Monday, August 27, 2007

Are You Willing to Participate in a Survey?

Yesterday afternoon, I was doing the same thing I do most Sunday afternoons--procrastinating doing anything of meaning as quietly as possible since M was napping. Of course, the laws of the Universe dictate that the phone will ring only when someone lays down to take a nap. On this particular occasion, I jumped over part of the couch, almost broke my wrist and tried to find the phone before the second ring. It rang a second time by the time I got to it.

In my rush to shut it off, I didn't look to see who was actually calling us. Big mistake.


"Yes, good afternoon ma'am. My name is Old Man Blah, and I'm calling from the University of California, Berkeley to conduct a survey of Iranian-Americans. Would you like to participate?"

By this time I was in the closet of our spare bedroom--which is as isolated and private as you can get in our tiny home.

"I'm sorry, who is this? And how did you get my phone number?"

Call me paranoid, but having lived in places where governments have no problems with violating personal rights, I kind of freak out when someone calls me specifically to ask my opinion based on my nationality/ethnicity.

"My name is Old Man Blah, and I'm calling from the University of California, Berkeley to conduct a survey of Iranian-Americans and their opinions. I will provide you with the name and phone number of the professor sponsoring the survey at the end of my questions. My first question is, Do you think the United States is headed in the right direction?"

And much like waving a giant red flag in front of a pissed off bull, without thinking I blurted, "No this country is not headed in the right direction!" I then realized that the man hadn't responded to my question about obtaining my phone number.

"Why do you not think the country is moving in the right direction?"

Again, I opened my mouth and responded, because I am not the kind of person who can contain myself or my opinions. "Well the so called foreign policy would be a good place to start. Wait, you never told me how you got my phone number. I'm sorry, I don't feel comfortable participating in a survey that has specifically identified me by my ethnic background."

You may wonder why I would worry about a survey conducted by someone at UC Berkeley, perhaps one of the country's most liberal universities. It's because while some people hear Berkeley and think of hippies, I hear Berkeley and think John Yoo. Yes, the same John Yoo who helped explain why torture isn't really torture and why it is acceptable for the President to use the afore mentioned non-torture when he deems it necessary. I'm not saying he's developing some kind of project to round up Iranian Americans before the US attacks Iran, I'm just saying it was weird to be called up on a lazy Sunday afternoon specifically because I am Iranian American.

Oh, and then things got a little strange.

Old Man Blah started yelling at me! "I said, this survey is being conducted for a professor at Berkeley. I will give you the professors name and contact information when you answer all of my questions. There is nothing suspicious about this!"

See, when a stranger calls your house, knows your ethnicity and wants to ask you questions--yelling that there is nothing strange going on, it kind of makes you think something strange may be going on.

"Could I at least have the name of the professor before I respond to the rest of your questions?"


I thought a few seconds before I responded, "I'm very sorry for wasting your time, but I don't feel comfortable talking to you right now. Thank you for your time."

I hung up and sat in the closet, with what must have been an expression of complete confusion. That is how M found me a couple of minutes later. I told him what had happened and he was so confused. "Why didn't you just hang up on him?"

Leave it to the scientist to over simplify complex socio-political issues.


TK said...

I'm sorry, but that would have creeped me the hell out. To be singled out by someone for a survey based on ethnicity? I can't imagine you were the first one to respond that way. What amazes me is that the caller didn't understand your hesitance... and that makes it all the more suspect.


Kari said...

Hm. Wow. I actually think he was so defensive with you because he was actually breaking the law. I used to conduct health surveys for a population study project at the U of MN Medical School, and if someone asks how you got their number, or wants contact information about the survey, you are required to give this to them right away BEFORE they participate in the survey. Also, you must get clear verbal consent BEFORE you ask the questions. You clearly asked for that information, and he tried to snow you into answering his questions without getting your consent!! Super creepy!

If you are wondering how I found your blog, linked to it today. :)

girl with curious hair said...

TK--everyone I ask about this thinks there's something creepy about it. Now I'm sure John Yoo is after me.

Kari--I'm glad to know my sense of creepiness is justified and not the product of my overactive imagination.
Thanks for coming by and commenting!

sara said...

jeez im persian too, and im totally sketch about answering personal questions, esp whe someone calls me and knows more about me than i do about them.

thats fucking scary man. im so sorry u had to go through that :S

Alex the Odd said...

Yikes, I definitely would have freaked out too, although I get why you didn't hang up straight away, I have some kind of insane need to be at least a little polite to these people - personally I blame my mother.

That's scary shit though and I'd have to agree with TK, I can't imagine other people not having the same response as you did.

Yeech, creepy.

Anonymous said...

That was totally inappropriate. You should bust that guy and make a huge fuss - call UC Berkeley and try to track him down. Inappropriate!

Anonymous said...

I work for a Market Research firm, and it's actually quite easy to identify and target respondents based on any demographic information. That is essentially how any Research study is fielded.
However, he was absolutely, positively unprofessional in the delivery. I would contact Berkely, find out who is sponsoring the study and loge one HELL of a complaint.