Sunday, January 24, 2010

My life as Panchita

So a gringa and a Bulgarian called to order a pizza in Chile. Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, right? In this case, it's the beginning of the story of my alter ego.

Her name is Panchita Perez, and she was, indeed, born from a delivery order. My Bulgarian friend V. and I had decided we were hungry and that only the good people at Telepizza could ease our suffering. After no small amount of negotiation -- to call my pizza topping preferences picky would be quite an understatement -- we dialed them up.

The placing of the order was simple enough. The difficulties began when the Telepizza employee asked V. for his name. It was only after repeating, repeating again, spelling and respelling that he was finally able to hang up.

"Next time you should just say your name is Juan Diaz," I said.

It certainly would make ordering pizza easier. Like me, V. has a first name that's unusual even in his home country and a Slavic last name that strikes fear into the hearts of the uninitiated. This means that both of us have spent sizable chunks of our lives spelling out our names in the air and explaining our family histories to strangers. Chileans have called me everything from Lily to Lisa to Light to Leich (pronounced like a phlegm cough) to Bruce to But You Don't Look Asian to Is That Your Stage Name, and sometimes I just don't care enough to go through the arduous process of correcting them. My Ecuadorian former roommate, for example, thought my name was Liz for about three months.

It's not like nobody's ever gotten my name wrong in the States (Leia, as in Princess Leia, stands out). Here in Chile, though, it's a lot more difficult to convince people that a female member of the species can in fact have a monosyllabic name that is not also a word (i.e., Luz, Paz and Sol). At some point, I decided that in order to store up the energy necessary to correct people's pronunciation of my name when it matters (for example, at work or on first dates with a future), I had to stop correcting them when it doesn't (for example, when ordering a pizza). In order for this to be feasible, however, I would have to change my name entirely.

Thus was born Panchita Perez. People have told me this is hardly believable, but I figure that it's my fake name and I can do whatever I want.

Shortly after the delivery order that began it all, V. took his new identity on a test run at the Domino's in San Miguel (we eat a lot of pizza). "Juan Diaz," he replied when the cashier asked for his name.

When a Domino's employee called out for Juan when our pizza was ready, a little boy near us perked up and tugged on his dad's sleeve. "No, son, his name's Juan, too," the father replied, motioning to V. It took all the self control we could muster not to burst out laughing.

Panchita's test run didn't go as smoothly. "What?" the cashier at the food court asked when I told him my name.

"Pancha," I repeated.

He wrote it down, but there was no way in hell he believed it.

OK, so maybe Pancha wasn't the best choice. After all, having a fake name that everyone asks you to repeat isn't the best way to avoid having to repeat your name. The good news is that Pancha is a nickname for Francisca, which has proved a much more viable alias. Now all I have to do is remember where I'm Leigh (the coffee shop near work) and where I'm Francisca (the pizza place near work).

This will prevent me from making the same mistake as V. "Juan Diaz," he replied when an employee at a pasta bar near his house asked for his name.

The employee glanced up with a raised eyebrow. "You changed your name."


Marmo said...

Hahahah, that was a good idea, and saves you a lot of time.

Kyle said...

Yep, I am sometimes Maria Jose at Starbucks. So I don't get Kayleiu written on my cup. It's a fun name game everywhere, but even more so in Chile!

Juan K Peña said...


You don't look like a Francisca! But it was a good idea... haha. I enjoyed this one!

Sara said...

I would like to have a fake first name that didn't involve r rolling. Oh and my last name is easy enough but no one can ever get it. They are like Bock? Back? What!?!?!?!

Margaret said...

Oh, how I can identify with you! but rather than inventing a fun fake name, I resorted to the previously-dreaded "real name"... yep, the one on my passport that was still shiny and new because I had never voluntarily used it before... Until then I had always been "Peg"- but like you say, 1-syllable names are problematic, especially when they end in a letter that no one can pronounce (and that god-awful phlegmy-sounding final g that comes out Pecckkhh)...
Sooo... nice to meet you Panchita! How very smart you are!

Just Call Me Kevin said...

Enough said.

Alessandra said...

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