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Friday, June 8, 2001


And what will the honorable order be, ma'am?

One of the wonders to be experienced when eating in a Japanese fast-food joint is the manyuaru-kotoba (service-manual jargon) uttered by the people who serve you.

You're standing in line and feeling a little embarrassed about it. You'd like to order quickly and get the hell away before someone can spot you and say: "A large order of fries? What happened to the diet?" You want the counter girl to hurry. You're not interested in having a conversation. But before you can mumble the order, she's one step ahead of you.

"Irasshaimase (Welcome to our establishment)!" she calls out, a biiiig professional smile welded onto her lips. "Okoshi itadakimashite arigato gozaimasu (Thank you so much for bringing your honorable self here)."

OK, OK. Now can I . . . "Go chumon wa ikaga itashimasho ka? (And what will the honorable order be?)"

Take it from someone who spent entire high school vacations working at these places, fast-food service lingo is as painful to say as it is to hear.

Before manning the position behind the counter and earning minimum wage, one is obliged to go through a crash course in lingo-spewing, and the range goes far and beyond what you've just read.

One of the procedures that can drive both you and the customer nuts is the dreaded handing over of the okii osatsu (big, honorable bill), which means 5,000 yen or 10,000 yen.

Elsewhere in the world, a salesperson deals with a big, honorable bill by taking it between his or her fingers and holding it up to the light. But in a Japanese burger shop, it's mandatory to call out: "Ichiman-en satsu hairimaaasu! (Entering a 10,000 yen bill!)" and then wait until the furo-mane (floor manager) or some such personage comes hurrying over to supervise the entering of the bill, usually in a dark space underneath the change box in the cash register where other big, honorable bills huddle together.

When the entering is safely witnessed and acknowledged, one must then deal with handing over the change -- another lesson in rigid protocol. "Saisho-ni chiisai-ho o okaeshi itashimasu (First, I will return the small coins to you)" is the first sentence, followed by "Tsugi wa osatsu no ho o okaeshi itashimasu (Next, the paper bills)." After this comes the dreaded "Dewa, goissho-ni (Let's do this honorable deed together)," and then one must spread out the bills like a fan and count out loud: "Issen, nisen, sanzen, yonsen, gosen, rokusen, nanasen (1,000, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, 6,000, 7,000) . . ."

Usually at this point, you, the customer and the two other guys waiting in line are entertaining thoughts of earthquakes and/or spontaneous combustion. In any case, everyone has lost count.

And let's not forget the excruciating pain of having to call out the orders -- "Wan chiizu, wan sumoru furai, wan emu banira puriizu (One cheeseburger, one small fries, one medium-size vanilla shake, please)" -- to the kitchen, where the other sutaffu (staff) are flipping meat patties or immersing wire baskets of frozen potatoes into vats of grease.

Then, when you've finally arranged the order on a plastic tray, it's time to turn that smile back on and call out: "Arigato gozaimashita! Dozo goyukkuri omeshiagari kudasai! (Thank you so very much! Please take your honorable time consuming your food!)"

Sometimes you just want to go to a 24-hour coffee shop in Brooklyn and have the waitress chomp her gum at you as she says: "You ready to order, honey, or what?" Or Ray's Pizza Place, where one can grow old just waiting in line and the sweaty Greek guy behind the counter looks at you with total distaste before saying: "Huh?"

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