The Middle East @ Work

Naming conventions

Richard Core Mar 3, 2008

When I was traveling in Jordan, I didn’t always tell people where I was really from. But when I did, it inevitably seemed like they had relatives in Chicago or New York — or at least knew somebody who did. And looking at the names of some of the businesses I saw, maybe they were right. Except it seemed like maybe those relatives actually live in Tempe and Tenafly.

I mean, if I were going to name a business after something American, I might choose The Ritz. Or the Golden Gate. Instead, I found places like the gas station in West Amman called Grand Central Station (It was neither very grand, nor very central. I suppose it was, indeed, a station.) Smack up against the divided highway that runs between Amman and Zarqa –- not far from my favorite road sign ever, indicating exits for Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia — was a furniture store named Newjersey (sic) Furniture. And around the corner in the same building was Newjersey Majestic Hall for Celebrations. Maybe living in New York I’m biased, but majestic is not a word I usually associate with the Garden State.

On a charming little street in West Amman, I found a business, called — appropriately, I thought — Arizona Dry Cleaners. After all, you wouldn’t want to take your dry cleaning to a place named after someplace damp, like Seattle or New Orleans, right?

There was the American Doors business that advertised on a billboard along the road to the airport. I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to imply. But perhaps my favorite of all was the Biggly-Wiggly supermarket. I imagine it’s probably a bastardization of the southern grocery store chain, Piggly Wiggly (P’s in English tend to become B’s in Arabic, so you drink Bebsi, which you can buy at the Subermarket.) But I like to imagine that it was intentional, to avoid a run-in with the original’s attorneys. Or maybe just in deference to the Islamic prohibition on anything to do with pigs.

— Alisa Roth

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