“I love America. You can have whatever you want, whenever you want and however you want. You just pay extra money.”
My husband’s words warmed my cold little capitalist American heart. I knew from experience that in his country, money definitely doesn’t talk.
One day, after several months in the Netherlands, I was particularly homesick. With no Walmart, no Starbucks and no 24-hour anything for miles, I had only one option for a taste of home: McDonald’s. Looking forward to some nuggets and fries, I hopped on my bike and burned rubber to all-American familiarity.
Wow, it was busy. Fortunately, one thing Dutch people do not tolerate is waiting in line, so the cashiers were knocking out orders. Soon it was my turn.
My Dutch was God-awful. Since everyone- even little kids- spoke English in the Netherlands, I decided to save myself and the cashier the tedium of my ordering in Dutch. Just to be polite, I asked,“Do you speak English?”
“Yes,” she said with not a trace of emotion registering on her face. Feeling very much at home, I began to rattle off my order. I’m not much for customizing at McDonald’s, but there was just one thing on the menu I couldn’t let go of. Staring me down, commanding me to order it, was a caramel McFlurry. You see, in the Netherlands, everything is caramel. Or vanilla. Or lemon. Or some other flavor I hate. Never chocolate or blueberry, noooooo. How could it be, then, that this caramel McFlurry looked so delicious?
All it needed to attain confectionary perfection was to be chocolate. In a snap, I surrendered to the McFlurry when I noticed that there were other items with chocolate sauce on the menu.
“And can I have a McFlurry, but can you make it with chocolate instead?”
I stopped and examined her eyes for the sheen of laughter to tell me she was just playing around.
Unable to discern whether she was on crack or not, I shook off the minor annoyance and continued, “It’s okay, I’ll pay extra for it.” There. Problem solved.
I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. Surely she understood that my question was not really a question (later, I would find out that questions-that-aren’t-questions regularly confound the Dutch). It was part of my order. Didn’t she understand “Customer Is King” logic?
I should’ve went to Burger King and had it my way, I thought ruefully. Oh wait, their slogan in the local market is “Take Your Food and GTFO,” so that strategy would’ve gone down in flames, too.
Despite preliminary evidence suggesting that rationality was futile, I again tried to reason with her.
“You have chocolate, right?”
“So can’t you just use the chocolate dispenser instead of the caramel one when you’re making the McFlurry?”
I had no patience for this nonsense. I struggled to keep myself from screaming, “JUST GIVE ME THE CHOCOLATE MCFLURRY, YOU BITCH!”
Now she was pissing me off. I closed my eyes to stop myself from flying into an apoplectic rage, feeling my blood pressure registering in shades of fuchsia on my face. I opened my mouth to demand to see the manager.
Right then, I realized all 30-odd Dutch people in the McDonald’s were now staring at me. Normally, I garnered no attention as a foreigner in the Netherlands because I don’t look much different than them. But whenever I started speaking English, I suppose I became some sort of Bambles Theater. Obviously, whatever I was saying up to that point was of great interest to the Dutchies there at Mickey D’s.
It was that cashier’s lucky day. All those nosy people had saved her life, because they’d broken me out of my trance that was set to end with me choking her while bashing her head into the chocolate dispenser. They don’t even have the death penalty here…I thought.
Instead, I collected my thoughts and tried one final time to reason with her. “Okay, do you have anything with ice cream and chocolate?”
I couldn’t believe I was asking this question. Back home, the cashier would’ve made the McFlurry with toilet bowl cleaner if that’s what I ordered. But this wasn’t back home. This was the land of one cheddar cheese wedge once a week at the supermarket. The land of no red pepper flakes or turmeric. A place where cashiers regularly squish your bread and man-handle your produce. A terrifying place where everything closes by 6:00 pm. This was the Land of No Customer Service.
“Yes,” she said.
Good! I thought. Now we’re getting somewhere. “Okay, then give me that,” I ordered triumphantly. I tried to keep my voice down and remain civil, though. I didn’t want these Dutchies getting the idea that Americans are obnoxious little princesses or something.