Life and Fiction

Reading is a pleasure for many of us. What kind of readings do you enjoy the most? It may depend on the time of the day, the day of the week, the mood you’re in, the season of the year. Who knows what other things may help you in deciding what to read.

Some people like to read newspapers, specialized articles in magazines, with the intention of being informed. These writings present facts and events rather than the author’s imagination as in an imaginative narration. Reading those types of texts is still a pleasure, but it is a pleasure with the purpose of information. We could then classify those writings as non-fiction.

Other readers prefer to read fiction, that is, works of imaginative narration, especially in prose form.  Short stories are works in this area. They concentrate for example in a flash, a moment with significance.  How short should be a short story? They have no set length, it depends on the author and the content. They focus on an incident and do not include many characters. Their objective is to create an effect on the reader.

Only to mention some of the best: J.L. Borges, Machado de Assis, E. A. Poe, A. Chekhov… I surely could mention many:  by country, by era, by style, but mentioning all the famous writers who have been masters in this art would be almost impossible. Maybe you can mention your own favorites in a comment at the end of this post… It would be a great idea!

E.A. Poe

Portait of Edgar Allan Poe

But how about telling you about independent authors who have masterfully written a collection of short stories?

If you speak Spanish and like to read stories full of sensibility and and some of them with a delicate eroticism that evoke intense memories creating a special atmosphere, then you may want to read “Or Noir y otros cuentos” from Silvia Amador Pérez de Castro.

You can find it here:

Amazon.com: “Or noir y otros cuentos”

The author also included some short and witty writings where she displays her fine humor playing with language. My favorite stories are “El contrabajo”, “La lluvia” y “Or noir”. I can assure you that you will enjoy her short stories on human nature.

What is human nature, if we are not referring to the biological part in us? All those “states” difficult to describe in words, but that we all have experienced: love, distress, sadness, infatuation, mourning, enthusiasm…    All those strong feelings that give taste to life are depicted in “El Sabor de la Vida” from the writer and literature professor, Ernesto Cisneros Rivera. I highly recommend the compilation of short stories.

You can find it here: Lulu Publishing: Libros de Ernie

He writes in a sensible and elegant manner about men and women in a crucial point of their lives. He uses the perfect word in every context, the perfect language in every situation. With perfect I mean the most appropriate, the ideal choice, that not always has to be nice.  “Without putting a leaf in front of his mouth”, a picturesque German saying, he undresses the humans and leaves their raw feelings and souls.  His stories are like flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and even spicy. I leave to you to discover the taste. My favorites are all of them!

In fiction, one of the most popular sub-genres are novels. To continue with the idea of flavors and taste, there are novels for every taste. We can find adventure novels, the ones I loved to read when I was a kid. Those that made us combat our brothers or sisters with a wooden, (no, I’m not that old, we had plastic!) sword and made us dream of hidden treasures and dangerous places. Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas, Emilio Salgari… Nowadays we find a wide selection of children literature and young adult fiction, a genre that has been spreading like fire. Especially all those vampire love novels and teen novels have gained an enormous popularity, and sometimes not only with the young adults…    I have to confess that I read and enjoyed all of the Harry Potter books, yes! I love the language, the settings and school life in Hogwarts, with my favorite teacher, Professor Minerva McGonagall.

McGonagall

Professor McGonagall

You may like to read literary fiction, historical fiction, experimental fiction, comic novels, erotic novels, love stories or crime stories. In this last genre you may have enjoyed the British crime stories of the “Lady of Crime”, Agatha Christie, with her unforgettable characters Mr. Hercule Poirot and Ms. Marple. Some of you may prefer a more realistic approach to crime and may choose Scandinavian authors, like Henning Mankell or Jo Nesbø, among others. A very popular trilogy is the one from Stieg Larsson “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl who played with Fire” and “The Girl who kicked the Hornets’ Nest”. Very dark and often brutal in their descriptions, but if you like this type of literature, you will not be able to put the books away.

I think that you can find good criminal authors from different countries and in every language.

