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Saturday, April 18, 2009
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
A little Mc-wrath with coffee
This is a chilly winter's tale, one now warmed both by passing time and the gentle breezes of spring.
But several weeks ago it was a hot topic for a cold day.
A cold workday. I was heading for a train and would be riding through the lunch hour. So I tugged my collar tight and decided to stop in for a quick bite at a McDonald's before the station. My thoughts were weighted with schedules, deadlines and lack of sleep.
The shop was one that has its counter right on the walkway, with an adjoining set of stairs leading to seats on the second floor. I stood in line — a line too long for such a brisk day — and didn't even need to think about my order.
I wanted coffee and a contraption named a "McWrap" — a zesty chicken wrap, perhaps toxic, yet light enough to devour in a bite. I always took it over beef and fries, especially when hurried. Like then.
Meanwhile, the line took forever. By the time I reached the counter, I was shivering and wondering if I shouldn't have passed on food altogether.
"I'll have coffee and a McWrap," I told the McDonald's boy, who was overweight and wore a shirt and cap both one size too small. He looked like Tweedledee and Tweedledum's lost triplet.
"And . . . what?" he said.
His eyes told me everything. The boy hadn't followed my pronunciation of "McWrap," a product name coined, I believe, by the Japanese but still, in essence, English.
"Makurappu," I said again, slowly, with my very best accent. But received back only the vacant look of the lost.
"Makurappu," I repeated. "Rappu." "Rappu!''
To which he only answered, "What?" And scrunched his eyes.
I swept my frozen hands over the menu, shiny in fresh lamination. A quick glance found McMuffins, and McNuggets but no McWraps. There were too many items, and the fine print dazzled me.
"Rappu," I said again, now with a bit of an edge.
So I described it. "You know . . . It's a wrap. It has chicken inside. And . . . stuff. And you fold it over. And . . . you eat it."
My Japanese eked out as frosty as my breath. The boy looked at me and I could see it coming before he spoke.
"Order, please?" He had given up on me and was now flexing his high-school English.
I did not care for this indictment of my language skills, which I admit are Mc-crap. Yet, I had performed the simple task of ordering food for years without any problem. From long before this boy was even born.
And this was just one damned word. A word from my own language even.
"Rappu!" I screamed at him.
The manager jumped to the boy's side. He asked if he could help me and I made myself as calm as I could, swallowed, and said, why yes, he could. I wanted a . . . "RAPPU!''
The manager looked at the boy and the boy looked at the manager. "You mean a . . . Makurappu?" said the manager.
"Yes! A Makurappu!''
"Ah, Makurappu!" said the manager.
"Ah, Makurappu!" said the boy.
They smiled at each other like they had just discovered Colonel Sanders' chicken recipe.
Now maybe the manager's Japanese was better than mine. After all, his name tag read, "Tanaka."
But by how much? Had he aspirated his p's a bit more? Had he produced a sharper final vowel? Or — as I suspected — had Mc-boy just looked at my foreign face and refused to hear my Japanese.
I had experienced such brain-lock before and now, amid the cold and my hurry, it was too much for me. I felt like reaching over the counter and strangling them both. I leaned their way and seethed.
"Sorry," said the manager. "But we don't serve that item anymore. We finished it at the end of the month."
At once I felt ashamed. I didn't eat at McDonald's often. And here I had been pummeling this boy with a menu request for something that the shop had probably dropped before he'd even been hired.
My remorse lasted a full three seconds.
Until I realized what day it was. The month had ended the night before. I estimated they had been selling McWraps until about 12 hours ago.
"Would you like something else?" said the manager.
"Yes, I would," I told them. "But at some other shop." And I stomped off.
Of course, they put me down as a hot-headed foreigner. Of course, they probably felt that Japan doesn't need my kind. And of course they might be right.
I chewed on that sour thought instead of food until mid-afternoon. When I hit a Subway Sandwich spot.
Where the girl behind the counter smiled a smile to melt my icy mood.
I then ordered a wrap sandwich and she didn't even blink.
Good enough to make my day Mc-even.