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Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 10:19 GMT
Our Friends in far off places
Friends cast
Friends forever?
Call centre workers in India may be thousands of miles away but the professional pseudonyms they use stem from somewhere closer to home... American TV shows, for example.

US sitcom Friends may soon be coming to an end - but there is one place where Rachel, Phoebe, Ross and the gang are likely to live on.

If recent examples from the UK are anything to go by, you are still likely to receive a telephone call from "Rachel Green" or "Phoebe", who will attempt to sell you a video phone or other piece of electrical hardware.

International call centre workers are often encouraged to adopt Westernised personas to strike up a better rapport with customers.

And hit TV shows appear to remain a popular source of inspiration for operators looking for a new identity.

I think the people there are very lonely - some of them get very depressed
Call centre worker 'Rachel Green' on the US

"Programmes like Friends, Ally McBeal and Frasier are the only exposure they get to American culture," says Ali Zaidi, artistic director of London-based theatre group Motiroti.

Mr Zaidi's play Alladeen, which opened last year, is a modern day re-write of the classic Arabian Nights tale set in Bangalore call centres. He interviewed dozens of operators as part of his research.

"They know that these are common names - names that people will recognise, and remember. That's why they use them."

Playful attitude

Yet it would be wrong to see the call centre workers as naive dupes, in thrall to a dominant US culture, he says.

"The vast majority of the people we spoke to were completely aware of the game. They know it is not real, they take a playful attitude towards it."

Call centre workers
Call centres are relocating to India
In any case, making 200 calls a shift to the average American or British home quickly dispels any illusions garnered from pop videos and sitcoms.

On the Alladeen website, Bangalore workers tell horror stories of conversations with people high on drugs or severely depressed.

"My perspective about America was a bit too rosy, because that is what we see on TV and through the media - the best country, the land of opportunity," says one worker, Natasha, who uses the name "Rachel Green" at work.

"But I think the people there are very lonely. Some of them get very depressed, their family ties seem to be wavering off, and I don't think it is all that nice.

"Every place has its own problems, but now I guess my opinions about America would be totally changed."

The UK-based National Offshore Association, which represents call centre companies, says it "is well-known that companies in offshore locations like India, Egypt or Mexico employ cultural and lingual experts to train them on certain areas that will increase their chances when selling to the UK public".

But the organisation says this is the first time it's heard of workers borrowing names from TV shows.

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