Erotic novels have become very popular though they are not new. All along the centuries there have been excellent writers. We can find some as ancient as the Greek and Romans, some in the Renaissance, like Bocaccio with his Decameron.  Shakespeare also wrote some erotic poems like Venus and Adonis. I could continue with the list, but I have to specify that erotic literature is not porn. There are good quality erotic writings as I mentioned before. Two years ago an erotic novel invaded the world market and not precisely because of its quality. I saw everywhere teenagers!, young, middle and elderly women with the famous “Grey” books in their hands. Some of us, starting writers, wish for the luck E.L. James had. This publicity had the bad side effect of creating a false impression on possible readers that independent, or amateur writers are not qualitative good… Bad for us!

Real lives and stories are the inspiration of biographical or autobiographical creations, while others only intend to make you believe that the main characters really exist by showing you the imaginary, but plausible life of a character.

I come now closer to novels that in a way portrait life, glamorous or simple, cruel or funny, where the characters maybe successful or have broken existences. However, they go through situations that force them to act in one or another way. They may dodge the problems they encounter or they may fight against them. There are tons and tons of novels describing, presenting, showing us other lives and as readers, we like to submerge for an instant into the lives of the characters in our book. We may judge them, find them abominable, adorable, or we may simply shrug at their acts, but we love to be a little voyeuristic.

Having been around for a while, having experienced deep emotions, having observed and having listened to others, I started shaping the characters and the plot of my novels. The first one published last August is “El Pacto”. It is like a picture of modern life: fast paced, at first glance maybe a little shallow, glamorous, exciting, with one or two humorous touches… It’s like a story in a film or a TV show, maybe a little bit like a “telenovela”. The novel starts in an idyllic location, an island in the Caribbean during the Summer holidays of two sisters and their two best friends. On the island they realize that life can change as fast a the weather and they get into a conflict that rises up like a tropical storm. Two of them have to find an adequate solution to the conflict and follow the advice of a woman who reads them their future using cards… Is it going to work? Are our experiences predefined by our destiny? Can we put our decisions in the hands of destiny? Sometimes we get to the point where important decisions have to be made. Are we sure that the decision we make will be the right one? Based on love, friendship, family values, opportunities, deceptions, illusions, we try guide our life in one or another way, like the characters in the book. Sometimes you act in a certain way, perfectly knowing that it will only cause trouble…    If you want to be a little voyeuristic and know what happens in the novel, you can read “El Pacto” and draw your own conclusions.

El Pacto

El Pacto – Tonantzin Martínez Alor

You can order it on Amazon.com or Lulu.com.

Afterwards you can comment either here or on Amazon.

Till next week with another interesting topic!

 

 

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Customer care or customer, do you care?

This time a professional topic: customer care or should we say support? Who needs the support, the customers or the employee?  Let’s take a look at both sides.

Hotline phone

While working in the customer support area for an international company, I came across different types of customers.  First, the standard customer, the one who knows what to order and who has all the information needed for that purpose. That is a piece of cake!  Sometimes they may be a little grumpy or in a hurry, but it is usually a successful interaction: the customers get what they want and you feel good with a well done job. However, not all customers know what they want. Let’s continue with the undecided customers: they have an idea of what they want, but aren’t really sure. In such a case you, as a customer service agent, have to guide your customers posing the right questions to help them with their choice.

Other type of customers are the ones who really don’t have the information needed to place an order. I had some conversations like this.

– Me:  “ I’m T. and name of the company, …. What can I do for you?”

– Customer: “Hi, have you got those little blue tubes… the ones we always order?”

– Me: “Could you please tell me your name and the name of your company? Even   better, could you maybe tell me your customer number?”

– C. “Number? I thought you knew us, we always place orders with your company…”

– Me: “Yes, sure. However, can you tell me what company is it you’re calling for?”

– C. “Its XY, but have you got the tubes or not…”

– Me. “I imagine that we have, but I need to check your previous orders… (sweating…) Could you give me your customer number?”

