I know I’ve bragged talked a bit about learning Chinese here on this blog and how my progress has been. Maybe I’ve made it sound a bit too easy, or my level a bit too advanced. I offer this small tale from my recent travels as antidote to those past posts.

After I spent the day looking at the Dialou’s I headed back to the station to catch the next bus to Guangzhou. But I was starving, and right next to the bus station was a McDonald’s. Now before you get all shocked, yes, sometimes I eat at McDonald’s in China. Remember, I eat Chinese food 360 days a year, so having a little comfort American food every now and then is okay. Plus, I mostly eat it at bus stations or airports when I just need to shove food down my gob. Also, I love burgers.

So anyway, I walked into McDonalds and went to the counter. I’m pretty good at menus in Chinese at this point. I can read and understand enough to find something to order. Except at McDonalds. That’s because Mickey D’s has some pretty specific words, like “Big Mac” and “combo deal” and these words aren’t taught in class, so I have no idea how to say them. Normally it’s not a problem, most McDonalds have a picture menu they break out when a foreigner comes to the window. Only in this McDonalds they didn’t.

No problem, I speak Chinese right? So I pointed up behind the counter at the picture of the combo meal, a cheeseburger, fries and coke. “I want that,” I said in Chinese. “The 3 things,” I added to make it clear.

She replied in a totally unintelligible sentence and I just grunted and nodded yes. (That’s my go to reply when I don’t understand someone.) She tells me the price, it seems right, and I hand her my cash. At this point I was dying of thirst. Usually the drink comes out first, then the fries then the burger. In China burgers are one of the least ordered foods at McDonalds (most Chinese prefer the chicken sandwiches) and you usually have to wait a minute as they deep fry it, or nuke it or whatever they do.

So I’m waiting, and waiting. No drink, no fries, no burger. Then she walks by my tray, deposits this on it, tells me I’m all set and walks away.

When I had said the “three things” she took it for “three burgers.” And when she asked to double check, I nodded yes.

I was too embarrassed to say anything so I just grabbed my tray and slunk off to the corner while, I’m sure, the clerks talked about how fat Americans were or how much we loved burgers. I ate one, then shoved the other two into my bag and fled.

But before I got on my bus I wanted to throw the other 2 burgers out. There’s nothing worse than sitting on a bus smelling hot, stinky food the whole time. But I would feel like a wasteful American if I just blatantly threw them away. (In China McDonalds is a little expensive.) So I unwrapped one and started talking little bites as I slowly meandered my way over to the garbage can. I stealthily popped the unopened one in the can, and then pretended to finish the other before tossing it too. Then I ran to my bus.

China: 1 Becky: 0. Today you win China.

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Nicki · February 29, 2012 at 6:42 am

Oh no! I hate it when that happens. I can’t order without the menu in McDonalds or KFC either. Usually if they fail to hand me one I ask for it. 看菜单?Anyway, I think the word you needed was probably 套餐 tao can (set meal). Better luck next time!

Becky · March 2, 2012 at 3:32 am

Thanks Nicki,

Actually I think it is a good thing that I don’t know how to order at McDonalds or I might be tempted to go more often. 😉

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