Elaborate televised prank on Belgium's terrible phone company

Belgium's much-reviled phone company Mobistar was elaborately pranked by a program on VRT Belgium; the pranksters hid themselves in a steel container, which they had dropped directly in front of the gates of a large Mobistar office at 5AM. The container had a prominent customer service number printed on the side of it -- a number which rang the pranksters inside the container -- that was promptly called by a series of Mobistar employees who wanted to get the container moved off before 2,000 Mobistar employees reported for work and found the parking lot blocked off.

The pranksters proceed to put the Mobistar employees through a high-art comedic phone hell, disconnecting them, subjecting them to terrible hold music (performed live from within the container on a little synthesizer), gradually ratcheting the misery up in a Dante-worthy re-enactment of every terrible, awful mobile phone company experience.

The program was a huge hit in Belgium (be sure to watch it all the way through for the a killer punchline), and has been captioned in English for those of us in the anglosphere to enjoy.

Prank on a Belgian call center (with captions in English) (via MeFi)


  1. That’s fun, and I hope the negative publicity stung at Mobistar’s customer-service HQ.

    I feel for poor Mathieu from Security Mobistar, though — he’s the guy who took the abuse, and (presumably) is not in a particularly strong position to fix his employer’s customer service. I hope the pranksters sent him the 50-euro gift thing.

    1. >I hope the pranksters sent him the 50-euro gift thing.

      Yes they did – it was a recursive retroactive gift. A container office delivered to his address.

    2. A week later, in that same show, they went to visit him, and give him a little present as token of respect because he held it together so well during those 3 hours. At the same time, some very high Mobistar lady was present as well to give him another gift as a token of her appreciation for his kind friendly take and his insane patience he had to cope with the problem. Credit where credit’s due: Those guys are pretty friendly :D

  2. Well executed, but it was really an opportunity wasted. They should have parked that container in front of the Mobistar CEOs house. Or the house of the manager responsible for the call center. This way they just fucked with another poor working guy that had nothing to do with the crux of the matter.

    1. Because clearly the CEO was going to stay on the phone for 3 hours, rather than have some assistant do the dirty.

      1. Unless it was some kind of a very special assistant, the CEO is not likely to have one at home. And had you found this container in front of your house, would you try to solve the problem by getting another extra interlink between you and the people who can get the container out of there? An assistant that would have to call you again and again to ask about every detail? And then just sit and wait for three hours how it pans out? That would just be a welcomed bonus for the pranksters.
        At some point the CEO would have to get personally involved and at least he/she’d be personally inconvenienced in one way or another.

    2. Actually, the ‘poor security guy’ is now very famous in Belgium and was often praised for his patience. So, although they gave him a terrible time at the moment, things didn’t get worse for him.

  3. Mathieu deserves a medal for his patience. Great prank, but they should have blocked the entrance to the management building.

  4. You know, if this prank had occurred in America in front of the AT&T offices, the bomb squad would have simply blown the container up, no questions asked.

    Of course, this could never happen in America because all of our call centers are located India.

    1. the bomb squad would have simply blown the container up

      I guess thats why they’re called the Bomb Squad. What do firemen do BTW?

  5. yeah, by the end I actually had a lot of respect for Mathieu, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t spectacularly funny :) (in fact his calmness made the whole thing even funnier)

  6. Indeed it was very funny. For those who are feeling bad for Mathieu, he became kind of a hero here in Belgium. The week after the program, he got a gift from Basta and a gift from his employer Mobistar for his excellent handeling of the issue!

    1. You must turn captions on in the video to see the subtitles; it’s a YouTube thing, and isn’t part of the actual video.

      1. Ah, I’m looking at this on my iPad, the control for that is non-obvious if it’s there at all. It’ll have to wait till later. Thanks, Microchip08!

  7. Ah, but they put the container in front of the Call Centre itself, so the call centre staff (about 2000 of them?) would have been inconvenienced by the prank, and of course they’d hear about it when it aired. ‘Hopefully’ someone with some power realised that for this joke to work, a Lot of people had to be royally pissed off at their company and perhaps start to affect some change. If they content of the video is anything to go by, changing from cold transfers (simply shunting a call to a different person) to warm transfers (where the transferer tells the next staff what is going on) would be a good start.

  8. A beautiful, glorious prank.

    Unfortunately, it could never be accomplished in the litigious and
    paranoid USA, without severe repercussions:
    1) it might be assumed to be a terrorist plot, with all the
    complications thereof;
    2) even if it were seen to be benign (say, if it were done in a
    smaller city, and not NYC), the organization would be more likely
    to call the police, and the pranksters would suffer the legal
    consequences of criminal trespass;
    3) the company could claim that its 2000 employees had
    had their productivity reduced and perhaps would sue civilly for
    the putative costs incurred by the stunt.

