French and German language

Fast food and pronunciation fun: Je voudrais des potatoes

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Sitting comfortably? Notebooks at the ready? Today's lesson, ably taught by Lovely in Lux Libby, is on ordering at McDonald's in Luxembourg. If you want those potato wedges, pay very close attention.

If you missed our last class (Ah-HEM? Where are your tardy notes? Sick notes? Hall passes?), you’ll recall that to order a hamburger in Germany, you need to have mastered the average Johann’s pronunciation of American words.

If you have not yet grasped that concept, I suggest that you review your notes before moving on to today’s topic, which is Ordering at McDonald’s in Luxembourg. Especially because, if you didn’t get the last chapter, you’ll definitely bomb the final exam.

First, some background information. This is how I figure McDonald’s in Luxembourg must have been created.

A grad student named Josh has to spend his last year of school working for next to nothing in a corporation and lands this ‘really sweet’ traineeship at McDonald’s, where he gets assigned to a committee responsible for starting a franchise in Luxembourg. Being the grad school pee-on that he is, the older people in the group soon have him doing pretty much all of the work, which consists of marketplace studies, consumer attitude research, competition analyses, etc. etc.

Young man asleep at desk

So Josh pulls a few all-nighters researching the market in Luxembourg and soon realises (without too much effort) that Luxembourg is really freaking complicated. Not only have you got half of the population commuting in from three bordering countries and rent prices that are probably equal to those of Times Square, you’ve got three different national languages and business requirements that make a background check by the KGB look like a cakewalk.

So Josh starts getting down to the nuts and bolts of the Luxembourg franchise project and starts looking at suppliers for the restaurants. Since Luxembourg isn’t large enough to create its own marketing materials and supply itself, Josh can basically choose from France, Belgium and Germany in getting someone to supply his restaurants with food, packaging, and Happy Meal toys.

Since Josh is at least a B-average student, he analyses the languages spoken in Luxembourg and realises that it would probably be a good idea to have everything in French at McDonald’s, since the majority of people would be French speakers.

So he orders everything for his restaurant from France. Ten weeks later, the Luxembourg restaurant still hasn’t seen a delivery. They’re still waiting for their fries, their coffee machine, and the paper tray liners.

McDonald's Happy Meal

So Josh calls up Corporate in Paris. After being connected to seven different people who tell him “Dis is not my responsabilité” or “Zis order do not exist,” he calls up Belgium and places his order all over again.

Nothing happens.

Josh calls up the corporate office in Brussels, only to find out they’re on holiday for the next four to seven weeks (give or take) and that he should either wait until they care or just stop calling.

So Josh orders everything from Germany. Two weeks later, the restaurant is up and running.

The only problem? Hehe, well, poor Josh forgot something (B student, remember?). He forgot to do an analysis of the work force in Luxembourg. If he would have done that, he would have seen that you can order the menu in German, but the employees won’t be able to understand it.

Which brings us to the present day. When I first saw that the menu at McDonald’s was in German, I was delighted. When I tried to order something from it, however, the person behind the counter looked at me like I was going mad. You may be able to order the items with American names (a Big Mac is a Big Mac), but the other items are a complete mystery. Seriously – you can’t order off the menu. You have to intuitively know what the item would be called in France.

Which definitely makes ordering in Germany look quite easy.

My husband is better at this (either that, or he has more practice eating at McDonald’s here, which is probably true). One day we were in the drive-through lane and I told him to order me the potato wedges, which were called ‘Farmkartoffeln’ on the German menu.

McDonald's fries and ketchup

Now the French translation for ‘Farmkartoffeln’ would probably be ‘frites de ferme’, which is probably nuts, so I was thinking something like ‘pommes de campagne’, which in my humble opinion would be more like ‘country fries’.

[bzzt] WRONG.

My husband ordered the ‘BO-TAY-TOES’.

Of course, why didn’t I think of that?

Sure enough – if you look atwww.mcdonalds.fr (which is kind of creepy, by the way), you will see that in France, the potato wedges are actually called ‘Les Deluxe Potatoes’. Hmmm. So basically, I would have needed to know what the product was called in France, then ordered that product in Luxembourg, and fully disregarded the German menu. Not to mention the fact that the pronunciation would have to be the French interpretation of English, which is not 'po-TAY-toez' but rather 'BO-DAY-doez'. Of course.

Then again, pointing and ordering extra value meals is always a good alternative. If I can just say “Number 6”, she’ll ask me “avec des frites ou des potatoes?” and I can answer accordingly.

Just as with our last lesson, this also applies to other restaurants in Luxembourg. Many of them, like our neighbourhood butcher, have German menus that cannot be used.

Although I could go on and use this as an extended metaphor for life in Luxembourg, I think I’ll save that topic for another day. This blog has gotten to be quite lengthy, and I haven’t even provided you with a decent visual aid yet. Shame on me. Here you go:

Potatoes

By the way, on my last blog, Rachel commented that ‘pommes’ are apples in French, which is absolutely correct, and I should have clarified. Indeed – ‘pommes’ are apples, but the French word for French fries is nonetheless ‘pommes frites’, with ‘frites’ meaning fried. The Germans shorten that to the simple ‘Pommes’ (said ‘Pumm-ess’), whereas French speakers often shorten it to ‘frites’ (said ‘freet’).

So basically speaking, all formal, informal, French, German, and English forms make no linguistic sense and we should just stop eating fries because they aren’t good for us anyway.

 

Reprinted with permission of Lovely in Lux.

 LibbyA native of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Libby moved to Germany after finishing college and enjoyed four years there. In 2008, she left Germany for itty-bitty Luxembourg. Follow her adventure and her journey to happiness – no matter where on Earth she may find herself – on Lovely in Lux.

 

Photo credits: All nighter by orphanjones; Happy Meal by happymealy; McDonald's fries and ketchup by jc.westbrook (all Flickr.com)

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