Editorial Notebook

McDonald’s taught me about relationships

Usually, when I tell people I worked at McDonald’s they laugh.

People who’ve never been behind the counter at a fast food place see it as a different universe, and when I tell them I’m from that universe it catches them off guard. They ask what it’s like, what crazy stories I have, and if I get free food. They assume I hate it, and—to be fair—I kinda do. But, only sometimes. Usually, I love it.

Working at McDonald’s showed me a different side of the world and a different side of people. I got to work with, serve, and interact with people from all over my state and from wildly different backgrounds. I got to talk to and become friends with the old, retired men who come in every morning to get their coffee and hang out with their friends. They would walk in and smile at me as I made their coffees, knowing what they would order before they even said hello. As I walked around to wipe down tables and collect the trays, they would ask me about school and how I’m doing today. We talked about college; they would laugh when I told them my University of Connecticut sweatshirt did not mean I was going to UCONN.

My favorite regular, Rich, had a daughter who went to Rensselaer, and his eyes would light up every time I updated him on college. He gave me a big hug when I told him I got in, and beamed when I told him I committed. Fred, who came in at least four times everyday, was a crew favorite. He was a sweet old man who would order his large coffee with one splenda and five creams. Every time he walked in the whole staff would collectively coo, “Hi Fred!” as he waved. There were the “coffee ladies,” who were three cranky women who had complicated orders and made fun of the new people who didn’t know how to make them. I even cried the first time they did it to me, but once I got to know them they were nice and fun to talk to. I hugged them goodbye at the end of my last shift before college.

My regulars were my favorite part of McDonald’s. Each one of them was such a small, unique presence in my life, but now that I’ve left I miss them every time I order coffee.

Without working I would have never made relationships like those. I was shy to the point of ridiculousness. Ordering food for myself was daunting, even asking a teacher for help made my heart rate speed up. When I first started at work, I would talk quietly. But being forced—almost everyday—to talk to, laugh with, help, and meet complete strangers taught me that overall, people are pretty nice. Three minute conversations about how cold it is outside, or their pink hair, and where they got it done, make your day better. Telling someone their shirt looks nice does nothing but make a shift a little more pleasant, or brighten someone’s day. Now, when I customer walks in, I give them my brightest smile and ask loudly and confidently, “Hi, how can I help you?” I laugh, I give them suggestions, I make jokes about my coworkers. I’ve become more comfortable talking to people I’ve never met before and will never meet again than I used to be talking to my friends.

Working at a fast food place taught me how to be comfortable with myself and my ability to interact quickly and professionally. I learned how to develop relationships in seconds—how to stop caring about what I’m saying and how the other person will react, and instead just smile and start talking. I am the outgoing, people-loving person I am today because of my job, and I am glad to be “McMaddy,” as my friends have fondly named me, everyday.