I’m not sure who did it first. Our name anyway. It’s German. It’s spelled ‘Freund’, properly pronounced ‘froind’, but our family pronounces it ‘frend’. Throughout my youth we were confronted with frequent misspellings and a barrage of jokes. Actually, it was only one. Exactly one. The same one, every time.
One day I drove to the dump in our old rusty Chevy with the old bumper sticker ‘I got the crabs at Durty Nelly’s’ (which I never understood until much older) to drop off the trash. You had to stop in at the office and let them know you were bringing trash. On this particularly brisk, fall day a cute girl I knew from school who never looked my way was working.”Freund (friend),” I said sheepishly.
Behind her was a large man in striped overalls leaning hard into a creaky office chair. He had a couple chins that folded into his chest as he leaned back. His lips hung loose like those people who smoke too many cigars and once they get to the nub, it just sort of hangs there from their calloused lower lip. If I remember right, he even had some burn marks on his shirt from when he probably fell asleep smoking.
Anyway, at that instant this comic genius decided to take a moment from ogling the girl at the desk and rasped out, “Huh, hey friend, are you my friend? Wa huh, huh, huh, *hack*cough* heh, heh.”
The joke went the same way, every time, without fail. And the witty reply was always the same, “yes.”
Beyond that we would have to spell out our name for every phone call or any time we went to the bank. F-R-E-U-N-D, but pronounced ‘frend’. I thought that things would change upon moving to Germany.
Obviously I’d have to get used to pronouncing my name correctly, but there would be no more spelling it over the phone. No more confusion with the mail. No more explaining, “Nope, I don’t know when they changed the pronunciation.” Just smooth sailing.
Granted I like the fact that we pronounce our name this way against all logic of spelling, but I did think it would make things much simpler. But I’d never expected the hospitality I’d encounter here. While most people would read it properly as the German word that it is, any time I went to a bank or had any other verbal interaction and said, “Mein Name ist Freund, wie Freund,” they would write down F-R-I-E-N-D.
It seems the obvious – and very considerate – conclusion was always something around, ‘Oh, he’s American, so he must be just trying to fit in. Even though he says his name is Freund, it must be spelled the English way.’
And so now, four and a half years after moving to Germany, I still find myself having to spell out my last name. Although fortunately, I do not have to deal with the jokers anymore. No one here bats an eye.