‘Coffee Names’ and ‘Szechuan Names’


NPR picked up on this Village Voice weblog post by Shefali Kulkarni and I heard her interviewed today. She describes how, five months or so ago, she started to order her coffees at Starbucks under the name  ‘Sheila’ instead of being burdened to spell her unfamiliar foreign name for the baristas. She is apologetic about racial profiling, but she began to notice that those on the coffee lines with foreign names often did the same thing. Now coffee snob that I am, I would never be caught in a Starbucks, but this reminds me of somethng I do which in effect turns this situation on its head.

Being a fiend for Asian food, with which my neighborhood is quite well-endowed, I noticed about thirty years ago that when I ordered takeout the Asian restauranteurs often had difficulty understanding my name ‘Eliot’ and I began ordering my food under the name ‘Wes’. Unambiguous, didn’t require spelling, etc. Within a few months, however, my favorite Szechuan restaurant started identifying me whenever I came in for a table or a pickup as ‘Mr. West,’ and ‘Hello, Mr. West’ it has remained.

This was before I used credit cards. When that changed, I recall worrying about the confusion it might cause at the restaurant if ‘Mr. West’ paid for his food with a card belonging to ‘Eliot Gelwan’, but they never batted an eyelid. After I had children, once they became old enough to notice, my son and daughter on the other hand have been shaking their heads in consternation whenever my restaurant  greets me. I think I’ll have to point them to the ‘coffee names’ post to vindicate msyelf…