  9. I too, was feeling quite sympathetic to Mathieu’s predicament, not just because I’m empathetic, but because I’ve been in Mathieu’s situation nigh on a 1000 times. (Like the rest of y’all.)

    Only in the land of fantastic sparkly unicorns with swell-to-fit dildoes would the person on the phone have been the CEO.

    And if it makes anyone feel any better, Mathieu was the unwitting actor in a drama that gave a very warm satisfaction to hundreds of thousands of us by enduring the same crotch-grinding tricks a telecom firm plays on us every time the company drops service or befucks our billing.

    Finally, since Mathieu is just one of us, but ON-the-clock, he got paid for enduring what we all endure, OFF-the-clock, multiple times a month. He’s fine. And he got an extra shrimp.

    I’d be ecstatic with an extra shrimp for every third time I had to listen to crap phone-muzak while waiting for Kumkrust to rectify my connection so that I can participate in the early morning video conference I needed to make my paltry ducats. I’m not a greedy pawn, just one who heartily enjoys a good joke played on the man every now and again.

  10. A bit of a background information: in Belgium (and Holland) before they made this there was a lot of talk in the media about the absymal service by mainly telecom operators.
    There were public figures speaking out against the terror of callcentres etc.

    Normally they probably would’ve taken legal action but because of public opinion, it wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do because it would’ve surely backfired.

  11. Yeah, these guys rule. Classic pranksterism this… and their next feat proved to be even more spectacular! Last week, they revealed they had an undercover actor infiltrating the much-maligned (and borderline illegal) quiz channels that have taken over late-night cable television over here. He worked as a presenter for six months, secretly recording his conversations with the showrunners and his colleagues. It transpired that ethics are virtually non-existent in that business indeed (no surprise there), and the government watchdogs tend to look the other way.
    In the big finale, they had a computer wizkid hack the (insanely complex) code for a math game, and called in live with the correct solution, all the while monitoring the in-game communication between their mole presenter and the show director- who was flipping out when he realized his game was up.
    The program spawned a nationwide outrage about the quiz channels, and within a day public pressure forced the tv channels to cease the broadcast of these scam games- something which three years of government regulation failed to accomplish. There’s some media hacktivism for ya!

    1. I was going to reply the same thing! It was brilliant, hope it gets translated too. Tomorrow they will tackle the railroad-company.

      Also in the first episode, they sent all sorts of random news-articles they invented to press companies. Most of them were published the next day! Including fake statistics (about voters for political party X have better/more sex than voters for party Y). It also got the headlines and pointed out the problems in the media. Only one out of six (from the top of my head, don’t remember it exactly) called in to check their sources.

      That’s journalism for ya! One of the best shows I’ve saw in the last five years.

  12. These guys’ previous show, Neveneffekten, is also pretty brilliant — it’s a send-up of documentaries, in the vein of everything from Wild Kingdom to the Discovery Channel.

    The first episode is about half in English, so it’s a good introduction for international audiences.

  13. It’s not just Mobistar. I had to wait in line for three quarters of an hour an hour while listening to brain-excavating music to get an operator to register a fixed line with Belgium’s biggest phone company “Belgacom”. International call. When I finally got someone on the line, they told me I had to visit one of their shops to do so. Waiting time at their shop: again, approximately 3/4h.

  14. I’m curious. Do you English speakers really need captions to understand Flemish or are you just being lazy? Your languages are almost identical, except in spelling, that is.

    I didn’t need any captions to understand what they said and I only speak Geatish (a Swedish dialect only marginally influenced by Middle Low German, a historical Dutch language, once used in most parts of Britain as a trading language and in some parts of Sweden (but not my part of Sweden)) and English. It might have helped that I understand other Swedish dialect that developed (more or less) from Middle Low German (the Swedish dialects mostly spoken in TV and radio) and Danish dialects that has been influenced by a variety of Dutch languages, but these dialects differ far more from Flemish then English do.

    Most Nordic dialects and languages differ far more then Flemish and English do, and we usually understand each other just fine (the things that can lead to misunderstandings is false friends, Danish numerals, Icelandic(ish) grammar (most other Nordic languages and dialects use an amalgam of Old Norse (similar to Icelandic), French (especially Swedish) and Frankish grammar) and, of course, some of the more guttural and monotone Danish dialects.

    1. I’m curious. Do you English speakers really need captions to understand Flemish or are you just being lazy? Your languages are almost identical, except in spelling, that is.

      I am a native English speaker. I had a special listen to the video after I read your comment. I have to agree that it was possible to make our a word here and there. Parts of it sound like an English speaker putting on a really bad imitation of a German accent. If I knew in advance what they were up to I could probably understand a fair amount of what they were saying.
      Its a bit like I generally know what my wife is talking about in Cantonese even though I don’t really understand the language. Context and the occasional English word fill in the gaps.

