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March 19, 2012

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Few consumer hotlines in English

HALF of Shanghai's main government-backed hotlines to address complaints and consumer disputes do not provide English service, indicating expatriates are largely disadvantaged when trying to get help on such matters.

Shanghai Daily investigated 26 public service hotlines, which the government publicizes on its website, and found 13 do not serve English-speaking callers.

At the other 13 hotlines, English speakers may struggle to get through to an operator. The reporter found up to five of these hotlines don't offer English instructions on their automatic navigation menu. Although English-speaking operators are available, callers will have to navigate through the Chinese instruction system before they are connected.

The non-English platforms include the 12331 and 962727 food and drug safety hotlines. Food safety is one of the top concerns among the foreign community. The public can call either of the two hotlines to report suspected food and drug safety issues, such as unsanitary food practices. A hotline worker said there is no plan to add an English service.

Most of the hotline workers advised foreigners to ask Chinese friends to make inquiries or complaints.

"You have to speak Chinese to use our hotline," said an operator for the 96877 hotline, which responds to household cable TV problems. "But we will ask for someone who can speak English to call back if foreigners ask their Chinese friends to leave their contact information."

The operators said they don't have English service because it's quite rare that English-speaking people call them, making them reluctant to add or expand the English availability on their platforms.

"The number of foreign callers on daily basis is very few," a recipient on the 12365 commodity quality hotline said.

The 962200 community hotline, which helps people find services such as locksmiths and shops to repair household appliances, also said there's no plan to make the service bilingual.

Other hotlines that do not provide English services include the 12369 environmental hotline, where people can report pollution cases, the 12319 urban construction hotline for complaints on a wide range of transport and construction services, and the 112 hotline for emergency repairs for telephone and broadband TV (IPTV) breakdowns.

The investigation showed the government's tourism, weather broadcast, airport, police and emergency hotlines smoothly provide English services.

Some expats said that while they want the government to improve English services on these hotlines, more efforts should also be made to publicize them in the media.

"We need to know about these services and more media exposure could certainly help," said a Canadian expat who has lived in the city for nine years.

He said he found English service, especially at restaurants, has substantially improved in recent years but for English language convenience, Shanghai still can't compete with international cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

Still, expatriates can always ring up the 962288 hotline, dedicated to assisting foreigners in addressing daily life inconveniences. It is available 24 hours a day and provides service in English and other languages.


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