This post requires a little bit of context. At the end of 2019 my wife and I were preparing to move back to the USA after more than two years living and working in central London. It was a very fun and educational time with lots of travel, but there were cultural things I missed back in the USA. I wrote the following missive and shared with a thousand strong social media group of American ex-pats. If you have ever lived or worked in Europe I would hope you could recognize the humorous contrast, or otherwise enjoy how much fun a trip to Applebees actually is…
I’m an American who has been living abroad in London for the past 10 months. There are some things I really miss. But this is why I love to travel: because while you’re learning about your destination, you’re also learning about where you came from.
I’m looking forward to being home. I still am enjoying my time abroad, but there are things I will certainly cherish when I get home.
I want to share a story of how I want my first Friday to go when I get back Stateside. I want to do something so ordinary, and just enjoy it because the following simply isn’t possible in Europe.
I want to go to Applebees.
I’ll drive my car into the dedicated parking lot, and find a spot that is astronomically wide.
As I walk through the front door, I am enveloped by the aroma of hamburger. I will be greeted by a high-school aged host/ess with a huge amount of cheerfulness and acne. Directly behind said hostess will be an employee in training awkwardly trying not to be awkward.
My friends and I shall be seated in a booth with seat backs that are six feet tall, and I will sit down and sink a full five inches into the cushioning.
The menus will already be at the table, filed neatly behind the salt and pepper shakers. But before I can reach for the menu, a bus-person brings a 40 oz plastic cup of iced water, and leaves me with a giant straw, and then drops four spare straws on the table just-in-case.
The menus are opened, and they contain more pictures than words. I don’t need to try to visualize what is offered by the menu, the pictures do that for me. Every word on the menu is in English.
The waiter/waitress arrives and as I order my burger, I am delightfully informed that I can substitute sweet potato fries, and I will accept the offer. Guacamole will only be $1 extra, and I will take that as well.
The waiter rushes away with our order. Suddenly five other wait staff members emerge from the kitchen, all clapping in unison. Hooting and hollering they proceed to the table next to my booth, and surround one of the guests. A baritone and multi-tune rendition of “The Happy Birthday Song” is sung. Not “Happy Birthday” because that’s still under copyright and Applebees’ lawyers have wisely sidestepped that liability. And as an American, I greatly appreciate that legal distinction and make comments about it to the rest of the people at my table.
Beer arrives within 67 seconds, served in a super-chilled mug that causes some of the water content to freeze on the surface. Someone at the table will assuredly remark that the freezing temperature of alcohol is “actually wicked lower than when water freezes.” (This Applebees is located in Massachusetts.)
My burger arrives, and I know it’s mine and with the correct temperature because stuck in the top of the bun is a color coded toothpick. Only now is the full design of the booth appreciated. After initially sliding and sinking into said booth, the level of the table is perfect so that one can place forearms against the edge of the table, hold a burger, gently lean in, and form a perfect triangle with torso, arms & table so that the burger hovers over the plate and catches all over-spilling condiments and toppings.
The waiter will perform two perfectly timed flybys of the table to ask how things are going. (Both times, my mouth will be full and mid-chew, but a quick glance and a sigh will convey the message.) The ketchup bottle is empty but a new one appears within 9.4 seconds. Usain Bolt ran 100 meters in a lethargic 9.58 seconds.
Plates are cleared as soon as we finish, and my forearms can now stretch out across the table as I lean back. I sink even further into the booth’s cushioning, achieving post-meal Stage 2 depth.
“Would you like some dessert?” It’s the most delightful upsell attempt, but the answer is always ‘no’ and the next step in the protocol will be “I’ll get your check right away.” Note, to get the check I did not have to do any of the following (as one might do in Europe): sit idly for 2 hours, chase down the waiter at the other end of the restaurant, or stay past the closing time of the restaurant.
Credit cards are swiped, and I’m back on my feet no more than 36 minutes after I first sank into the booth for the meal. The question: where besides the USA can you do a sit-down meal in half an hour? The correct answer is not France.
The food portions were just a little bit more than I needed, and as a result it’s a relaxed and careful walking pace as we make our way out the front door. An utmost attempt is made to avoid eye-contact with the dozen people waiting for a table, who are murderously envious of our condition.
Outside, it’s sunny, and hot. Probably really hot and humid. The car is two first-downs away from the restaurant front door, while walking it’s just enough time to situate your sunglasses on the bridge of your nose and run your hand through your hair. We slide into the car, which is an oven, but one minute later we’re bathed in Air Conditioning powered by a large V6 engine.
I pop the car into ‘D’ for Drive, glide out of the parking lot, and make a right onto Main Street and half a mile later merge onto the highway. Then it’s 70 mph all the way home.
I love America.
Totally possible, will be reaching out…
can we get one for SWordle? 😀
Looking forward to the Olympics myself. Curious to see how they go in China.
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