Friday, June 3, 2011

Wrong Way McDonald's

One of the strangest things I had ever done was to go through a McDonald's drive-thru backwards. Many of you have already tried to visualize going through in reverse either so the guy riding shotgun would be able to place his order directly but that's not what I meant. This relates to my first experience at the world-famous restaurant chain at one of their franchises in England. "Backwards" means that the drive-thru wraps around the building in the other direction, as in clockwise!

Many things are different about the overseas experience with fast food, all of which make it at interesting enough to almost be an adventure but certainly not the normal routine expected at home. In Germany a Filet-o-Fish is called a "Fisch Mac," for example. We all know by now that a country that operates on the metric system would therefore not have a "Quarter Pounder" on the menu so it might have a name like the French "Burger Royale" instead. Likewise they by now understand that the German word for big, "Gross," would NOT translate to steady sales from English speaking patrons who happen to stop by. Another reason for names like "Koenig'sburger" (King's Burger).

In England the product names tend to translate fairly easily so no worries about what exactly is being selected from the menu. The interiors of the restaurants from one country to another are also fairly innocuous and easily recognized, perhaps with a few local flairs thrown in just so the natives will feel more connected as well. While on business in London one time, though, we were in a hurry as most business travelers tend to be and decided we had just enough time to hit the drive through before going back to the office.

McDonald's was nearby, everybody knew the brand, the product and what to expect so in we go to the parking area, except I happened to be the one that was driving. Instinctively I started turn right to join the "queue" for the drive-thru. "No, mate, turn left!" my local companions warned before I completed my maneuver. In England with right-side drive (from the passenger seat to most others) the menu board and attendant speaker is on the right hand side of the car. To face it properly and not be considered a total "prat," the line for the window starts at the left side of the building.

Drive thru's in general tended to be more of a novelty at the time as opposed to something absolutely required in the design of the establishment. This is Europe, after all, where population density is much greater than America and land is certainly not to be frivolously paved over. Even at a lot of highway rest stops the logic leans towards entering the restaurant as opposed to pulling over in a drive-thru. One has to get gas in the first place, which means getting out of the car, plus the fact that a gallon of regular there is easily twice the cost in the United States. Not something to burn through so readily while idling in a drive-thru waiting on a burger and fries.

So here I am trying to navigate the narrow lane for the drive-thru near Heathrow Airport from the left side of the building while piloting a car from the right hand side of the front seat. Even though my favorite sandwich at Mickey-Ds is the Filet-o-Fish I knew better than to order something like that while in England, home and reigning king of fish and chips.

I went with a Quarter Pounder!

Gotta go.

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