– C. “Oh, is it 123456… or maybe 654321… No. wait, there is an other one here…”

– Me. “It should be on top of your Delivery note in the box titled “Customer number”… (me, breathing calmly, but sweating more…)”

– C. “Oh, yes, I see it, it’s 654321…”

– Me. “Thank you, I’ll look up for your older orders in the system.”

(The ERP-system starts working as if it were activated by pedals instead of electricity. in the meanwhile the customer starts breathing heavily… me too…)

– C. “And? Do you know now about the tubes?”

– Me. “Could you maybe tell me the Article number of the tubes you want to order?”

– C. “What? You don’t know your products?”

– Me. “Well, we have about 200 different blue tubes…sir (or madam)”

– C. “Incredible, this takes so long, at least tell me the price…”

– Me. “Err.. you still haven’t told me what article you need… I cannot look up for “blue tubes” in the system…” (my heart has started to pump louder, I hope the customer doesn’t hear it…)

The conversation lasted for about another 10 minutes till together we found out the possible number and the customer ordered the product. Wouldn’t it had been faster if the customer had had the information?

There were other customers who called and after my greeting simply said: “I want to order article number 666555888, 3 boxes “   You’re maybe thinking, wow, finally they know the number… However, without waiting for me to say yes or no, they simply hung up. Who was the mysterious customer? You can guess, I tried and couldn’t. The telephone number on the display only showed the first numbers… so on occasions like this, you cannot simply redial.

Another customer called and wanted to return some products. I told him that we would send a third-party service, such as UPS, to retrieve the package. For that purpose I would need the exact description of the box and the contents, weight and volume to prepare the documentation, and… Have you already guessed? The question I immediately got: “ What? Don’t you know how your products are packed? You should know your own boxes…” You can imagine the conversation that followed. By then my blood pressure had reached top levels…

The funniest one was a customer who was very surprised when I told him that UPS would pick up the returned product. “How come? UPS? Aren’t you coming personally to pick it up?” As I was sitting in the Munich office I told the customer in Switzerland that I would have to take the train or plane to do it personally… But that for sure I would enjoy the views of the Swiss Alps.

I know someone who worked for a big retail company in the customer service area in Berlin. It is a huge online shop and this person was working in the office. In this case, as in my example, you don’t have access to the products that are usually shipped form a very big storehouse somewhere else, that is, in another country. The information you have about the product is in the online catalogue or in the printed info, but there are tons and tons of products. So, this friend got a call. The customer wanted to buy a pair of shoes and was asking about the material, the sole, the exact color, etc. When it came to the size, the customer wanted to know the exact width of the front part of the shoe. My friend, whose blood pressure must have increased with each question, explained that she was sorry, but didn’t have that data. It wasn’t in the description. The customer wanted her to get up, get the box with the shoes and measure the part… If you remember right, yes, it is an office, not a shoe store… The customer couldn’t understand why my friend wasn’t able to take a ruler and give him the information…

shoe

Not exactly the width

Good customer service requires maintaining a positive optimistic attitude and having the proper tools, knowledge and abilities to meet a customer’s needs. You need nerves of steel, the patience of a saint, good manners, liters and liters of linden tea, a good sleep, healthy meals and a good transportation system to get relaxed and on time to the job.

What experiences have we made calling a hotline? With the very popular outsourced services, when we call a hotline number we cannot be sure of being in the country we live in. I’ve had calls re-directed to India while trying to get help for a telephone problem. Another time, while having to call the bank in Germany trying to buy a TV in São Paolo I ended up in a world tour. I dialed the main service number in Germany to get the payment approved. I got transferred from Munich to Frankfurt, where I had to wait minutes with the costs of an international call. They transferred me then to Ireland! After almost half an hour, Ireland was my last stop while waiting at the cashier in an electronic shop in Brazil. I can’t complain about my bank, the banking services were international!

Another example was a call from a hospital in France. The administration was having trouble with the IT systems. The call was redirected somewhere else, where the person in charge could hopefully understand French, but the accent was so bad that a conversation was almost impossible not to mention the interlocutor’s name… something Asian, but Asia is very big indeed.

