Saturday, February 11, 2006

Fast Food in Riyadh and a Visit to the King

Hi Ramona, Remember when the limo
driver tried to
bring us to visit the King in Riyadh? I woke up thinking about
that eventful
evening and thought you might get a laugh remembering it also.KD
- 11:51 am

KD left me this message in my comments section today. She woke up thinking about this funny story, and since I am working nights, I also had the pleasure of waking up this afternoon to this funny memory. I'll try to recall it to the best of my ability.

Jump back to oh, I don't know, the year 1992. KD and I were working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia at the Eye Hospital. This picture of Riyadh (c.1999) was taken from an INCREDIBLE family website I found, please, check it out: The memory I have of the city at that time is similar. Nowadays, it has, and still is, going through an incredible growth spurt, and looks like this:

But back to 1992. KD and I had already been in Saudi for a couple of years, and back then, there really was not a whole lot to choose from as far as the 'Comfort' foods from back home was concerned. "Comfort" foods, of course, being Fast Food. Sure, there was Ladies Windows we could go to at the Baskin Robbins, or at the local Shawarma Joint, but in the early 90's it was still pretty basic.

Then, came Burger King! It was the talk of the town and everyone was excited about it! There was only one clincher, and that was that single women were not allowed inside the restaurant. Women, however, were allowed to go through the drive-through with their Limo driver (aka taxi driver who does not speak english.)

So one afternoon, KD, myself, and this hilarious friend from the UK, named Elaine, decided that we were going to go to Burger King to get ourselves a Whopper. Now Elaine has a very heavy British accent, and to be fair, there were times that I had a bit of difficulty understanding her. We jumped into the back of the Limo, and Elaine asked the driver if he knew where Burger King was, and if he could take us there. "Yes, mum" was his answer. Now, we knew that the restaurant was towards the city centre, but really didn't know where EXACTLY it was. So we're sitting in the back, chatting away, being silly, and after about 15 minutes we realize that we are heading in the wrong direction. Elaine asks again "you are taking us to Burger King?" "Yes, mum" the driver replied. More driving. Again, this time I asked (or maybe it was KD) "You ARE taking us to Burger King?" This time, the driver, looking quite nervous, responded "yes, mum....but why you want to see the King?"

Fits of hysteria, I tell you!!! He was taking us to the Royal Palace thinking we wanted to visit King Fahad!!!

This was the general area he was driving to, just outside the Diplomatic Quarter. We never did get to Burger King that day, or to speak to the King for that matter!

A few days later, our mouths still watering with the thoughts of a Whopper, we took someone along for the Limo ride who had already checked out Burger King. This is actually another funny story (or, lets just call it the completion of the story)

As luck would have it, we once again got into a Limo with a driver who spoke very little english. By this time, having spent a couple of years in Saudi we knew a few basic words. 'Alatool' meaning straight ahead and 'khalass' meaning stop.

Our driver was about 60 years old, and looked like he had just crawled out of the desert. I was fairly sure that we'd be going to visit the King again, but actually, this time we really did manage to find the restaurant. The problem was, the driver had never before in his life gone through a drive-through! He was rather confused as to what our plans were, but to give him credit he just went along with the crazy Amrikee's (pretty much all western women were assumed to be american.)

So, we gave him directions to go to the first window so we could order: "Alatool,alatool,alatool...KHALASS!!!" We ordered our Whoppers, fries and diet cokes. And, I think we ordered a whopper for our driver too. Next window so we could pay "Alatool, alatool, alatool...KHALASS!!!" The driver is shaking his head in utter amazement. By the time we were headed to the pick-up window, he knew the ropes, and needed no further direction!

And that is the story of our visit to the King (of Burgers)

A year later, McDonald's opened. I remember the night it opened it looked like a car rally in the parking lot! There was a line-up to get into the restaurant that must taken over an hour to get in. Of course, it was only men allowed in. In the first month of the opening, even during the day-time, there were Bouncer's prohibiting women from entering! The second month, they allowed single women into the family section during the daytime. I remember walking in and being greeted by 10 Phillipino men all colour co-ordinated in their uniforms. Peach-purple-peach-purple-peach-purple all down the line. In unison, they all welcomed us: "Hello! Can we take your order?!" My friends and I were the only one's in the restaurant, and again, it was TOO funny!

Somehow, the wait was all worth it.

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