November 30, 2008

Feeling Superior In Harvard Yard

As is my wont, these days, I wandered down to Harvard Square this afternoon for coffee and the discussion of writing. On my way there, a furrenner accosted me:

HIM: Excuse me, 'ow do I get to zee university?

ME: Um... Which university? [Because, you know, there are a couple in Boston, even in the relatively compact environs of lower Cambridge: Harvard, Lesley, Radcliffe...]

HIM: You know, 'Arvard University. Zee main building.

ME: Well... Harvard has about thirty different buildings. Is there one in particular you're trying to get to?

HIM: I don't know. Maybe zee law school?

ME: That's on the other side of the river.

HIM: Ah. Where is zee subway, then?

I mean, it seemed like he was just a tourist looking to "see" Harvard, so I directed him to the main yard — but on a Sunday afternoon, what was he even expecting at "the main building" anyway? A guided tour? Tea and scones? Bloody Europeans.


Now, just so you don't think I'm an insufferable snob who makes fun only of clueless tourists:

On my way home, I stopped in at the Harvard Coop to look for a book I needed by an Egyptian author named Nawal el Saadawi.

Pop quiz, part one: how does one correctly alphabetize Arabic names with particles like "el" and "al"?

(Answer: you ignore them; they're the equivalent of "the".)

Pop quiz, part two: where did the bookstore of the *cough* most prestigious university in the world file the work of Nawal el Saadawi?

(Answer: under "E". And not even, for God's sake, between "El A___" and "El Z___", but between "Ellis" and "Elterman". Oh dear.)


Inchworm said...

haha... at least they try to alphebetize. The majority of kids I know don't know how. How is THAT for sad? lol.

Patrick said...

Blame Barnes & Noble.

Andrew said...

I do blame Barnes & Noble, for almost everything.

Claire said...

Counterpoint: Law school is up by Lesley. Business school is on the other side of the river.

M spaceholder said...

Dude, you need to feel superior about this!

I shouldn't call you "Dude", should I? Yeah... I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

Um... Couldn't this be a case of different but equally reasonable conventions? How would you feel if a Dutch blogger complained about you alphabetizing van Gogh under V? (In Dutch you ignore van, den, van der, etc. when alphabetizing, but in English you don't.)

Sorry to go all relativist on you...

Andrew said...

Point taken about location of Harvard Law. That university is too damn big, anyway.

As for alphabetization, pater, I rely on Chicago (which I believe you forced me to buy when I started college...), and although it offers no specific advice on Dutch names, it does suggest:

"The indexer must consider the individual's personal preference (if known) as well as traditional and national usages . . . Chicago occasionally deviates from Webster when a name is invariably accompanied by a particle and thus likely to be sought by most readers under the particle — de Gaulle, for example."

But in any case, "el Saadawi" should still not appear between "Ellison" and "Elterman" no matter what your opinion on particles.

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