My first job was at McDonalds. My 100% polyester uniform was the colour of dried blood and accessorized with a visor that I presume protected me from beams of fluorescent indoor lighting. I earned minimum wage but every 6 hour shift included a free meal and if you worked the closing shift you could take home whatever was left under the heat lamps at midnight. I thought this was a sweet deal until I figured out that a diet of Filet O’ Fish and ‘baked’ apple pies created a pepper-like scattering of blackheads across my nose that could only be conquered with very expensive pimple creams.
The McDonalds corporation, back in the 1980s, was obsessed with training. Videos on efficient movement played on a loop in the break room, reminding us to always move in a pattern – drink station, fries, burgers, dessert items – and we could earn (or lose) bonuses by smiling (or forgetting to smile) at every customer. Trans fats and brainwashing aside, I learned a lot in my year at McDonalds, including a few things about efficiency and customer service that I still use to this day. But the biggest life lesson I gained wasn’t on any of those break room training videos.
The biggest thing I learned came from just standing there, hour after hour, serving people burgers. Now, for those of you who have never eaten at McDonalds (and those of you who like to ‘pretend’ that you haven’t) I will begin by explaining that McDonalds burgers come with 2 pickles. They are thin, limp, vinegary tasting, and the size of a quarter. Some people are ‘okay’ with them; others cannot gag them down (I have never met anyone who truly considers them a culinary ‘treat’). Although the fast food industry is the antithesis of customized dining, you are allowed to say ‘no’ to the pickles. This is a pain in the ass to everyone, including the kid making the burgers, the kid serving the burgers, and the line up of customers waiting patiently (or obnoxiously) to get to the front of the line. Now that you have the required ‘pickle’ history, I will continue with my life lesson. Here is what I learned from slinging burgers at McDonalds…
All the people you are going to encounter in an average day can be broken down into three simple groups: the people who just eat the pickles, the people who say nothing but later pick the pickles off, and the people who absolutely refuse to be served those pickles. And each of us, at some point in our lives, decides to join with one of these groups. Me, I am a ‘pick the pickles off’ person. I don’t see much point in making a fuss about things that I can fix on my own, but at the same time, I’m not going to swallow anything that doesn’t sit right with me, just to be agreeable. My husband is an ‘eat the pickles’ kind of guy (which is extra funny because he is a picky eater and he REALLY hates those pickles). My husband is uber-popular and loved by all, but at the same time, he has stomach issues, back pain, and occasional migraines, which I think might be avoided if he stopped shovelling down things he didn’t like, just to ‘get along’. And I am sure we all know at least a few people who insist on having a special, pickle-free burger made, just for them (you all know who you are and even if the rest of us are gracious about it… trust me… you piss us off!).
The Pickle Theory has served me well over the years and I thank the McDonalds corporation for giving me such an important research and development opportunity. I think that I have made a happy life by applying a 30/60/10 split, based on the Pickle Theory. About 30% of the people in my world at any given time, can be pickle-eaters. They are fun and easy and they can make a hard, heavy day seem a little softer and lighter. 10% can be pickle-adverse because those are sometimes the most interesting characters to have a conversation with. But the rest have to be pickle-pickers because they tell it like it is (but only if you ask).
This week, if you have the time, do a quick synopsis of your friends and colleagues. Don’t include in-laws because you didn’t choose them and you can’t avoid them… and I am about 95% sure that all in-laws are pickle-adverse anyway! Using the Pickle Theory, figure out what your ‘split is’. It may explain a lot. You also need to factor in yourself … if a little honest reflection reveals that you are in the 10% you may want to take a trip to the Golden Arches. Just place your order and say thank you (with a smile). Bet that pimply teenager on the other side of the counter will smile back… and you can always pick the pickles off later.