In general, customer service has got a very bad reputation. Maybe because of the difficulties you have to deal with when you have to dial a hotline number or maybe because there are a lot of unqualified people who have to accept a bad paid job in the area.   Therefore, calling a hotline can turn into a horror vision for many of us and working there, too.

I almost forgot mentioning the very first step while calling a hotline. Yes, the famous case description: If you have a problem with… dial x, if you want to check A dial y, etc.”

Three cruel, but good hotline jokes:

If you are obsessive, compulsive, press “1” repeatedly.

If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Stay on the line, so that we can trace your call.

If you have low self-esteem, please hang up. All operators are too busy to talk to you.

Hotlines can also have a very good use, a social function, these have of course a good reputation. Those are practical numbers with people trained to help in difficult situations, like crisis services, medical emergencies, psychological and religious help hotlines, and many more.

Bye, call me next week 😉

 

Another nomination

As R. L. Stevenson said “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean”.

Thank you dear friend and excellent writer Ernesto Cisneros Rivera  for nominating my blog for the Premio Dardos.

Image

 

I extend my nomination to my followers

De la Tierra Nacida Sombra, http://boeneker.wordpress.com

El tiempo habitado, http://eltiempohabitado.wordpress.com

Una Mirada B, http://miradab.wordpress.com/about/

El bosque silencioso, http://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/18453133/

Chapter TK, http://chaptertk.com

Let’s continue entertaining our readers with our writing.

 

 

Another country, another home?

Some of us like to travel more than others. New places, the sound of other languages, the smell of exotic food, the colors of other skies may have an intense attraction on our senses. But it is another thing to leave the country you were born or the place you grew up, pack your things and move to a foreign country.

Kalimero

Kalimero

Maybe many of you have had the opportunity of studying abroad and have experienced what it is to be confronted everyday with another culture, another way of life. The shock is even bigger, if you move to a country where you first have to learn to speak the language or where you know that you’ll never learn it.

 

What could be the reasons for such a big step?

The one I mentioned above is a very common one, though studying abroad is not really emigrating. Most of the students living somewhere else have the idea of going back to their countries when they finish their studies. I’m sure that we all know somebody who stayed abroad and without planning it from the beginning, they ended up moving to a third country.

The film “L’auberge espagnol”, a French comedy on the life of an Erasmus student living in Barcelona for a year is worth watching.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0283900/?ref_=nv_sr_1

A very frequent and romantic reason to emigrate is: love. You move to another country because your sweetheart (… maybe not always that sweet ;-)) is a “foreigner”. Are you willing to become a “foreigner” because of love? In my case, you may know the answer: yes, I was. Although I was already very familiar with the German culture, I experienced some cultural shocks, some bigger some smaller, but read the word again: …shock…    I think one of the things I disliked the most were the opening hours. Everything, from a big supermarket to the small stationary store around the corner closed weekdays at six o’clock and on Saturdays at 12:00 o’clock! Coming from a big city such as Mexico City and being used to the USA, where you could find everything anytime, I was shocked and had to plan ahead what I could need past six o’clock or at the weekend. Staying with the topic of “opening hours” the funniest and weirdest thing I found was the newspaper stand at the U-Bahn station (underground train) that closed from 12 – 13:30 for lunch. The funny thing is that they also had sandwiches and beverages, but not at noon. We have now everything open till eight o’clock.

Another shocking, really shocking thing was the first time I went to a lake in Summer. In the smaller ones there were no changing cabins. Most of the people used to change into their bathing suits using a towel to cover their bodies. However, others were not that shy and changed their bathing trunks (mostly men) just in front of you, which left you just… speechless!  Even during a nice walk through the English Garden, the biggest park in the middle of Munich, you could find some sunbathers who weren’t shy… Some couples were like Adam and Eve without the leaf… or many of the female sunbathers were topless. If you come from a culture, where nakedness is not for all audiences, well, then you really have to get used to it. Nowadays, there aren’t as many “FKK” or “Freie Körper Kultur” = nudist fans as there were then, and “sadly” the ones left are not the youngest…

As you may imagine, I could go on and on telling you about my experiences here, but that is not my intention, don’t worry.

