Thursday, July 29, 2010

What's your Starbucks Alias? A tale from Chile

After I was born, I was a wee thing in a swaddly shirt that pinned my left arm to my right shoulder, due to me being born with a broken collarbone. My family would refer to me as "the one with one wing," though since I was one of, well, the only white baby in the hospital in Crown Heights, Brooklyn (which no longer exists, and which I just realized is on the same street as the home of a high school boyfriend), it was easy to know who I was.

They also called me Eileen (when not joking about my broken collarbone or other distinguishing features), after my maternal grandfather, an Ashkenazi Jewish tradition of naming with the first initial of a deceased relative. This relative died while I was busy gestating, knitting together a collarbone which would later break and form a funny knot like a treebranch, only presumably, less dark.

My name never caused me much woe, until around the 80s sometime, when the song Come on Eileen came into vogue, and I had to be serenaded rather than spoken to, and joked about. There was also this spate of jokes, and well, I'd rather not tell them, I suppose. So Eileen. It's a fairly run of the mill name. Nothing too interesting, got a couple of extra vowels that might trip you up a bit, but it's not hard to remember, doesn't require any unusual tongue gymnastics or glottal stops. Just a name.

And then I moved to Chile. While the names Edgardo and Rodrigo might together be my nemeses, I have yet to meet a Chilean that says my name the way I used to expect it to be said.

But I'm over it. Really. Aygleen is my new name, similar to the now-abandoned "Idreen" my nephew called me briefly. It doesn't bother me. I even say it that way, so as not to trip people up.

Here's where I confess that I go to Starbucks. Sometimes. Okay, not just sometimes. More than a little. It's reliable, the coffee is big, there's wifi, and I'm a capitalist pig. Are you over it yet? I am.

So when I go to Starbucks, they invariably ask my name. They say, "Cuál es tu nombre?" and I reply "Aygleen" and they say "Cómo?" and I say "Aygleen." (the g is sort of silent, but the l is way pointier and further back than in English).

And then I saunter down to the coffee pickup area, waiting for (usually) a tall americano or an iced americano with extra ice (or an espresso over ice, but never request that at this coffee shop). And the great hilarity begins.

There's the (presumable) abbreviation:

Then there's the holy vowel chaos:

Sometimes there's close, but no cigar:

Often it's as though they think I'm ill:



It's gotten to the point where R, my partner in crime and Starbucks, waits, eyebrows raised at the counter to see what they've labeled my cup. Luckily it's fairly unusual to hear of someone named anything similar, and no one ever orders an Americano other than me (it would seem), so it's easy enough to figure out which one is mine.

And now let's switch continents. I was recently in NY for a travel bloggers thingame , and having a caffeine emergency, like you do. I hopped into a nearby Starbucks in the West Village, and when asked my name, I thought, well, it's not fair, I always have to give a foreign name and they always get it wrong. If I give them my name in English, it's a freebie. Grandpa Ely (my namesake) would want me to set down more of a challenge.

So when they said, "And your name?" I said, "Maria Elena." "What?" "Maria Elena."

You see, it would have been an unfair advantage in the "Can anyone spell my name correctly or pronounce it well" game to give a name so easy, so simple, so American (by which I mean USA-ian, though actually the name is Irish, but of Greek origin, related to Helena, which is how I came up with Maria Elena). So I gave the first name that came to my mind. Plus my ahijada (goddaughter) has a similar name, and yes, I'm Jewish, so not really her godmother per se, but it works for me and her family and anyway, that's not the point of the story.)

And how did they do on Maria Elena at one of the plague of Starbuxen (as I like to call them) in the West Village at 8 AM one morning on a sultry summer day?

You be the judge.


Thanks to my sister for pointing out this NPR piece on "your starbucks name" , not that they need my traffic, but I love NPR, and also, I have thought of inventing a new Starbucks name, but I might forget and then my coffee would get cold, and I would be sad. Or melty, in the case of the iced americano.

And in the interest of full disclosure, one time I was out with Abby, and this happened, but it was up on Isidora Goyonochea, close to Sanhattan (I know, I hate that, too), and it's the closest you'll get to being in the United States here in Chile, and also, it wouldn't be fair to judge all of Chile on the basis of one barista at Starbucks up in El Golf.


I know, I was shocked, too. Maybe Shefali Kulkarni, the reporting fellow at the Village Voice who spoke her piece on All Things Considered, should give ordering coffee in Chile a whirl. I'm betting they'd write it Chefaly. Maybe she should visit. She'd be in good company.

So, what's your Starbucks alias?


Daniela Cartagena Fernandez said...

Debo agregar que "Ailin", estéticamente hablando, se ve simétrico... ^_^

Eileen said...

Dani, concuerdo contigo, pero no sería Ailín? Ahí le quita el toque artístico. Gracias por comentar DahnYELLa!

B-renzs said...

Hahah I do the same to avoid being called BrenDa at all costs. My alias is usually always Cristina (with the middle name Kristine, recall is sharper) or Olivia-- just bc I've always loved it; a girl can dream can't she?!

Betsy Longstocking said...

That last shot is beautiful! You should totally frame it.

Mandinga Pataki said...

Eilín es mah mejol!!!! me gusta y tiene style...

Layfan said...

Sometimes I say "Lay" or "Layfan" and then I spell it but when I'm not in the mood to spell anything I just say "Juanita".

pat1755 said...

