About a week ago I wrote a blog post about the lack of restaurants here in Botswana (Who goes to a restaurant only once per month?). Today I had to go back and visit my friends with whom I had that conversation. I hadn’t seen them in a little while, so they were asking me how I was settling in, about my classes and again, we discussed food and restaurants. Mompati was saying he had read an article about obesity in America and wanted to know if restaurants were the reason. The conversation bounced back and forth between restaurants, fast food, obesity, cooking, and then I said those two magic words…drive thru.
Gladys and Mompati exchanged glances then asked in unison, “What’s a drive-thru?”
I explained how drive-thrus were available at fast food chains, banks, dry cleaners, liquor stores, post offices, pharmacies and chapels (for both marriages and funerals!). However, despite my attempts at explaining how the drive-thru worked they didn’t quite get it.
Back in Lubbock I am known for having a rather rowdy office on occasion. Part of that is because my graduate students and I like to do “demonstrations.” Before I went to China my graduate students organized a demonstration of how to walk properly in Asia. When I returned I presented my own demonstration of how to successfully enter the subway. Typically these little gatherings involve a lot of laughter and color commentary. My graduate students would have been proud, because when I couldn’t figure out a way to properly explain a drive-thru I proposed a demonstration.
Mompati was getting ready to leave campus anyway, so I went out and drew a path in the dirt and indicated the path he should follow and where to stop. Unfortunately, after 30 years of frequenting drive-thrus myself I made a fatal mistake on the first try, I bent down on the left side of the car (driver’s side in the U.S., but passenger’s side here) to “take his order.” Oops, scratch that.
Take Two went a bit more smoothly. He drove up to the “entrance” where I took his order a la imaginary menu board and microphone. Then he proceeded to the second window where he paid, and then a third where he received his food.
The demonstration itself was a lot of fun, as were the questions which followed: “But, why don’t you just park the car and walk into the store?” “What if I want to go in the store? Does this mean I can’t?” “Do I have to eat the food in the car?” “I don’t get it.”
When McDonald’s first opened drive-thrus in China people couldn’t understand the concept either. People would go through the drive-thru to purchase their food, then park and take the food back inside the restaurant to eat it.
Needless to say, not all American inventions are easily translatable or welcome. Some are willingly embraced while others are less readily adopted. I have it on good authority that, “Botswana would never do this.” I hope he’s correct. But there is one thing I always say to my students, “Never say ‘never’ my friends.”