Let me get back on track…

Emigrating to another country looking for a better job and consequently a better life is a reason that has motivated millions of people to move or emigrate all along history. If we think of our ancestors, in the very early history, they firstly migrated from the African continent to spread almost all over the world. We also know that there were others later on in time with that special restless gene who crossed the icy and frozen Bering Sea to conquer an empty continent.

All along history there have been many many groups who have conquered their neighbors and have got very far away from their original homes. I can think of the Mongols, the Romans, the Arabic-speaking peoples, the Vikings…    And as one of my favorite teachers of Spanish Literature and Language used to say: “ where the sword goes, goes the tongue” (en español with a nice Castilian accent, because she was from Spain,“a donde va la espada, va la lengua”) .  This phenomenon is of interest because of the influence of one language to the other, for example in vocabulary and phonetics.

Mentioning all of the huge human movements in history would be an impossible task. If you’re interested in taking a look at the first raids of the vikings in Britain you can watch “Vikings” a very well documented and realistic TV show on the beginnings of their expansion.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2306299/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Hägar

Hägar the Horrible

 

Coming back to our era, some people decide to emigrate hoping for a better future.

Some may have to move because of their companies. Their positions have been moved to another subsidiary and, in this case either you move or you lose your job.

This makes me think of the film, “Outsourced” about an American salesman moving to India to train the customer service department. It’s a hilarious movie with a little bit of a love story.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425326/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

Other employees move to work in another country for a limited period of time, let’s say for two or three years. They are considered expats. Some are expats their whole life not having really accepted the culture of the country they moved to.

I experienced what it is to live as an expat somewhere else. For me it was a different feeling, than when I moved to Germany, because I knew it was for a certain amount of time. It was a highly interesting experience and I learned not only about a different culture and another language. I had the opportunity to get to know very nice people in Sāo Paulo. I really like Brazil and love their people!

In our modern world, lots of people move some where else for economic or life threatening reasons. Most of them do not move with comfort and welfare. They leave their precarious lives with the little possessions they have and hope to get financial help in the countries they move to. Sometimes they are war refugees and sometimes they have to enter the target country illegally.

About this topics you may have watched a lot of films or read books that deal with this topic. I remember one that is in a sense cruel, but one that tells the story of a Mexican wetback couple with irony and humor. If you’re interested, it’s “The Tortilla Curtain” a novel by T.C. Boyle.

As I prefer to point out the humorous side of life I’ll finish this post with the film I watched last weekend. It’s called “Casse-Tête chinois” or Chinese puzzle and it’s about the the French student Xavier, the one in L’Auberge espagnol, who 20 years later decides to move to New York to follow his children.  The film shows in a very naive way this guy emigrating to the US and his French view of life in Manhattan. I didn’t find it as good as the first one, but I laughed a couple of times 🙂

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1937118/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Till next week from abroad!

 

 

 

 

Angel Award

It was a big surprise to have been nominated for the

doncharisma-org-award-angel_edited-1

I feel very honored and am very grateful to my dear teacher and friend, the writer Ernesto Cisneros Rivera,  who has encouraged me to continue writing and to share my work with the “world”.

I haven’t been long enough in WordPress and therefore I cannot nominate as many blogs as I would have liked to.  Nevertheless, I extend my nomination to my followers

with special mention of

De la Tierra Nacida Sombra, http://boeneker.wordpress.com

El tiempo habitado, http://eltiempohabitado.wordpress.com

Una Mirada B, http://miradab.wordpress.com/about/

El bosque silencioso, http://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/18453133/

and of course the excellent blog of Ernesto Cisneros Rivera, http://ernestocisnerosrivera.wordpress.com.

Thank you to all my readers,  not only the ones in WordPress.

– Tonantzin Martínez Alor