My Irish friend grew up in an almost entirely Irish-speaking household, and is pretty passionate about preserving the language. Over the years she’s taught me a few phrases – starting with “slan,” which is how she signed off her very first letter to me (it means “goodbye”). I still use them when we write – basic things like “go raith maibh agat” (thank you), “Nollaig shona” (Merry Christmas), stuff like that. I’ve nowhere near her competency, but I like making her happy.
I also like using the Irish spelling of her surname – which is quite different from the English spelling. And that sometimes causes some double-takes.
I went to ship her a package recently, at a place on my block that does that kind of soup-to-nuts packing and shipping service, including typing out the address label. I got there first thing on a Saturday, when the only staff included one harried guy at the register and a teenage kid working in the back room and doing general fetching-and-carrying. The kid brought his boss an envelope for my friend’s package, then loped back to the back room. “So, Ireland,” the boss said. “What’s the full address?” I told him, and he typed it out, checking it on Googlemaps. “Yep, there it is,” he said, showing me when it came up. “Great – okay, what’s her name?”
I hesitated. “Okay, brace yourself,” I said, “This is gonna be funky. But just trust me.”
“Okay.” I told him the first name – which isn’t that odd – and he typed it. “And the last name is – brace yourself, now – N, i, a space, and then d, h, o, double-n, a, b, h, a, i, n.”
“…Wow.” He typed that in, eyes going slightly wide.
“Yeah, it’s Irish.”
“Okay, I usually don’t ask, but…can you check this for me?” he spun the computer around to show me. I gave the name my thumbs-up, and then as he spun the computer back around to print the label, I glanced behind him – and cracked up when saw that the kid had come from the back room and was staring at me, brow furrowed in confusion. He said nothing, just stared for a good 20 seconds before shaking his head and heading back to the back room.