I was under the notion that in Umrica when people introduce themselves, they also tend to lean forward. That’s what happened to me every time I had the privilege of saying hi to someone I hadn’t met before. I first observed this somewhat strange body language at church, shaking someone’s hand in the “meet and greet” time. All of a sudden, the requisite personal space would shrink by about twelve inches. Often times, this leaning position was accompanied by an expression of steely determination. Sometimes, an ear would be thrust into my face at other times I could watch them brace themselves to read my lips. Finally, I figured it out. They leaned forward in an attempt to catch my name which, thanks to my skin color, had to contain at least four syllables. This was not some weird US custom that Amru sitcoms didn’t clue me in on. I was simply encountering politically correct “I will learn to say her name right” moments.
That’s when I say “Susan” and watch palpable relief flow through their veins and their facial expressions ease into a smile. “That’s it?” they often respond. No longer did they have to contend with unpronounceable tongue twisters like “Meera” or “Asha“. “Susan” was easy as apple pie. My name which met with quizzical expressions in India and was often massacred by well-meaning fellow desis (“Soosen” to the Mallus, “Soosun” in Madras and “Soojan” in north India) generated quite the opposite response here.
One time, my professor was so taken aback by the lack of complexity in my name, he asked if I had changed it since arriving in the US. Nope, this was what my parents christened me. In fact, it’s my grandmom’s name. To his credit, he later apologized for his incredulity.
This morning I watched this hilarious SNL interview (http://content.foxsearchlight.com/videos/node/1263) and I was reminded of the name dilemma. It was a spoof interview for the Mira Nair movie Namesake which the interviewer was calling ‘nam-a-sake’, the last two syllables pronounced like the Japanese brew. It had me in splits, especially the part where the interviewer asks if Mira Nair invented the Nair line of hair removal products!
On that note, I’ll have reserve another entry for my last name.