Have you ever come across the name of a store that you couldn’t pronounce? Since it’s a proper noun you can’t look it up in a dictionary. You ask friends, but they can’t pronounce it either. Each of you calls it by a different name, yet you all know exactly what you are referring to. For my husband and I, that store is L’Occitane en Provence. I wandered into this store in the mall last summer and fell in love with the scent of their citrus verbena products. When I spritzed myself with that fragrance, my husband complimented me and asked where it came from; that is when our troubles began.
“I got it in that French store in the mall,” I said trying to avoid saying the actual name of the store.
“What French store?” he asked.
“You know the one I’m talking about. “LAH-OC-SIH-TANE,” I said butchering the name.
He paused for a minute, thought about what I had said and then realized which store I was talking about. “That’s how you say the name of that store?” he asked intrigued. “I thought it was pronounced LUH-O-SEE-TAHN.”
“I have no idea how to pronounce the name of the store. But, you knew exactly what I was talking about.”
And so began an intermittent quest for the true pronunciation of L’Occitane. Each time we passed the store in the mall, it would momentarily spark our curiosity. We’d renew our conversation about how to pronounce the name, take a few horribly mispronounced guesses and leave the topic alone until the next time we happened by the store. I suppose if the urge to know the answer to our pronunciation dilemma was insatiable, we could have just gone into the store to ask, but where’s the sport in that?
A few weeks ago our curiosity got the better of us while we were actually shopping in the store when it wasn’t very busy. While the cashier was ringing up my purchase, Oregano asked, “How do you pronounce the name of this store? We’ve been wondering for awhile and have absolutely no idea.”
The cashier laughed, said she gets asked that question a lot, then kindly pronounced the name of the store and told us what it meant in French. Curiosity sated, we walked out of the store repeating the name, but by the time we reached our car in the parking lot we had managed to mangle the correct pronunciation. For a brief moment we were able to say the name of the store; then we were saying a host of new, more French sounding mispronunciations.
Not long after our fleeting and fruitless attempt at learning the name of the store, a friend was extolling the virtues of shea butter hand cream. When I asked her which brand she preferred she said, “It’s from LOW-KEY-TAH-NAY.”
Immediately, I knew which store she was referring to and I started laughing at the ridiculously Italian sounding pronunciation of this French store. “That’s not how you say the name of that store,” I said still giggling. I couldn’t accurately pronounce the name of the store when she asked me to, but LOW-KEY-TAH-NAY was definitely not it.
My friend, Bruschetta, speaks Italian and since she didn’t know how to pronounce the name of the store, she went to her default foreign language setting and decided to Italianize the French name of the store. This kicked off a pronunciation debate and a crusade for knowledge, if for no other reason than to prove one of us was wrong.
Bruschetta looked at me and said, “How are we going to find out the name of the store?”
“That’s easy,” I said. “Call the store and listen to what they say when they answer the phone. That will solve the problem.”
In seconds, Bruschetta whipped out her phone, looked up the number and was calling the store. As it rang on speaker phone, I asked what she planned to say after the person on the other end said the name of the store. On the third ring a woman picked up the phone and quickly said something French sounding. Quick thinking Bruschetta asked a question about location and then we hung up.
“Did you hear what she said?” Bruschetta asked frantically.
“No, there was too much background noise. Damn! Try another store. There’s one in Bridgewater.”
We were formulating a new game plan when we realized we could just ask a colleague of ours who speaks French. So, like two insane women on an urgent trivial mission, we approached our colleague and asked for his help. Bruschetta held her i-phone towards this French-speaking good sport and asked, “How do you pronounce the name of this store?”
Being the kind man that he is, he graciously indulged our insanity without asking any questions. We had our answer, but neither one of us had been right. Bruschetta began showing her i-phone to everyone within arm’s reach and asked them to read the name of the store. Not one person pronounced the name the same way and not one person pronounced it correctly. It was an impressive array of mispronunciations.
Later that night, I recounted this tale to Oregano who reminded me that the cashier had mentioned a You Tube video in which a marketing team stopped people on a street outside L’Occitane en Provence and asked them how to pronounce the name of the store. After we watched the video, I realized that Bruschetta and I had unknowingly re-created this experiment on a smaller scale in our office. One might question the rationale in choosing a name for a store that most people outside of France can not accurately pronounce. On the other hand, maybe it is a stroke of genius. While we might not be able to say the name of the store, we can’t stop talking about it.
Curious? Watch the video to finally get the right answer to this pronunciation mystery.