One good thing about travelling is the reduction in small talk. People have no real interest in your welfare, and I’ve slowly come to realise that the opening gambit of “Are you OK?”, in the places where I hear it, isn’t a question at all… and can safely be ignored. The answer to this pseudo-question is “a Big Mac, please” or “a pint of bitter”, rather than sharing intimate details about my health or finances.
I was in a branch of McDonalds this morning (hey, don’t judge me: clean toilets and free wifi), and the girl at the counter asked what I wanted. “A bacon roll”, I said, “with ketchup”. “Would you like ketchup with that?”, she asked brightly, before correcting herself. A curse on the managers, who hide in their offices, far away from the punters, and make the McDonalds minions parrot these scripts like robots. I ordered a cup of tea as well, which immediately initiated another question: “Would you like to make that a meal?”. McDonalds is the only restaurant I know where the addition of a hash brown magically transforms a bacon roll into a meal. And is it even a restaurant at all if there’s no plates, no cutlery and you’re supposed to tip your personal detritus into a bin on your way out?
A few weeks ago, while enjoing the clean toilets and free wifi in another branch of McDonalds, I asked for a cup of tea. “I’m sorry”, said the girl at the counter. “The tea machine is broken”. I spotted a box of tea-bags, and another source of boiling water, and wondered if tea-bag and hot water could be brought together in a paper cup, given a stir and - voila - a cup of tea. “You don’t understand”, said the girl, pointing behind her where an engineer had the front off the machine and was ferreting around inside. “The tea machine is broken”.
Time to stop sniping at McDonalds, perhaps; they’re losing customers, around the world, as bargain basement burgers don’t cut the mustard any more. Kids no longer get taken to McDonalds as a treat; a visit to Ronald McDonald is now a punishment for bad behaviour. I wonder, idly, what the future might be for a global franchise whose food is crap, and whose reputation is shot. Soon the only customers left will be businessmen with laptops and spreadsheets, who need clean toilets, free wifi, a sit-down and a cup of tea… provided the machine is working…