I sat wedged between two Turkish students nibbling cheeseburgers in Woodbury Commons. I was the only person outside of the MacDonald’s restaurant without food, daydreaming about frozen desserts.
Usually I do not get paid to peruse discounted brand name merchandise with international students, but the group leader for the Turkish kids flew back to her sales office in Istanbul and left the group unsupervised for the weekend. One girl, Beren, was older than the other students and took charge of the group. There wasn’t much for me to do but make sure they all got to the outlets and back without breaking their legs.
They had already been to the outlets on the fourth of July and now they were just buying souvenirs from friends. When I ask international students why they wanted to come to New York, the word “shopping” is invariably upon their lips. Clothes, handbags, sunglasses, watches – it’s all cheaper in the US.
With little money and a lot of time, I followed Beren and her young friend, Pinar, through the Gap and Armani Exchange and gave bad fashion advice with the best intentions. I couldn’t remember the last time I went shopping with girls.
“Which of these shirts do you like better?” asked Beren, holding up two white American Eagle shirts with red logos, one of which was slightly faded. Squinting slightly, I pointed to the brighter one. I watched them try on tee-shirts over their tee-shirts.
After, Pinar and I dug through a bin of underwear labeled, “4 for $10.” In spite of my resolve to spend no money, I started picking out pairs of cheap underwear. At least I’m not spending frivolously, I thought. Underwear is a necessity of life.
“Where can I go to a Victoria’s Secret?” Pinar asked, tossing aside a pair of extra-large lace-backed panties.
“Just so you know,” I said, “Victoria’s Secret is still pretty expensive here. You can spend, like, forty dollars on one bra there.”
I lifted my breasts slightly as I said the word bra because I find that communication goes more smoothly when I talk with my hands.
“What was that word you used?” Pinar asked.
“Bra,” I repeated. “Bra. But really, they’re, like, forty dollars.”
My mind simply cannot justify forty dollar undergarments.
“Bra,” said Pinar.
“I want just one to take home,” said Beren. “I will buy.”
Among Turkish ladies, I discovered that “I will buy” can be a complete sentence.
“The Gap tee-shirts are eighty US dollars in Istanbul,” Beren explained, contemplating shelf of twelve dollar tees. “I will buy.”
After many hundreds of US dollars were dropped on watches and shoes and handbags, I followed Beren and Pinar to the food pavilion. The word “pavilion” might indicate an establishment that is just as sophisticated as the designer outlets the pavilion keeps company with. Inside, we found pizza, tacos, and Au Bon Pain. This food court fare did not interest the two girls and they went to MacDonalds. We joined the rest of the group at a table outside of the MacDonald’s joint. The Turkish language reigned supreme and I had no idea what was going on.
“Kdeiomcr erjkwjhod kdjsjoe System of a Down adfadewtn,” one girl said.
Okay, they’re talking about music, I thought to myself.
“Please, Brittany, have a fry,” said Beren, pushing her large box of fries towards me. “Please.”
“No, thanks,” I said.
“You have nothing,” she pouted. “Please. I beg you. It’s potato, Brittany.”
“No, I know what it’s made of. I’m okay. Really.”
“But it’s so much food,” she said.
No matter where you’re from, you must know what you’re getting yourself into when you order a large fry in America. You made your salty, deep-fried bed and you can sleep in it. She dipped a fry into a white sauce and I asked her what it was.
“People here usually dip fries into ketchup,” I said.
“This sauce… this is good. You must try it, Brittany,” Beren said.
I’m usually inhumanly immune to peer-pressure. Some combination of curiosity and a desire to not be offered any more fries compelled me to take the smallest one and dip it into the white sauce. And… disappointment. I tasted ranch dressing and salt.
“Thanks,” I said with lukewarm enthusiasm. I hadn’t eaten a MacDonald’s French fry since I was sixteen. I left the group for a moment to purchase a salad from the Au Bon Pain and rethink my life.
In the car that evening, Dave lectured me on the inevitability of the French fry.
“You thought you could avoid MacDonald’s for the rest of your life? You can’t. I predict that someday, before you die, you will eat another MacDonald’s French fry. Someday you will be traveling and you will be starving and after walking for miles you will come to a MacDonald’s restaurant. You will buy fries because that is the only food for miles around and you will eat those fries whether you like it or not because you need that food to live.”