It’s been 10 years since my mission started. From the time I left college, and launched into adulthood to learn how the world works. As my refueling pit stop at home comes to an end, I thought I’d share what this mission has taught me thus far.
Five different jobs with two stints of unemployment. I now occupy my time as a disillusioned corpse claiming to be a “strategic thinker” in software sales interviews. Before that, I bounced from teacher to grad student to non-profit optimist to workaholic tech bro. Each of these careers carried me to foreign worlds—living in five cities, eight different apartments, and a Bolivian summer, with hundreds of trips in between.
Each world I’ve visited has its unique populace, dialect, and tax codes. Every interaction reminds me how our home-bred assumptions combust under foreign atmospheres. And any new hypothesis I conjure up to replace them sifts through my mind like a fistful of sand. Impossible to hold onto for more than a minute.
So, despite 10 years of tumult, my report is… thin. To say the least. I’m sad to report that my mission has only taught me one thing…
It’s an innocuous tidbit, really. Call it what it is—a letdown. Before I left the Philadelphia suburbs, I didn’t realize there was a difference. And learning linguistic nuances wasn’t even my initial objective.
But it’s an unavoidable part of the journey. After all, your name is your name. And with my name, every introduction results in these foreign faces twitching and straining behind a smile.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Jared.”
“Well…nice to meet you…”
No, it’s not that big of a deal. We all mostly get along fine after this inevitable hiccup. But just as my pronunciation can be confusing for foreigners, theirs can be jarring for me.
Imagine Tom pronounced as Tum. Dan as Den. Brittany as Brettany.
I’ve tried to teach these well-intentioned alien life forms how to say the unattainable “a” sound in my name to no avail.
You have to open your mouth wider…
Okay, dial it back. Move the sound back in your throat a bit.
A fool’s errand. It takes a major lift to rewire speech patterns. Perhaps if you didn’t learn it as a kid, you never will. The only explanation I have is we must mold our mushy infantile brain matter differently where I’m from.
As an example, those that pronounce the short ‘A’ sound the way I do, never ask about my mission or where I’ve landed. A close friend recently explained with a smile, “I have no idea what you do, and to be honest I don’t care.” I smiled back. Many foreigners would find this offensive. But if you’re from my strange planet, if you pronounce the ‘A’ like I do, you know this is quite the compliment. I imagine, to them, the mission’s premise is flawed…
And now I’m leaving home again, watching the familiar skyline out my window. A skyline that I point to and say “home” though I’ve done nothing to deserve that privilege. Ben Franklin taunts me with a calm smile as if he holds the answers I’ve been seeking this whole time.
While I’m far from home, I still do come across a few familiar looking people who don’t strain or twitch when they hear me say my name. I now marvel at the ease with which they open their mouths just a bit wider to get it right. It’s enough to melt the tension off my shoulders and down my back. A much-needed respite during this tumultuous journey. I always make a point to thank them.
…In fact, from now on, I think I’ll thank everyone that opens their mouth a little wider to pronounce the “A” in my name.