Arab · Business · Culture · Jordan · Life in America

The culture of ordering food

The Soup Nazi is a very mean but the best soup cook character that appeared in Seinfeld TV Show. If you don’t know this character then watch this clip before continue reading:

 

For those who don’t know the Soup Nazi character is a depiction of a real Middle Eastern restaurant owner in New York. Although, The Soup Nazi character is exaggerated but it has some truth about how business and customer service in the Middle East is conducted. There are stories about some restaurant owners refusing to serve people or telling them that they don’t want to sell some individuals anymore.

Ordering food in the Middle East is totally different than in America. In the Middle East, the customer looks at the menu and order. Neither the customer nor the server needs to say more. Some restaurants they don’t even have menus; the waiter tells customers what they have verbally. In Jordan, for example, you order a Falafel or a Shawerma sandwich without specifying what should be in your sandwich. Everyone knows what is inside a Falafel or a Shawerma sandwich. Although, not every restaurant have the same ingredients but we don’t complain. Rarely, a customer asks for one ingredient to be left out of his sandwich. In general, we all eat the same sandwich and we are very happy and satisfied about our sandwiches. It is nothing like ordering your sandwich Subway style in which you decide everything from the type of your bread to everything in between including the amount of salt and pepper.

On the other hand, in America ordering food in restaurants is much more complicated than in the Middle East and may cause lots of confusion for new non-American customers. Language proficiency is not always the barrier in communication sometimes it is the exposure to a new culture that causes the confusion. The first time I ordered food at an American restaurant I was bombarded with difficult questions by the server. Every time I answer a question the waitress would ask me another one, all related to my order.

The most interesting question in American restaurants especially for Arabs is when someone orders meat. The first time I ordered a hamburger in a restaurant the waitress asked me “How do you like it cooked?” Although, I heard the question very well I couldn’t understand what she meant. As far as I know people choose to go to a particular restaurant when they know that it serves good food. Hence, the task of how food is cooked should be determined by the cook not the customer. You will never hear this question when you order Kofta or Shish Kabob from a Middle Eastern Restaurant. Anyway, I found out that Americans cook their meat very rare, rare, medium rare, medium, medium well done, well done. The reason why Arabs find asking how we like our meat cooked strange is because our grilled meat is cooked one way; “well done” only.

Unlike in Arabia, ordering food is a long process. You don’t just order food; you decide how you would like it cooked, you determine if you want to add more ingredients and choose two sides among the many different sides offered. After I made my first crucial decision of how I like my hamburger cooked (unlike most Arabs I like mine medium or medium well) I was asked if I want to add cheese to my hamburger. This was trivial for me since I like cheeseburger. But when I thought I am done with answering questions another question came. “What type of cheese you like?” the waitress asked. Again, I learned that you can also determine the cheese you like on top of your hamburger. Typically, the cheese could be American, Swiss, Provolone, or Pepper-jack.

The first time I ordered a steak I was happy that I could answer quickly how I like it be cooked. But it seems regardless of what you order at American restaurants there are always more questions. After I answered “yes” to whether I want salad with my steak I was asked what salad dressing I like. Again, I didn’t understand the question since we all know that the only salad dressing exists is olive oil, lemon and vinegar. But not when you are in America. I asked what salad dressing you have and the waitress quickly recited more than ten salad dressings. I was able for some reason to remember Italian salad dressing which ended up on my salad. In the picture, Salad Dressings aisle at Walmart. Yes, infinite number of Salad Dressings.

Now, one could say that Americans are either very picky or that they have the best customer service in the world. In my opinion, they are not picky but they got used to been treated as royalties. And of course they don’t know it until they visit some other country, even a European country, that they realize the difference in treatment.

For my dear Arabs visiting the U.S. now you know what type of questions you will be asked in American restaurants. And for Americans visiting the Middle East although we have a reputation of bad customer services, I assure you the food you will eat there is out of this world. It is not just hummus and falafel as many Americans think. Think of your experience as ordering food from the Soup Nazi, excellent food but not so much good customer service.

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6 thoughts on “The culture of ordering food

  1. Many Falafel joints put wilted french fries in the sandwich and I specifically ask them not to do that so I get would you like pickles instead? Also they always add parsley and green chili with lemon dressing on hummus which I hate and I have to tell the server many times NO PARSLEY and NO DRESSING, just plain hummus thank you. And yet they still put parsley because they can’t understand that some people don’t like hummus the Arabic way. Also, do you want your falafel with pita bread or with ka’ek? Do you want a basic falafel or super falafel sandwich? Do you want plain falafel or stuffed falafel?

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  2. Bottom -line; when r we treating us 4 a burger! 😀
    Good info jaraad, in 3amman, however, the “royalty-treatment” is picking up! Com`n over and get a bite and u`ll know 🙂

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  3. I enjoyed this! I never realized how ordering food here was so complicated, but you are right. There are lots of questions. Just the other day I ordered a cheeseburger at Wendy’s – no pickle, no mayo, no ketchup. We are used to having our food the way we like it. And who knew there were so many salad dressings and cheeses in the world, right? 🙂

    Thankfully when we went to Syria, we had a local with us nearly all the time. He would help make our food more specific to our tastes. For instance, I don’t care for the yogurt that is so popular and I’d get my sandwiches plain and Samer could tell them to leave it off for me. And they did. 🙂

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    1. I always enjoy your comments. I like to hear what Americans think of my cultural adventures 🙂
      Beside their great hamburgers and buns, I like going to Fuddruckers because I choose what I add to my cheeseburger.

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