The linguists of Walkerhill

My name is not kind for people whose first language is not English. It has four consonants in a row. If your language prefers the pattern of consonant-vowel, consonant-vowel, a cluster of four consonants in a row is terrifying. Across the world, hotel receptionists have blanched. They want to make a good impression. They are eager to make a good impression. They look at my name and know they haven’t a hope. In hotels in India, they get round it by calling me Mrs Anna. (That’s one of the names in my passport, not actually Horatia.) Anna is a familiar name to Indian hotel receptionists. It is a man’s name, in India, but they silently forgive my obviously deluded parents (or construct for me a transgendered past that does not exist but is necessarily dramatic) and fall comfortably into its rhythm.

At the W in Seoul, however, no member of staff was going to be defeated by four consonants in a row. When I arrived, the young man who showed me to my room asked me if I would mind having my photograph taken. He produced a digital camera. I had no idea why he might want a photograph and, at my age, could instantly discount any theories that he had become besotted with my ethereal beauty. I assumed it was for some mysterious Korean security law. After all, in Russia, they take your passport away. Photograph ceremony complete, I admired the view.

The Han river

The view from my hotel room: The Han River

At breakfast the next morning, I was greeted by name by every member of staff who bumped into me. “Good morning, Mrs Marigali.” “Good morning, Missy Marigili.” “Good morning, Mrs Maralilo.” I can only conclude that, at night, after all the hotel guests are asleep, the staff huddle round the print-outs of that day’s new arrivals and memorise the names to go with these faces. I thought they were splendid.

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