I’m trying to swear off fast food. The back problems and a recent blood-sugar scare (I’m beginning stages diabetic) have convinced me to stay away from rice, pasta, sweets, and fast food. I’m sure I’ll sneak in a burger or two from time to time. I took this photo about a month ago while sitting in line at the drive thru. As I was glancing over the menu (like I didn’t know exactly what I wanted already), I thought, “Hmm, this is the kind of thing Americans don’t think about until they get here.” We realize we’ll need to learn Spanish. But I think most of us believe we’ll at least be able to order a McDonald’s burger, right?
It was much easier when I first moved here. Back then (only 3 years ago), McDonald’s still used combo numbers. I knew my numbers in Spanish. So I could get away with saying, “Combo numero cuatro.” I knew when they asked, “Sabor de la soda?” They were asking something about the soda, which probably meant flavor, so I’d answer, “Coca-cola.” Saying the word Coke alone will just confuse them. Then they’d ask some question. It was the one thing I never understood, and I came to learn that whenever I got confused, to just say “regoolar” (you have to say regular with an accent or they’ll have no idea what you’re talking about). Or grande if you want a larger size fries and drink. That confusing question was basically, “What size?”
Most of that process still holds true today. The only thing that has changed is the removal of the combo numbers. Whether they did it just to confuse us expats even more, I’ll never know. But they’re gone. So we have to change and adapt, right? So hopefully the photo above will help you prepare for your McDonald’s journey. You’re on your own with Burger King and Wendy’s and Carls Jr (yes, we have all 3 here). I wish they had an Arby’s…sorry just daydreaming a bit. Oh and Taco Bell is a whole other monster. It takes awhile to get used to ordering Americanized Mexican food in Panamanian Spanish.
My Spanish is still horrible. I have no excuse. It just is. But this is how I order my food and it always seems to work. First, I forgot to mention, they usually ask your name at most fast food restaurants here. Even at Taco Bell. If the first words out of their mouth are something like, “blah blah blah nombre?” Just say your name, with a Latin twist. My name is Crrr(roll of the tongue)iiistooofaaare. Panamanians have a hard time with my name. I’ve even had a security guard look at me strange and say, “Que? Lucifer?”
Next step. Order your food. I say, “Un combo de cuarto de libra con queso, por favor.” If you look up at the menu you’ll see that I just ordered a quarter pounder with cheese, please. Then just to skip the confusion of the flavor of soda, I immediately add, “Con Coca-Cola.” Oh, here’s another tip. If you happen to come from Texas, Oklahoma, or any other state where the soda Big Red exists. That’s the red soda here. They call it fresa, which translated means strawberry, but it’s not strawberry. It’s the bubble gum mixed with cream soda tasting craze known as Big Red in the States. However, if you want to order it, you need to say fresa. If you were to ask for rojo grande which is Big Red, they’d just look at you like you’ve lost your mind.
Next comes that confusing question. I still don’t know exactly what they’re asking. Just do yourself a favor and say, “Regooolar.” Unless you want the larger size. If that’s the case, say, “Grande.”
If you want it for here, say, “Para aqui (pronounced pada ah-key).” If you want it go say, “Para llevar (pronounced pada yay var).”
Don’t adjust your monitors. That is fried chicken you see at the bottom middle of the photo. Every fast food restaurant here serves fried chicken. Usually it’s just a drumstick and thigh, but that’s something you have to get used to. If you’ve learned the word pollo (pronounced poy yo) means chicken, don’t try to order McNuggets just by saying pollo. If you do, you’ll get the fried chicken. McNuggets are “MacNooooogets” here, remember?
Oh, just a heads up. Happy Meals are not called Happy Meals here. They’re called Cajita Feliz (pronounced caheeta fayleez).
I’m really saddened by the fact that they don’t have McGriddles here. I loved those things. I guess with the diabetes it’s for the best. And you see the McFlurry picture in the bottom right corner of the photo above? McFlurries don’t look like that in Panama. They don’t mix the toppings in the way they do back home. Here it’s basically just vanilla ice cream with the topping plopped on top. If you want the mixed treat you’d better head over to Dairy Queen and order a Blizzard.
I think that’s about all. If you have any McDonalds or fast food question, please feel free to leave a comment below and I promise to do my best to answer. And if you have any funny stories to share, please do.
This was originally published on 10/26/2012
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