Coffee Aliases Give Cup of 'Joe' New Meaning

July 29, 2010

LISTEN To This (3 min.) NPR Story HERE:

When Shefali Kulkarni, a reporting fellow at the Village Voice in New York City, is asked for her name while ordering coffee at Starbucks, she tells the barista a little fib. She uses "Sheila," her "coffee name."

"I was in line at Starbucks, and they asked for my name," Kulkarni says. "And spelling 'Shefali' just took forever. And I think at one point, somebody in the line — in the back of the line — was saying, hurry up — like, let's go. And it's when it dawned on me. I'm like, 'You know what? Forget this. I'm just going to use a fake name. I can't take this anymore.' So the next time I ordered coffee, the first thing that came to mind was Sheila."

Kulkarni says the name stuck. Then, on a return trip to Starbucks, she noticed that most of the names written on the drinks were like Tom, Sue and Joe — other "American" names, she says.

"I noticed the people that were waiting for the drinks didn't really — I mean, maybe this is totally racial profiling, but they came across as not Toms or Sues or Joes," she says. "And at one point, this woman picked up a coffee and she said, 'Oh, this is just my coffee name,' and it shook me up. I was like, oh, my God, I'm not the only one."

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