A wail on two cities

There was a charge for $29.32 from a company I didn’t recognize (FFCo) on my charge-card bill. What is FFCo? I called the billing department where a Roger Smith answered the phone.

Ah, yes, FFCo, the Flimflam Co. They own a chain of seafood restaurants and they manufacture fiber-optic cable. Did I buy any fiber-optic cable on Tuesday the 14th at the Fish Hut by any chance? I did have the orange roughy at the Fish Hut on the 14th. I’m sure this could be settled with a phone call.

There was something with the way he said “sir” that gave away the fact that Roger was half a world away in India. His accent was perfect, you’d have to really pay attention to know that he was in the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore, home to many of the highest of the high-tech companies in the world.

Of course, I mean Bengalooru.

It turns out, the very day I spoke to Roger Smith, Bangalore officially changed its name to Bengalooru. If Bengalooru is the name of the town, how did it become Bangalore in the first place? No doubt some Brit during the Colonial days couldn’t wrap his tongue around Bengalooru and wrote down “Bangalore” in a note to the East India Co.

There seems to be a wave of name-changing going on around the world. Madras changed its name, too. It is now known as Chennai. Remember that fad for “bleeding” Madras shirts in the early ‘60s? It was the height of preppy fashion. I guess we were really wearing bleeding Chennai.

The President of China visited Mumbai a few months ago to talk trade and investment ... Mumbai? Where the heck is Mumbai? Oh, yeah it used to be Bombay. Didn’t you get the memo?

I know this name changing is nothing new – Istanbul/Constantinople, Leningrad/St. Petersburg, Cape Canaveral/Cape Kennedy/Cape Canaveral, Ceylon/Sri Lanka, Siam/Thailand, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Obviously, people who live in a place have the right to name it anything they want. What I don’t understand is why we are so selective.

If it’s a big cultural mistake to call Bejing Peking, why is it OK for English speakers to call it Rome when the Italians call it Roma? Why do we say Florence when they say Firenze? Don’t the Italians deserve as much courtesy as the Chinese? If it’s wrong to call Zimbabwe Rhodesia, why is it OK for English speakers to call “Par-ee” Paris?

For years I’ve read that English speakers call fortified wine sherry because it comes from the town of Jerez in Spain. Huh? What am I missing? How do you get sherry from Jerez? Why can’t we say Jerez? More importantly, how did we get Spain from Espana? Are we all too dumb to say Espana? Is it really that hard?

“And why do I have to call India to find out that the FFCo is the Fish Hut? Why don’t they just call it the Fish Hut on the bill? Why don’t we call things what they are?”

“I don’t know, sir. I don’t know why they call it ‘orange roughy,’ either. Here we call that fish a slimehead.”

“Your name’s not Roger Smith, is it?”

“No, sir. You could never pronounce my real name. Thank you, have a nice day.”

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at jim_mullen@myway.com

Copyright 2007, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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