Hi, may I take your order?

We have all heard the horror stories of the fast food industry. Whether it is poor customer service, filthy bathrooms, or a surprise missing finger in your chili , there is a distinct image that comes to mind.  When you picture the employees that work at fast food, at least those prior to the 2008 economic downturn, the archetypes tend to range from drug addicts, to single moms, or high-school dropouts.

Well that is not the case for all fast food restaurants in general, especially those overseas. Establishments abroad tend to be highly organized and extremely clean. Employees are dressed smartly and take their jobs very seriously. In fact, in the United Arab Emirates, companies like McDonald’s hire their staff from other  countries like the Philippines and Malaysia specifically to work at their store. They provide food, lodging, and sometimes even an allowance.

I lived in the United Arab Emirates for over 8 years prior to returning to the US when I was 18. I was extremely excited to finally be in America. I had been dreaming about my future life in America since I was at least 12.  Though I was born in Torrance, California, I had moved to Louisiana as a baby with my aunt and lived there until I was 4. I still remember the date I arrived: 8 June, 2003. Four days later I had my first job at–you guessed it! Mcdonald’s!! I was overjoyed, I was to be paid $6.10 an hour and believed that this would be enough to sustain me for awhile, since this was my first job and I had zero concept of what cost-of-living meant. I was fortunate enough to be living with an old family friend who only intended to charge my about $100 in rent and the completion of chores.

After a couple of weeks on the job I was completely taken aback. Firstly, having lived in the UAE (a predominantly British English speaking country) and having spent considerable time in British schools, I had developed a strange accent. Not exactly Britishy Jolly-Oh! but it was certainly not American either. Now keep in mind that this is in 2003, during the height of “Freedom Fries” and other defiant acts of anti-foreign (French) consumerism, so when I greeted customers at the drive-thru with my standard blurb of:

“Hallo and welcome to Mcdonald’s Sir or Ma’am, may I please take your order?”

It was usually met with either:

“My father is Sir”,

“Do I look old enough to be a Ma’am?”,

“You ain’t from around here, is you?”,

At that point, my daily impression of working at McDonald’s and Orlandorians in general was like that of  Eddie Murphy, from “Coming to America”.  Everyone was telling me “Fuck you!”,  and all I could do was resolutely respond with “Thank you come again”.

It took awhile to realize that to the citizens of Orlando, my demeanor in general was just extremely off putting. I didn’t fit the general mold of a fast food employee, or an American either. At the time I was just grateful to not only just be in America, but to actually have a job as well. I tried to not let the insults bother, and instead wasted time explaining my “life story”, which in the end reinforced their opinion that I was either uppity, must have come from a wealthy background to have lived overseas for so long, or was a pathological liar starving for any morsel of attention I could find.

I lasted in Mcdonald’s for 6 months. I left with $300 to my name and an extra 30lbs. I can’t say that my entire experience there was negative. I learned the value of just how shitty it is to work hard for little pay which gives me the ability to really appreciate how far I have come in life and to appreciate every single job that I had after that.

What else did I learn from all this?

-People don’t like accents that are half and half, you either have to go “full-retard” or hide it. Accent=uppity.

-Consider all possible job options before committing to something because it is the first place to say yes.

Right before I left Abu Dhabi, UAE to go begin my American journey in Orlando, Florida.

(Obligatory Starbucks for my last days in the UAE, 2003)

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