Case in point - ever since I moved to Dubai, I’ve been obsessed with this local chain of downmarket Indian restaurants called (in what I can only assume is an English transliteration of the Hindi name)…
Say it out loud, right now: Chhappan Bhog! Isn’t there something instinctively satisfying about such a bizarre and exotic jumble of consonants? Like, who knew “double Hs” were a thing? And what does one make of the “Bh” combination? (Personally, I like to use it as an excuse to pronounce the whole syllable in a very dark, sinister, throaty tone, like the voice on a horror movie trailer - but this has little to no grounding in the study of Hindi phonology, so…)
No? Just me? Someone else tell me you find this phonetically compelling! You kind of want to franchise it in the US, don’t you?! Chhappan Bhog for everyone! Move over, golden arches - here comes the neon “Bh”!
Personally I’m unmoved, as Aussies are kind of a dime a dozen in Dubai, but I will say that all this Antipodean QT has netted me some great new vocabulary. I have, on various nights out, been called a “pisshead” (one who gets drunk) and a “piker” (one who leaves early or skips out) by this colleague, both of which I greatly enjoy. I have also loved learning the hierarchy of Australian classism, which includes such denigrations as “bogan” (a redneck) and “cashed-up bogan,” otherwise known as a ”CUB” (a bogan who comes into wealth, i.e. one who is nouveau riche).
The one thing I have not taken a liking to is the Aussie pronounciation of the letter “H” as though it has a letter “H” at the beginning - that is, “haytch” - which I think is about as aurally pleasing as fingernails running down a blackboard. I have learned to deftly steer important work conversations away from discussion of the HR (“haytch arr”) function or the potential use of HP (“haytch pee”) as a case study solely in the interest of protecting my fragile, bleeding eardrums - business impact be damned.
Now, let me be clear - I’m not being all “Oh, those Ay-rabs and their kuh-raaaaazy foreign names!” After the amount of time I’ve spent in the region, I can pronounce most Arabic monikers with a vague degree of accuracy: I can more or less do the gutteral “a” at the beginning of “Ali” and “Abdullah,” the ever-so-slightly rolled “r” of Rashid, the fancy “t” in Fatima, and even the “Kh” (yes, that’s one letter) at the beginning of “Khalid.”
But there are still a handful of Arabic letters that I just cannot do no matter how hard I try (i.e. the “q” in “Qatar”) and as luck would have it they’re the main letters in these guys’ names. First there’s “Ihsan” (إحسان) which uses this really intense “h” sound like you’d make to fog up your glasses (“HHHHHHHHH” - you know what I mean). Then there’s “Ghasan” (غسان) which starts with this over-the-top guttural “gh” noise like the rattling sound you make in the back of your throat when you’re gargling.
Since I can’t say either of these letters with any kind of ease or aplomb, I basically have two options. Option A: be That American who doesn’t even make an effort to pronounce Arabic words correctly, i.e. “Uh-ssan” and “Guh-ssan” - which, I mean, is annoying to begin with, but even worse because it makes their names rhyme! Option B: be That American who overpronounces every syllable of a foreign word in an effort to demonstrate cultural sensitivity, i.e. “Ih-BREATHE OUT LIKE I’M CLEANING MY GLASSES-hhhhhhhhhh-san” and “GARGLING IN THE BACK OF MY THROAT-Gh-HOLD ON, WAIT FOR IT-Ghhhhhuh-san” - which makes me sound like a giant douche.
Sadly, I usually default to Option C: a mangled, unintelligible hybrid of the two, which tends to evoke a raised eyebrow and a quizzical look. Expat problems, man.