Friday, December 05, 2003

"Would You Like Fries With That?"

It's getting to the point where I'm not so sure that the Drive Thru is a convenience anymore. Yes, I can stay in the car instead of fighting for a parking stall... Granted, I can listen to the latest Linkin Park track while I wait instead of some Muzak version of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"... (Which, by the way, can be most depressing... Nothing worse than hearing the "hits" of your "youth" in an elevator...) And, most importantly, I can sit on my butt while someone else does all the leg work. Great! So, what could possibly be wrong with this scenario? How about the minor detail of placing my order?

For years comedians have been making jokes about the Drive Thru speaker. And, for a couple of those years, the jokes were even somewhat amusing. Amusing, that is, until the reality of the situation sank in. Yeah, those damn speakers are pathetic! I mean, come on... You can't tell me that, in this day and age of wireless technology, hands-free cellphones, VOX, and a myriad of other technologies that I probably haven't heard of, I must be forced to communicate on a level barely above that of the first, "Watson, come in here" from Alexander Graham Bell. Watson, at least, didn't have to lean half-way out a car window and yell, "What?!?"

Alright, I'll admit that I'm exaggerating just a little bit... Chalk it up to dramatic flair, or maybe I just want to sound cool... It's your call. Anyway, sure, the speakers have gotten better in the last few years, but it has only served to reveal a new problem... the Drive Thru staff. Just as we get to the point where we can finally hear what the person in the little booth is saying (and vice versa, presumably), we suddenly have an influx of fast-food employees who cannot seem to communicate in English.

I have to make a side-note here... I am in no way prejudiced. I fully agree that people all over the world have the right to speak their native tongue, to pray to their god or gods of choice, and wear traditional or ceremonial garb along with their occupational uniform. More importantly, I believe in everyone's right to pursue a better life for themselves and their families. I take great pride that so many have chosen Canada as their place to do this. That having been said, back to it...

Recently, the City Council here in Calgary met and decided that taxi-cab drivers not knowing enough English was causing a problem. So, they decided to make a daring move and raise the bar a bit. Within the next few years, cabbies will be required to master the English language at a Grade 5 level. I know, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence when compared with your average Grade 5'er... Regardless, my point is this: They recognized the importance of communication in the Service Industry (now I know why these guys get to run the city!). Well, if you ask me, I think the same holds true (if not truer) for the Drive Thru window. Yeah, lots of people take cabs, but let's face it, this world practically runs on fast food!

Don't get me wrong... I believe firmly in Equal Opportunity Employment. Go ahead, give the new Canadian a job at the local burger joint... She's got as much right to work as the next person. But let's use a little common sense when figuring out what her position should be. While her English may be strong enough to fill out the application and pass the interview, can she perform the same from behind a microphone? Rob her and her listener of the ability to read facial expressions, body language, and perhaps even lips (to a degree) and can she still cut it? Or is she going to latch on to the few key phrases she recognizes and completely screw up the order? (If you don't know what I'm talking about, try ordering a burger with no pickles, no onions, and extra cheese... ) If not, let her work the inside counter where these tools are available to her. Put someone in the booth that can grasp the language enough to communicate without the eye-to-eye.

But you know what? Even after all is said and done, I know I'll probably keep driving up to that little box, shouting out my order 3 times, and bitch all the way home because I got a damn veggie burger... 'Cuz it's easier, right?

Well, that's it for me today... Please drive around to the second window...
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