We are standing in line waiting for a table at our favorite Mexican restaurant. We’ve been here many many times. M. Walks up to the hostess and asks for a table for two using his Turkish name.
“Can you tell me your name, sir?” she says with a big customer service smile on her face. He says his name, again. And then again once more when it is clear she does not understand him.
I understand his name. I look at the Karagöz puppets. They understand his name, tabi canım. I think of my family, they understand his name and can get past his accent as well. I go through this litany in my mind every time.
I know what’s coming. M.’s face begins to get a bit red with frustration, he’s all-too used to this. I look at the hostess,
who has that customer service smile really plastered on her face now.
Stepping towards him just slightly, she places her hand on his arm in what must be an attempt to mollify any potential future ill-humor. I am sure the touch of a young, gorgeous woman’s hand to a middle aged man’s arm usually results in 100% mollification. She has no idea who she is dealing with.
She says “Sir, what is your name, I said? I need your name.” Her tone is forceful through her plasticated demeanor. Taking my brain far away from the interaction for just a second, I reflect that it is likely only my own mother who uses terms like “plasticated” instead of plasticized. “Is it a Britishism?” I wonder, silently, before returning to the matter at hand.
“Just call me Mark,” M. says cuttingly. We are seated, immediately feted with homemade corn tortilla chips and freshly smashed guacamole.
Later that night, I am at the front of the line, ready to place our order for soft, local and organic frozen yogurt. Tonight’s flavor is wild strawberry – all I can think of are the two times I have had the good fortune to harvest those tiny berries, densely packed with fruity sweet – in the Austrian Alps.
M. is outside sitting with our panting dog – I am taking care of the transaction in blue twilight. Our skin glowing blue green in that light, the gregarious woman behind the counter recognizes our faces.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” She says heartily, “I think it’s time we were on a first name basis.”
And now it’s my turn to be surprised.
I repeat my odd old-fashioned English name several times. She tries each time and I feel compelled to try again to help her get it right. After all, I want to be on a first name basis with this nice lady. I live in this town, now, and I don’t want it to be awkward in the future if she is not saying my name correctly. I even spell out my name, to no avail.
She is getting flustered – and without thinking I engage in the art of the white lie. Shifting all of my weight onto my right foot, I muster “hey, my friends call me Esma, why don’t you call me that?”
“Oh!” She utters with great relief, “Esma! What a lovely name!” I can feel the Karagöz puppet troupe rolling around my shoulders and laughing with unfettered glee. In fact, there is so much glee going on that some of my hair is getting pulled out of place and into my face.
Popping down off of my shoulder and onto the bleached wooden counter, Esma the hippie puppet questions me on my choice of names, after all, I have chosen a Turkish name.”M’Lady, isn’t this the name you gave to Turks in Turkey when they cannot say your name? Why not just tell them Liz, or Elizabeth, like you normally do?” I can see, however, that she is not at all lacking pride in the fact that I have chosen her name to represent myself.
Shrugging my shoulders as I leave the establishment one friend richer, I lick the wild strawberry droplets starting down the code. “Whatever works,” I whispered to her impishly, “who would think a Turkish name would trump an English one?”