not his BFF. I mean, I totally don’t blame people for trying to get more information out of me. Why not try? But, asking a question multiple different ways isn’t going to make me more knowledgeable, unfortunately for both of us.
3) That I am either more or less familiar with the district’s geography than I actually am. I get both ends of the spectrum. Some people will refer to specific streets or areas when talking to me (“You know, down by that shopping center on Route Such-and-Such”). While I admire their confidence in me, I’m left thinking, “Did that town start with a B or a D?”. On the other hand, some people spell out the letters of large towns for me (For NoVa, the equivalent of spelling out “Fairfax” and “Arlington”). Sure, I may be confused when you give me the name of a rural town I haven’t heard before, but aside from that I’ve developed a pretty good grasp on the layout of the district! But, just when I think I have something figured out, I get another confusingly-spelled town that I’ve never heard of.
So, it is in situations where those things come up that I relive my days as a temp, when I would be totally stumped by the things people asked me on the phone (of the office I was only working in for 3-5 days). Picture the heart monitor in a movie death scene representing my train of thought when I am stumped by a question. My favorite phrase, taught to me by the intern supervisor? “Hm, I’m not familiar with that/with the specifics of that. I can certainly take down your concerns and have someone look into it.” When I use that phrase, I cross my fingers and hope they don’t think I am a rising Politico! Fake it till you make it?
I’ll leave you with the image of me on the phone frowning, playing with the phone cord, and stammering out nonsense and I hope it made you laugh! Thanks for reading!