A good friend of mine is surnamed Gimbernat de Gonzalez. When we'd go to restaurants and they'd ask her name, she'd just make shit up. It was so funny to hear her say Zhefferson with her heavy Mendoza accent.


Abby said...

I was wondering when that picture was going to show up on here :) If I say Abigail, they usually get it right, only sometimes substituting the "b" for a "v" (common mistake in Spanish) or one time they put an "n" so it was Anigail. Interesting.

If I say Abby, however, 9 times out of 10 I get Javi.

Eileen said...

Layfan, I hate to single you out, but you being named Juanita is about as likely as me being named Maria Elena. Though actually not, since you're what? 2nd generation Chilean? But still, I can only imagine the looks you get when you say that, or no? I should try saying my name is Layfan the next time I go in! Will you please be Eileen, and see what they write?

B-renzs, Brenda is, I guess, not your name?

Betsy, have you ever gotten vetsy?

Mandinga, te sugiero que vayas con un nombre gringo para que veas lo que es que nunca te escriben bien el nombre!

Pat, I'm loving Zhefferson. It can be a first name, maybe it should be my new one!

Abby, Javi is killing me. Nada que ver!

All this talk makes me want to go to the closest 'bucks and claim to be named Juanita Zhefferson Layfan de Javi just to see what happens. I'd start laughing though. Plus I have coffee right here at home!

Annje said...

Funny post!I love all the starbucks cups. ...ah, names! In the US, where I am from, people have a hard time wtih my complete name (weird, it is not that hard)--I have even had a telemarketer spell out all 11 letters because she didn't dare take a stab at it. In Chile, everyone thinks I am really an Angela, which I am not. We chose names for our kids that would be pronounced well in both languages.

Tara said...

I have never been asked my name at Starbucks. Not once!

Panshipanshi said...

No se porqué, pero aquí en Chile no existe "la forma correcta de escribir el nombre extranjero", entonces cuando alguien le pone un nombre a su bebé, le puede poner tanto "Diana" como "Dayana".
Me ha tocado anotar muchas veces el nombre "Eileen" de distintas maneras y para qué decir de "Johana" "Yoana" Johanna" "Joana" o "Katerinne" o "Katherine" y un largo etc. Luego de eso, te das cuenta que es algo difícil tener una noción de cómo se escribe "correctamente".


Heather said...

I don't think Heather is going to cut it either. I had better add a new Starbucks name to my list of things to do!

Cory said...

Two of my favorites:

In Lima they simply dropped the y at the end of my name and I was "Cor" and in Seoul, numerous times I was turned in to a dog, "Collie"

Andrea said...

Haha, this is hilarious, and the pics are great! :D

(I love Starbucks; I used to buy a frapuccino every morning during my brief stint at the news agency that shall not be named)

Katie said...

I just wrote a post last week about the mangled pronunciation of my name over at my blog. It's amazing how many incorrect ways there are to say "Katie," although it usually winds up sounding something like "Keedee."

I have yet to carry out the Starbucks experiment in Necochea (but only because there are none here, not because I have a particular gripe with capitalist pigs), but I'll be sure to try this out next time I'm in Buenos Aires, where SB is proliferating like bunnies.

Melissa said...

I personally like to tell them with a very serious face, "Quaalude" When the look at me oddly, I just say "My parents had problems, but they're sober now." Then wait with a very somber face for my beverage. At least my years of acting aren't going to waste.

Kyle said...

Look at the first one. It's impressive.

I'm going to test the U.S. baristas, gotta think of a good name, I like that idea :)

Mikeachim said...

Yes, Dexy's Midnight Runners have left their awful impact on the worlds in many awful, awful ways. Take the mercifully brief trend for blokes to wear denim dungarees without shirts underneath them. Part of me is still in therapy deep inside me over that one.

Anyway, you lanced a boil in my soul there. It hurt, but I feel better.

I'm a Mike. Nobody gets Mike wrong. Depressingly so. I've only travelled around Europe so far, but to date, nobody, Starbucks included, has mucked Mike up. I'm tempted to add an apostrophe so I look like a bad Star Trek/Stargate character: Mi'Ke, or Mik'e. Then make a point of getting stroppy when it's dropped by well-meaning baristas. That'll make them sweat.

Your writing is terrific. But if I'm confronted something comparable to the memory of D's M.Rs when I call by again, my enthusiasm may wane. But for now, thank you. ;)

edj said...

Your commenters are hilarious!
Yes, Elizabeth (elisabet, eleezabet) is pretty boring and known all over the world, at least the Starbucks world (which is smaller than where I've traveled). My daughter's middle name is Aileen, just cuz i think it's beautiful. Taking names across cultures is often good for some laughs though, like how Shaina meant "ugly girl" in Hassiniya (poor girl!) and how Beth, which I used to go by, is Bet in French, which means beast or stupid. Did I already tell you this? I feel I did. If so, sorry.

John Carr said...

Hi Eileen - This type of thing happens everywhere. In 1969 I was an exchange student from Chile. I was sent to the less than "scenic" steel city of Youngstown, Ohio. At the time I was using my Spanish name Juan Carlos. The kids in high school just couldn't negotiate my first name no matter how hard they tried.

One day on my classmates left me a message which started like this; Dear WAND.

Is that that pretty bad?

John C Carr (Previously known as Juan Carlos Carrillo)

Shanna Germain said...

I have to admit that I used to love seeing them attempt my name on a cup (although i bring my own now, always, being a greenie and all that).

Name options included:


Close, close, close!