    2. Nope, we really need the captions. There are a lot of loan-words from Dutch and Old German in English, but not so many that we’d just be able to figure it all out.

      (My brother-in-law is Belgian, and my American sister was fluent in German before she married him, but she still had to learn Flemish).

    3. Are you serious? Americans are so monolingual that we feel when we travel to other people’s countries, they ought to be able to communicate with us in English.. let alone the intolerance Americans show to any non-English speaking immigrant.

      There are people who post a status on their social networking sites (encouraging others to re-post if they agree) “I am an American and I should not have to “press 1 for English”. This whips the common folk up into a patriotic frenzy. I want to reply “Dear god please don’t ever travel to Europe”.

      Yes. Americans are VERY lazy concerning English. We have been horribly enabled.

  15. Way to stick it to the man! Well done gentlemen! Those companies should be ashamed to call it customer “service”. Finally some payback!!

  16. #33 – Yes, as a native English speaker, I can only understand the words which are common to both languages. English may be a Germanic language, but it’s not German. Nor is it Flemish. I really don’t see where you can claim that English and Flemish are “almost identical.”

  17. To Anon asking if we’re just being lazy. I find that Dutch/Flemish is more akin to German than modern English, and sufficiently far away for us to require translation. Reading Dutch I can understand some of it, but hearing it spoken? Dear god, hardly a thing!

    We had a hefty influence of French post-1066 which changed our originally Germanic language dramatically(compare the Anglo-Saxon of King Alfred or Bede with Shakespeare, for example).

    Regarding the vid, very funny indeed, and I’m glad to hear they compensated Mathieu afterwards, too. I’ve just been watching the next episode where they crack the ‘solve the maths puzzle’ code. Excellent stuff!

  18. Mr. Anon at post #33, I think you forget about people that are neither lazy English native speakers, nor Nordic. I am of Slavic origin for example. How dare I read this page? Welcome to Internet era. Emotional status can be read from tone of voice etc., but I am very thankful for captions to get he whole picture. It’s hilarious BTW, TV pranks at much higher level. Kudos to creators … and Mathieu. I’d make this as part of mandatory training in every company with callcenter (oh yeah, I work for one, too).

  19. and their newest prank. After 6 months preperations and planting a mole into the late-night callshows they cracked the code of one of their games. They also showed that these organizations deliberately mislead people.

  20. Just as an extra.

    The group doing all these things is called “Neveneffecten”.
    This translates to “Side-effects”.

    They have an absurd, surrealistic sence of humor.
    Unfortunately for the rest of the world its only in Dutch.

    One of them is Jonas Geirnaert. Look at this link to understand who he is. http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonas_Geirnaert (in dutch, but you can use google translate to get a readable text).
    Jonas is related to “Morris” the author of the Lucky Luke strip.

  21. I’m curious. Do you English speakers really need captions to understand Flemish or are you just being lazy? Your languages are almost identical, except in spelling, that is.

    As a native English speaker living in Belgium and learning Flemish, I can say that we’re definitely not being lazy. The languages are most definitely not almost identical. Since learning Flemish, on the other hand, I find that I can often understand written Swedish, so my guess is that it is your Swedish background and not your English skills that allow you to understand the audio and/or subtitles.

  22. These guys, ‘de neveneffekten’ (=the side effects) did attack this week the maffia practices of the belgian copyright company called SABAM who collect a lot of money on dubious grounds, and often forget to pay the little artists.

    It’s on youtube already, but not subtitled i guess

    They are original a comic bunch of tv makers who made some genious programs for the VRT (Flemish speaking Belgian National TV) and one of them is also a local very famous comic writer/movie maker. His comic book of ‘Kabouter Wesley’ (=Goblin Wesley) is a big hit here, and his other cartoons are in some infamous mags (Humo) and on tv.

  23. I almost died laughing watching this video .

    live in Hong Kong and I cannot remember how many times I have had the same problem with Hong Kong’s biggest phone company : PCCW , I HATE those option menues that take at least 10 minutes until I can get through to a “warm body” who really handles my problem. ( But I must say that when I do get though to a warm body the problem is quickly solved )

  24. Next monday they’re taking on the local police who claim not to write parking tickets because they’ve received quota from their superiors (as it is done in the Netherlands). Turns out that they are even being evaluated on reaching that quota. It ‘ll be fun.
    greetz from Belgium

  25. They should have pulled a prank on top management. This security guy has nothing to do with customer service.

  26. But in the US, Matheiu would have been fired for not having called the police, the tow company or the bomb squad right away.

  27. That was pretty funny, unfortunately it’s exactly what happens in the UK with BT and their crazy call centres ?


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