Speaking of fine cuisine, I made a quick stop at McDonald’s last week before running to the movies, and realized that even the most American of institutions changes its character depending on the surroundings. One of the first things I noticed about McDonald’s when I moved here (which is the first thing I check out at foreign McDonald’s) is that the apple pies are still deep-fried, which in my opinion is the only food item served at McDonald’s that should be eaten for its deliciousness rather than its cheapness and convenience.
But there are other differences. When going to McDonald’s in the States, you have to be careful when asking for ketchup, and say, “Could I get two packets of ketchup, please,” or risk ending up with about 23 packets of ketchup. Sometimes they even start tossing fistfuls of ketchup into your bag before you’ve even asked for ketchup. Not here. You only get ketchup if you ask for it, and even then, you only get as many as you pay for. Yes, they charge you for packets of ketchup here, about 16 cents a packet. Everything on the menu here is more expensive than at American McDonald’s, so I’m not sure why it’s necessary to squeeze that last bit out on the ketchup, but maybe they just do it because other Swiss restaurants also charge for ketchup.
Another difference stems from the fact that the Swiss use the metric system, and Americans don’t. There is no quarter-pounder here, I’m guessing because no one would know what a pound is. Instead, they have a burger called the 280. 280 what? Calories? Grams? If it’s 280 calories, I don’t believe it, because nothing at McDonald’s has only 280 calories. If it’s grams, I’m hoping it includes the bun and the pickles and the paper wrapper, because 280 grams is more than half a pound.
I often express amazement at the, er, fashion scene in Zurich, especially the clothes worn by Swiss men. Summertime is odd enough, with capri pants, tight jeans, and high-waisted, pleated pants. Wintertime brings with it a whole other set of fashion choices: outerwear. Few days pass when I don’t see at least one grave-looking businessman wearing a pink plaid scarf or an eggplant purple wool coat. I often see macho beefcakes wearing nylon warm-up jackets in fuchsia and teal patterns favored by big-haired women in the 80’s. You'd think that by now, I'd be desensitized and wouldn’t notice them anymore. But I’m not, and I do.
I had an awkward moment the other week at the gym, when I spotted someone wearing a Harvard Law School t-shirt. I figured he was probably an expat and that he must have gone to HLS, and since I did my undergrad there, and have lots of friends who went to HLS, I said hi. Turns out that he was Swiss and had no affiliation with HLS whatsoever. He was visiting Harvard and bought the shirt. Who buys a law school shirt as a souvenir? Tourists buy the shirt for the university, and students buy the shirt for the school they went to. That’s my assumption, and I think it’s reasonable. He seemed quite taken aback that I would assume he was affiliated with Harvard just because he was wearing an HLS shirt. OK, so I was wrong, but do you really have to look at me like I’m crazy because I thought you went to the school that you’re wearing across your chest?