I’m Lovin It
It’s something that every foreigner in Japan has to do at one point. Whether you’re here for a one week vacation, a few month study abroad program, or a few years of work, you will resort to it eventually. You swear you won’t, but you know that it’s an empty promise, much like when Mom swears to you she’ll buy you that pony for Christmas but she never does.
I’m speaking, of course, about a trip to a Japanese McDonalds.
The one thing both Americans and Japanese people ask me about is the size. Japanese McDonalds is much smaller, right? When it comes to the burgers, actually no, I don’t think so. A Japanese Big Mac and American Big Mac are about the same. The fries and drinks on the other hand, are an entirely different story. Japanese large is what we’d call medium in America. Which means that Japanese medium is American small, and Japanese small is somewhere in between kids size, and the size you’d use if, somehow, an unborn infant where to walk into a McDonalds and ask for a Coca Cola.
Conversely, this means that American large is reserved for Godzilla, Giant Form Ultraman, and other 30 foot monstrosities. And super-size? Unfathomable. Whenever I go back to America, I like to bring back a super-size drink cup to show to the kids. I take it to class and ask, “Hey, what do you think this is?”
Kid 1: Hey, that’s a drinking bucket for horses!
Kid 2: No way, that’s one of those water storage tanks.
Kid 3: You’re all wrong. Clearly, it’s a family-sized swimming pool.
Me: Nope. This just happens to be a super-sized drink cup from McDonalds.
Class of 30 Japanese kids: Oh my God.
Kid 1: You mean that thing is meant for human consumption?
Kid 2: So, that’s for a family of four to drink from for one week, right?
Me: Nope. This is for one person.
Class of 30 Japanese kids: No.
Me: With free refills.
Class of 30 Japanese kids: *heads simultaneously explode*
The taste is more or less the same. A Big Mac and fries in America tastes the same in Japan, as far as I can tell anyway. The menu is slightly different though. Japan has a teriyaki burger, which is actually kind of good. I’m surprised they don’t offer it in America, as I’m sure there’d be quite a few people eating it (watch as the Japan-obsessed try to eat the Teriyaki McBurger with chopsticks). In addition to some various other seasonal items (Japan is big on the seasonal stuff) they also have a Shrimp Filet burger. Yes, a Shrimp Filet burger. As many of you may know, I have a severe allergic reaction to fish. As such, I’ve sort of declared a personal embargo on seafood all together. So maybe it’s just me, but even just seeing Shrimp Filet on the menu makes me cringe a little bit. They don’t have the quarter pounder, and considering their shock at the super-size drink cup, this is probably for the best.
Me: Hey, can you guess what this is?
Kid 1: An entire herd of cattle grazing between a cheese-filled sky and land made of bread!
One of the most amazing things about Japanese McDonalds though, is that the burger you receive actually looks like the picture! To an American, this shit is shocking. You order a Big Mac in America, and that thing comes to you in all sorts of disarray. It’s collapsed, the lettuce is all outside of the burger and you’d be lucky if the cheese wasn’t handed to you in a separate box all together. But in Japan, no, Big Macs stand tall and proud, perfectly assembled and ready for consumption. I got a Big Mac once that had like one leaf of lettuce that had fallen off the burger and into the box, and the McD’s cashier came over and apologized to me for such a sloppy burger.
Japan also features quite a few “Fancy McDonalds”, where the interior has been designed with plush chairs, suave tables, and mood lighting as well as music. To me, “Fancy McDonalds” is right up there with “Salad McDonalds” on my oxymoron list, as if I thought, “Hey, I’d like to eat healthly/fancy tonight!”, I most certainly wouldn’t think to go to McDonalds.
But perhaps one of the more frustrating aspects of Japanese McD’s is the good ‘ol menu flip. While, as you would expect, the menu placed on the counter at the register is written in Japanese, the flipside has a carbon copy written in English. While it doesn’t happen often, sometimes a young Japanese girl at the register will spot a Gaijin waiting in line, and then flip the menu over before he or she gets there to display the English.
Why is this frustrating, you may ask? I suppose it could be viewed as an act of kindness, for those who can’t speak Japanese and would like to order. However, for those of us who have learned Japanese, or at least enough to be able to order at McDonalds, it’s a little bit frustrating to have the other person automatically assume we can’t speak Japanese and move to accommodate us in English.
When I get hit with the menu flip, I usually just flip it back to the Japanese side and give my order in Japanese. One of my friends however, who is more fluent in Japanese than I and *really* hates the menu flip, tries to make it a point to get to the register before the menu flip can occur and give his order. I watched once as he got to the register, put his hand down on the menu to prevent a flip, and the girl at the register began to pull at the menu with all her might, desperately trying to flip the menu despite the Gaijin giving her his order in perfect Japanese. It was quite a sight, really.
Friend: (In Japanese) This’ll be to go. I’ll have a Big Mac …
Cashier: Hold on a second… (heaving at the menu)
Friend: (In Japanese) Make that a value meal. Coke for the drink please.
Cashier: (Still heaving) Hungh…ermph…one moment please…
Friend: Are you listening to me?
Cashier: There’s an English menu, if only you would let me flip it over…
Friend: I’m speaking to you in Japanese, why aren’t you listening…
The other thing about the menu flip – while I suppose they mean well, it is ultimately a futile maneuver. Even if we did give our orders in English, they certainly wouldn’t understand it. Believe me – I’ve tried it.
Me: I’ll have a Big Mac Value Meal.
Me: Big Mac Value Meal. You know, french fries and drink?
Me: Sigh. Biggu Makku Setto.
Her: Ah! Okay!
So even if we did try to order in English, we’d end up just pointing at the pictures, which we could do in Japanese anyway.
I know many of you are wondering at this point, why even bother with McDonalds? “But, Japanese food is SO delicious!” Trust me, there’s only so much sushi a person can take before you hit a breaking point. …I can’t even eat fish, so my options are even more limited! Sometimes, you just don’t want to go to a Japanese restaurant. Where the waitresses scream orders to the kitchen and you end up paying $4 for a “drink” which comes in a scientific test tube. And then when you get hit with menu items like “grilled jaw of boar”, “crunchy chicken gristles”, and “sauteed fish ovaries” (I’m really not making this up), those golden arches start to look really good.
All this talk about McDonalds only serves to remind me how much I miss Jack in the Box.