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."