a breakdown in international relations


There is a lovely low-priced Indian restaurant near my workplace in San Francisco. It's a short walk from the office, and their chicken wraps cost about five dollars. Any establishment that can cater to my frugality and my laziness at the same time is sure to gain my patronage. Unfortunately, I have recently jeopardized my relationship with the fine people who run the place. And like most tragedies in human history, it all began with a beautiful girl and a dikka-style wrap.

Since I first began lunching at this place, the service and efficiency have picked up tremendously, at least in the area with which I am concerned, phone orders. The ordering process is brief but affable, and the food is nearly always ready in the brief time it takes me to stroll down the street to pick it up. Part of that seems to be due to new staffers, including an affable British manager who effortlessly handles lunch crowds and calls you "chap". The newest addition to the staff is a stunningly pretty register girl, whom I am assuming to be from India because of her accent. She is also extremely nice. This is where my troubles began.

Roughly two months ago, I made one of my semi-weekly calls to the restaurant. I gave the girl my name and order, and walked down to the restaurant, where I waited. And waited. The Stunningly Pretty Register Girl did not call my name, though the plastic bag behind her looked suspiciously like it might contain my dikka-style chicken wrap. Finally, I overcame my natural reticence to approach pretty girls or ask for anything from anyone, and came up to the counter.

"Is there an order for 'Sean'?" I asked. She shook her head.

"I think that might be it," I said, pointing to the wrap. She shook her head again.

"No, that is for 'SAY-on'," the SPRG informed me. Now, obviously, she was unfamiliar with the subtle nuances of Celtic names. Plenty of people from America don't realize that "S-E-A-N" is pronounced shon, after all, let alone people from India. But instead of explaining to the poor girl, I simply said, "Yeah, that's me," grabbed the bag, and walked out. That was mistake #1.

The next time I ordered, the SPRG had been promoted to phone-answering duty. I ordered, she asked my name, and I told her.

"S-H-A-W-N?" she asked.

I am always uncomfortable with people doing things for me, whether or not it's their job. Often, I reconcile this by not asking for what I want, or trying to simply tell the person what they'd like to hear. Perhaps it was a bizarre, misguided desire not to inconvenience her, or maybe I was just in a hurry, but instead of correcting the SPRG, I said, "Sure, you got it."

This is when it really began to fall apart. I continued to patronize this establishment for the next few weeks, but I didn't always talk to the SPRG. Sometimes I spelled my name correctly. Sometimes I didn't spell it at all. Usually I just went with whatever they suggested.

One day, not realizing that I was talking with the SPRG, I spelled my name "S-E-A-N". The SPRG got very quiet and asked, "Not . . . S-H-A-W-N?" Clearly, she felt like an idiot, thinking she had been screwing up my name for a month. (Upon hearing this much of the story, my colleague Monica Fitzpadrick suggested, "She should have come to America by way of Dublin, instead of by way of Illiteracy Land, where she clearly had a stopover.") When I arrived to pick up the food, just five minutes later, the SPRG was completely out of sight.

So I felt awful about the whole situation. I avoided the place for a couple of days, but a week later, I decided to patch things up. I called in, ready to confess, apologize, beg forgiveness, maybe even give her flowers. Instead, a guy answered the phone. I was disappointed, but I still wanted a dikka-style wrap. So I ordered quickly, and headed down to the place.

The place was almost entirely devoid of customers when I arrived, as it was late in the afternoon. There was a guy behind the counter, with one to-go order in a small bag. Clearly, it was my dikka wrap. I walked up, and he asked, "Name?"

Me: Sean. I think that one is mine.

Him: This is for John.

Me: No. I'm Sean.

Him: (pause) This says John.

Me: (hesitating for only a moment, and then grabbing the bag) OK, whatever.

("This is not how you make friends," Monica adds.)

So I haven't gone back, and I'm not sure if I ever can again, unless I arrive with flowers, candy, maybe even jewelry, and a name tag. The storybook ending would involve an apology speech, many tears, laughter, a marriage proposal, two musical numbers, and a lot of naan, but realistically, I will probably just go to the Chinese restaurant on Second Street a lot more. There, when you order, the woman behind the counter just gives you a poker chip.


This is why with my own difficult to comprehend and spell Celtic name I usually just give a fake one. Usually I give my mom's name, Rosemary. My mom once with me when I gave her name, was astounded that I did it all the time. I told her that she should try merely for the sake of a ten minute transaction to try and explain my name to people who apparently can't hear the extremely difficult Nu-la. N-U-A-L-A. So I use her name which everyone from hispanics to indians seems to be able to comprehend with ease. Of course I'm not trying to impress the Stunningly Pretty Register Girl, although now I feel like I should be.

yeah, i was going to suggest the fake name route. but a different one each time. that way they'll think you're some kind of spy, and it'll be great.

every time.
all the time.

my name seems to create mass amounts of confusion too, over the phone...jay, jane, jake, jaime are common mistransfigurations of my name. imagine the difficulties when i follow it up with my nordic last name: gjestland. the g and the j together *really* mess people up.
one day i hope to marry a guy with a last name like smith, just so that i may spend the rest of my life preserving some bit of my sanity.

i'm all for maurice, as long as you pronounce it "morris" like in the lord of the flies book on tape.

i know a guy who changed his last name from zajaczkowski to beckett.

i always go with "dallas, like the city," both because i hate being called "christine" (no offense to all christines) and because i secretly want to be a porn star.

I have an inordinate number of problems with people getting my (mostly last) name wrong too. However, as far as I can tell my name is not Nordic or Celtic but rather Anglo-American, and 90% of the people having problems with it are native speakers of American English.

Woolsey. One L, one S. If you pronounce them in the order they're written, and write them in the order they're pronounced, you'll get it right every time. Like the street in south Berkeley, the Congressional representative for the sixth district of California, and not entirely unlike the 15th-century Archbishop of York. I should hold explanatory seminars with PowerPoint presentations.

Sean/Shawn/John, you should work on explaining more and grabbing less. Either that, or invest in a false mustache and a fedora.

sean already has a false mustache.

the folks in my law journal have cruelly branded me with the nickname "hot lips" after the M*A*S*H character who had the un-americanized version of my last name. i'm lobbying to have my nickname officially changed to h-bomb.

speaking of keanes, a friend of mine went to some dinner where bil "family circus" keane, not-too-distant relative of our own sean, gave a speech and was apparently extremely funny. by non-churchy standards, even.

I worked with an actor once who, the middle of our repertory season, changed his last name from Burzinski to Zenon. (even more oddly, the emphasis was on the second syllable, which none of us understod). He was a dumbass.

My grandfather's name was Maurice. I honestly can't remember how he pronounced it.

I don't ever need to use a fake name at a take-away place, unless some girl named Katie orders right in front of me, which has actually happened before. At Mexican restaurants, they always call me "Catty" which I find amusing.

when i go to mexican places i usually give my name as "nacho ready!"

I always give my name as "Molly". It's what they think I said when I say my name anyway.

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Keane published on March 30, 2004 4:12 AM.

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