Act 1. Scene 1.
We’re at the Starbucks in Den Haag Centraal. It’s a cafe not a coffee shop. Because in the Netherlands a coffeeshop implies something entirely different. I’m in line to order a coffee. I will order the worst coffee on the planet, but that’s not relevant now.
Me: I’d like a Vanilla Latte. Grand.
Lady behind the counter: The will be <certain number> of euros. What’s your name?
Lady behind the counter: Dominique
Lady blah blah blah: Do-mi-nique?
One more try later.
Me: Uh. Okay. Yes. Dominique. That’s right.
Ordering a coffee at Starbucks gives you a chance to reinvent yourself. Sometimes even if you don’t want to. Every time I order coffee at a Startbucks in the Netherlands, I end up acquiescing to a new name. My name, “Damini”, while a fairly common Indian name (mostly because they made a movie called Damini in the 1990s), is obviously unheard of in the Netherlands. Which is fine. What I find interesting is that a name so phonetically basic also becomes complicated in light of cultural differences.
I know it’s not just with me, because Starbucks-pseudonyms are almost a bonding topic here. Molly, an American friend, often picks up coffee written out to Mali – because that’s what it sounds like in an American accent. She sometimes tries to correct them, but it’s usually a losing battle.
Ask Juni, she’s been making the best of this situation for a while now. An Australian expat in the Netherlands, Juni has never used her real name while ordering coffee. Instead, she opts for a common Dutch name such as Marloes or Marianne. The only hitch is, she sometimes forgets the name she gave. Which, naturally, leads to a fair bit of awkwardness… In my version of this story, she also often walks away with some unsuspecting person’s coffee – but it turns out to be a Vanilla Latte, because that’s karma for you.
Aukje, who has a fairly common Dutch name, didn’t have an easy time while in the US. So much so that she came up with a Starbucks name: Lisa.
I am fairly certain this is not a phenomenon unique to one country, or even one brand of coffee. Unfamiliar names would be a challenge in any situation. While it is important that one make the effort to learn correct pronunciations of the names of people one interacts with everyday, personally or professionally, I don’t think anyone should be up in arms if their coffee got labelled wrong. Yes, I am thrilled every time someone behind the counter takes an extra second to get it right, but I also understand if it’s a busy , noisy day and Dominique feels like a fair estimation.
After all, didn’t Shakespeare say, ‘What’s in a name? She who orders a Vanilla Latte is an idiot by any name’.
September 15, 2014
Paul Gale Comedy had something to say on this topic too. Here’s the video on Mashable.com