An American Virgin:
As some of you may already know, I wasn’t born in the US. I was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. I moved to the states, specifically California, in 2008. I was 17 years old.
I didn’t speak English very fluently. My vocabulary was very limited, and I was barely able to carry on a simple conversation. My best efforts involved “Hello, how are you?” – “Fine, thank you, and you?” – “Fine, thanks”. Very basic English. Or, my favorite, “I speak small English”.
Upon arrival to the states, we met up with our family friends. They were our sponsors and host family. Their son, a couple of years older than me, is named Ahmed. Ahmed had been living in the states for over 5 years, perfecting the English language.
After we woke up for the first time in the United States (pretty big deal for my family and me), Ahmed took me out on a little tour of Sacramento. We checked out the places around town- my jaw dropping at everything I saw, from green trees, to organized streets, to buildings, to cars, to the river, to the houses. Everything looked like a sweet scene out of a movie- I was ecstatic.
Lunchtime was nearing, so Ahmed took me to Burger King. He ordered for me: a Whopper meal with a large Coke. I had never had this combo before–my very first Whopper. Naturally, I fell in love. I was hooked! I wanted a Whopper, fries, and Coke for every meal for the rest of my life!
Now you might think it’s just a burger, but to me that burger wasn’t just any burger. It was so much more than “just a burger.” I mean… that first bite… oh, what heaven that first bite was. The bun, like a sesame freckled breast of an angel, resting gently on the ketchup below, flavors mingling in a seductive pas de deux. And then… a pickle! The most playful little pickle! Then a slice of tomato, a leaf of lettuce and a… a patty of ground beef so exquisite, swirling in your mouth, breaking apart, and combining again in a fugue of sweets and savors so delightful. This was no mere sandwich of grilled meat and toasted bread, folks. This was God, speaking to us in food.
Do you now get how much I loved this shit??
Anyways, the next day comes and it’s almost dinner time. My mom asks “Hamza habibi, what would you like for dinner?” Shyly, I mutter “Burger King”. Now, my mom has no idea what kind of experience I’ve had at Burger King just 24 hours ago. She is in a good mood, and doesn’t feel like investigating any further into my new American food obsession. She simply asks, “Is this place within walking distance?” I exclaim, “YES!” even though I have no idea if it is or isn’t.
My beloved mother gives me $10, and I print out walking directions to nearest Burger King using MapQuest.com- Just like that my Quest for Burger King begins.
I begin my walk, getting confused following the directions but still doing my best to stick to my map and find the holy grill (pun intended) that I’ve set my mind on for dinner tonight.
On my walk, I figure it would be a good idea to ask people for directions. I walk past a few people wearing many layers, pushing shopping carts. At first I think it is strange to dress this warmly in this nice, fair California weather, but then again what do I know… Maybe they’re feeling cold! Maybe the shopping cart is a bit weird, but then again, I don’t know any better. I’m looking forward to learning about this!
I ask one of these folks where Burger King is: “Fuck you, Kid”.
Maybe its best to follow the map, and no need to ask anyone.
The Final Destination:
I finally find my way through the golden doors of Burger King. My confusion changes shape to pure happiness.
And then… I forget all the words that I know in English. Even the name of that beautiful burger that I have been dreaming about for 24 hours.
My fear of embarrassing myself and looking/sounding like a complete stranger takes over, so I stand there like a scarecrow, mutely trying to express that I want a Whopper, fries, and Coke.
I keep looking at the menu hoping to find a clue. I remember the sandwich that I want ends with the “per”, and to my delight, there is a giant burger on the menu with the word “Whopper” next to it.
I get my shit together, summing up the courage to speak.
Me- “Can I please have a WooHopper”… I didn’t know the H was silent.
Him- “You mean a Whopper?”
Me- “Yes please…” Hit strike one of trying to be a normal teenage boy in America.
Him- “Anything else?”
Me- “Finger chips please.”
Him- “What the hell are those?”
Me, tearing up slightly- “They’re potatoes cut in the shape of fingers and you put them in oil to fry, then eat them.” Strike two.
Him- “Oh you mean French fries…anything to drink?”
I wanted to have a Coke. But I wasn’t going to strike three times and say Coca Cola. I was determined to say, “Coke” like all Americans say it.
Me- “Yes please, I’ll take a large Cock.”
All hell broke loose.
The dude starts laughing like no other. He even kneels to the floor. All the cooks start staring, and the cashier makes me repeat myself.
Him- “What did you say you wanted to drink?”
Me (with a broken voice, heart, and spirit) -“Large Cock.”
Everyone erupts in a new episode of hysterical laughter.
A nice lady working the drive-through window says “Honey, just point at it,” so I point at the Coke on the fountain soda machine, and she tells the cashier “Just give him a Coke.”
My order has gone through, and as I wait for my food I am an emotional wreck. All my attempts to succeed in the US have just been shattered by this experience. My only thought: I’m never going to do well here.
Here are some takeaways I learned (pun also intended):
- Coke and Cock are two different things. I didn’t know what cock meant when I ordered at BK, now I do.
- That cashier was a jerk.
- Burger King sucks.