Sunday, March 1, 2015

Window hopping

Posted By on Sun, Mar 1, 2015 at 7:47 AM

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As a child in England, the occasional trip to a fast-food joint was quite the treat. The bright lights, the exotic illuminated menu board (beans on toast was as ‘exotic’ as it got at my house), the tastes, the excitement! It seems strange now, looking back on that experience, to consider that the only way it could be achieved was by walking in to the restaurant. Yes, you read that right: walking.

Although drive-thrus began appearing in America as early as the 1930s, and were ubiquitous by the 50s, it wasn't until the mid 1980s that the first one opened in England. With drive-thrus having only been available for 10 or so years before I moved to America, they were still a relatively novel concept to me.

When it comes to the drive-thru, my opinions are a little divided. On the one hand, America’s desire to make life as easy as possible for the populous is truly heart-warming. The proliferation and variety of drive-thrus Stateside is astonishing. I personally have seen, in addition to all of the usual fast food suspects, drive-thru liquor stores, glass repair stores, banks and drug stores, tattoo parlors, registry offices (Vegas, baby!), even a drive-thru heart replacement surgery. I possibly made that last one up.

But I have a love/hate relationship with the drive-thru because of how extensively they are abused. When the drive-thru line at Chick-fil-A snakes clear around the building three times, one might want to consider parking one's vehicle and – GASP! – walking into the restaurant! It’s going to take you a day and a half to reach the drive-thru ordering speaker while the employees inside alternate between dusting their registers for the umpteenth time and perpetually rearranging napkins and straws.

And speaking of said employees, I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel pretty extensively, and so can say with complete confidence and total conviction that Americans are, by and large, some of the nicest, most genuine, most considerate people on the planet. So it’s staggering to me how poorly fast food employees are treated by their customers. I'm not talking overtly aggressive rudeness or anything; it’s more like soft insensitivity.

What are we parents always telling our children? “Say 'please'…” “Did you say 'thank you’?,” “Manners, Timothy!” Why then, do we routinely fail to apply the same standards of courtesy to our interactions with fast food tellers?

It makes me prickle every time I hear the customer in front of me place their order by saying “Can I get a...”, or “I want...” — or worst of all, “Get me...” Ouch! It hurts even to type it. And then, as orders are handed over, all too infrequently do you hear “Thank you!" from the recipients.

Perhaps it’s our subconscious messing with us. Maybe we’re biologically wired to feel like someone who bags up $2 burgers and cardboard fries for a living isn’t quite on the same social standing as us. But make no mistake; employees at fast-food joints get that they are working at fast-food joints, not UNICEF.

I’m reminded of a brilliant interaction I had just last week when pulling up to a drive-thru window. The teller asked how my day was going. “Good, thanks. You?” I answered. He looked at me with his head slightly cocked to the side, smirked knowingly and replied, “I’m working here!”

His work might not be as noble as that of some others’ in our society, but what bearing should that have on my ability to demonstrate the good manners my parents encouraged me to always display? Can we all collectively agree to think about this next time we sidle up to the counter, or lean in to the speaker to place our order?

Thank you, and have a nice day!

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for the past 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer, hiking and biking when the weather's good, and when the weather's rotten, writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett.

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