Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Mitali? Natalie? Matally?

A few years ago, I stopped spelling out my first name in America. I was tired of spelling, "M as in Mary, I as in India, Blah, Blah, Blah ...," or saying sweetly, "Just think of Tamale and switch the M and the T." After the standard "name-please" from the cashier at Starbucks, I answered "Mitali" quickly, just once, as though I were saying "Amanda" or "Jennifer" instead. (How would it feel if everybody actually got your name after you said it once? Enlighten me, Jennifer, Amanda.) True Confessions: I enjoyed watching the person behind the cash register squirm as they debated whether they should take a stab at the spelling, or ask for a repeat. And then I waited to hear the mutilation. A wide range of attempts were called out, from "Non-Fat Vanilla Latte for Natalia" to "Tall Cappuccino for Attila."

But recently, my slightly mean-spirited decision not to help people handle my foreign-ness hasn't been fazing the young twenty-somethings who work at Starbucks. They've been multi-culturalized, trained from pre-K to pronounce foreign names that their grandmothers would have politely, affectionately abbreviated. (I would have been dubbed Mitty in the 1950s, I'm sure of it.)

"Mitali," I tell them.

"Grande Mocha Frappuccino for Mitali!" they sing out nonchalantly and proficiently, sounding like they grew up watching Bollywood flicks along with MTV.

When I'm a sixty-something myself, some buff blonde surfer dude will beat me to the counter. "I'm Mitali," he'll say. "That's MY Grande. Back off, Grandma."

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey! I can relate! My name is a good Indian one, Jaya. But here's the twist: My father is from Calcutta, and speaks
Bengali, the only language in India which changes all the "a" sounds to "o" sounds. As a result, my name is spelled J-a-y-a, but is pronounced "Joya". Fun for those substitute teachers, eh?! I always detest the first day of school, on which, at the beginning of each class, I just wait for the long silence near the begninning of roll call. Once I raise my hand and tell the teacher ruefully that my name is pronounced strangely, every kid in the class turns my direction. I smile politely at them and sigh to myself.

Mitali Perkins said...

I remember those days, Jaya. I love that your name means "Victory" in Bengali, because the fact that you raise your hand year after year reveals that you're a warrior.

Simon said...
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