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By Any Other Name 

How insistent should you be in having someone pronounce your name correctly?

Wednesday, Apr 17 2002
Dear Social Grace,

My last name is five syllables long and rather difficult to pronounce. I usually pronounce my name for people as soon as they reach a point where they have to say it (whenever I call a company's customer service, when the Safeway clerk hands me my receipt, and so on). My question is this: What do I do if they then proceed to mispronounce it? It seems rude to keep correcting them, but at the same time, it is my family name, and hearing it mispronounced bugs me. Certain Safeway clerks flee their registers when they see me coming.

Miss Pronounced Garbledmoniker

Dear Miss Garbledmoniker,

Have you never paused for a moment of sympathy for those put-upon Safeway clerks? Just think of all the multisyllabic names they are required by company policy to recite each day. We all love the sound of our own names, and while I expect to be addressed by mine in many situations (at my doctor's office, for example), it hardly seems necessary at a large, impersonal grocery store. If the correct pronunciation of your name is necessary for some reason -- if, for example, you'll be dealing with this person a lot in the future -- gentle correction is both appropriate and the right thing to do. However, though it's thoughtful of you to anticipate trouble and help him out, a Safeway clerk must be allowed to move to the next customer after giving your name one good try and wishing you a good day.

Dear Social Grace,

We went to [a local restaurant] the other night with a 7:00 reservation. We arrived at 7:16 and were told that we had forfeited our table as they hold them for only 15 minutes. We were then told that the time was actually 7:25 by the manager, which was flat-out wrong.

We had confirmed the reservation twice that day and earlier in the week. We are regular patrons there, although we are not recognized as such. They informed us that most restaurants in San Francisco have a 15-minute policy and that they were justified in giving our table to someone else.

My question: Is there a 15-minute rule? We asked them in the future to specify it to customers if they were going to be so diligent, and they told us it goes without saying.

(Bottom line -- they messed up and had too many reservations, and we were the last standing, so to speak. We didn't object to having to wait, but rather to the ungracious way in which it was handled. There was no mention of "have a drink on us while you wait" -- instead, a lot of pointing at watches and hostility.) Thanks for your reply.


ChrisDear Chris,

The "15-minute rule" sounds about right to me, and calls to a few in-demand restaurants confirmed that it's broadly applied. We can safely assume that it's in place even if it isn't clarified when we make a reservation. All of the hosts I spoke to said that without a phone call from the late party, they'll hold a reserved table for between 15 and 20 minutes before giving it away to walk-in guests -- and that late arrivals might have to wait for a table to open up. Most places have enough "no-call, no-show" guests -- with confirmed reservations -- that to hold tables on a busy night would cost too much.

Running a dining room is an inexact science. Even the neurotically punctual among us will sometimes have to wait, and drinks on the house are generally reserved for extreme problems.

None of this, however, excuses hostility from restaurant staff. If you feel you were treated rudely, you should direct your letter to the restaurant's management and reconsider your "regular patron" status.

Dear Social Grace,

I am a student at a small San Francisco college. I've become increasingly irritated with one particular student's pretentious style. "Pat" is sophisticated, intelligent, and articulate. Pat does not miss an opportunity to inform the class of Pat's astoundingly rich background and razor-sharp intellect before cleverly returning to the topic at hand. Pat comes across as a boastful windbag.

I don't discount that I am jealous or at least envious of Pat's savoir-faire. At first, I questioned my own increasing annoyance with Pat, thinking that I ought to be taking a closer look at myself. Pat is not a "bad" person, after all.

Over time, I have heard from a number of students who are also annoyed with Pat's unnecessarily erudite ramblings. To my knowledge, nobody has confronted Pat. What happens if a number of people are annoyed by one person, and that person has no idea? Does Pat deserve to know that they find Pat irritating? If nobody confronts Pat about this, will our annoyance lead us to avoid Pat? (Mine already has.) Should anything be done?

I still question my motives for writing this letter. But I'm doing it anyway. Thank you for your time.

Via the Internet

Dear Studious Madam or Sir,

Well, your letter will have at least one Social Grace intern looking nervously over his shoulder the next time he speaks up at his "Feminism and Marxist Ideology" class.

To be fair to Pat, one person's boastful windbag is another's fascinating raconteur. That you're questioning your motives for disliking this "sophisticated, articulate" student indicates that we've moved into a gray area. It's a fact of life that all of us will associate with the occasional "Pat," someone who sets our teeth on edge for reasons that are perhaps not his fault. Telling him so isn't at all necessary. Though you can't choose your classmates, you're right to choose whom you associate with outside of class, and avoiding people who irritate you isn't impolite: It's common sense. Learning to deal patiently with Pat's classroom hot air is part of your education -- I can practically guarantee that you will, at some point, end up working for a Pat-like person.

About The Author

Social Grace


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