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October 02, 2007


I took my car in for an oil change at a service station, and I had to pay for it and pick up the keys at the convenience store next to the service station.

The man working at the convenience store, to judge by his thick accent, was African-born. I'd guess he was Nigerian, but that's a wild guess. Anyway, when I told him I was picking up my car, he asked for my name, which I gave him, and I added that the car was a Subaru Forester.

The man then disputed my pronunciation of Subaru. He took out a pad and wrote "SU" on it. "How do you pronounce that?" he asked me. I told him. He wrote "BA" on the pad and again asked how I pronounced it. I told him. Finally, yes, he wrote "RU" and asked how I pronounced it. I told him.

He looked up at me and said, "See? It's Su-BAH-ru. Americans say SU-b'ru."

I fought the temptation to say, "Yes, thank you for that explanation. Just give me my damn car back." Instead, I puzzled over the bizarre image of an African, speaking English with a thick accent, instructing me how to pronounce Japanese. I pointed out to him that the Japanese tend to accent words on the second syllable, as in Mit-SU-bishi, which we always pronounce Mitsu-BISH-i. And I told him that once we had paid for the cars, the Japanese probably didn't care how we pronounced the name.

So the car is a SU-baru or a SU-b'ru. As Reagan might have said, "I paid for that SUV."