This will always annoy me.

April 3, 2009

Many of the waitstaff here have very low levels of proficiency in the English language. They speak Globish (see my Jan 26th post for first mention of Globish). They clearly have also been instructed to address customers as Ma’am and Sir. Two things about this annoy me. They run the words together “ma’amsir” or the even worse “momsir” and use this term for either of us. Also, some use it with every sentence. In their eagerness to please and do the right thing, they may ask you if they can remove each empty dish from the table individually. “Excuse momsir may I take” or something to that effect. Some use it as a space filler much like “um” or “ah.” I’ve considered asking to speak with the manager and explain how annoying and even disrespectful this all sounds to us, but I’m afraid his/her English would be just as problematic.

Luckily, the waiters at our favorite restaurant manage to separate the words and use them judiciously. They usually see Paul coming and greet us very warmly. They have, occasionally, called Paul “boss.” He recently asked one of them what his name was and offered his own name in return, so we hope that “boss” may disappear and be replaced by Mr. Paul. Of course, I can’t hope for anything more than Mr. Paul’s wife or ma’am. I suspect that it would be considered culturally inappropriate for them to address me directly by name.

Maybe this is the logical place and time to talk about names. Muslim names are structured differently than Western names. A person has a single name that refers to them specifically, what we would call a “first name.” This is followed by “son of” or “daughter of” and the father’s name. It may also be followed by another “son of” with the grandfather’s name. In some cases, you eventually get to a “family” name which is usually proceeded by “al” meaning “the.” Some have shortened their name which results in it being more Western, although I don’t know if that is the motivation. Daddybird’s boss, for example, goes by just his first name and family name. When a woman marries, she does not change her name. She is still Mariam daughter of Abdullah son of Achmed. However, when she gives birth to a son, she may become “mother of” followed by the son’s name, Um Ibrahim, for example. There is a popular animated show here called “Freej” that has four older women as main characters and all the characters names are “mother of ____.”

So, there’s today’s lesson in Muslim name structures. Class dismissed.



  1. The names!? I still haven’t quite figured out the Hispanic name thing. I think a man is first name/father’s family name/mother’s father’s family name and a girl is the same until she marries then she is first name/husband’s father’s family name/her own father’s family name. But then someone explains it a bit differently to me. I’m confussed.

    Mother of Paul

  2. The heck with last names! Here I am and will always be Steve’s wife. In Tillamook I am Tony’s mom. I am not sure if anyone knows me yet as Jon’s mom…I yearn to be me! Or maybe Krisco..or Kris…actually, nicknames are not bad at all!!

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