Can You Say "Franchise" in English?

This is the best way to buy Starbucks.


            When we went to France one time a few years ago, I spent six months preparing to speak the language. I went to a tutor, listened to tapes and weeded the garden while practicing useful phrases such as, “Ma soeur a un crayon jaune…My sister has a yellow pencil.” It turned out to be well worth the effort in that it produced several hilarious moments that my husband, Cricket, could later recount at cocktail parties.

            While I have not needed to use my conversational French much since then, I have had other foreign-language collisions, usually at franchise food outlets. These establishments each have their own mysterious vocabulary of thematic names (“Rodeyodel Panwich”) or pseudo-European terms (“Scoffle Churn”) for burgers, fries and shakes. There is no handbook for the uninitiated customer – and no patience, either.

           When we were in France, I always took a moment to compose my request in French before I entered a store or public transportation center. First I would think up the exact wording for what I wanted to say. Then I reviewed the applicable vocabulary words in case I had to engage in further dialogue with a clerk. Finally, I steeled myself, set my mouth and opened the door.

            Sometimes it worked and we ended up with train tickets to the correct destination. And sometimes the nice French person would nod with a perplexed smile and say, “I think I would understand better if you spoke English.”

            My point exactly! I would understand a lot better if the fast food menu were in English.

            After patronizing fast food places with a child for 10 years, I finally learned enough of the vocabulary to feel confident about ordering at one or two particular chains. So recently, when I went to Starbucks for the first time, I was pretty cocky about being able to order a cup of coffee.

            Alas, Starbucks is even more daunting than burger houses.

            I studied the overwhelming number of choices on the menu board and found one item, frappuccino, that I had heard our daughter, Katie, talk about. However, selecting the basic drink is only the first step. The thirsty patron must navigate several more decisions, because there are endless flavors, multiple sizes and various garnishes available. I started to get that panicky feeling inside. What if I can’t pull this off? I thought. You provincial rube.

            “Next?” said the clerk.

“Ma soeur a un crayon jaune.”


            “I’ll have a frappuccino,” I whispered.

            “That’s cold, you know,” she said.

            It was a cold, rainy day and I wanted something hot, but I couldn’t bear the thought of starting all over. “Fine,” I croaked.

“What flavor?”

            “Hmm. Vanilla.”

            “Whipped cream on top?”

            “Oh, yes.”



            Of course, Starbucks has bought into the rename-the-sizes thing. There is no “small.” But “small” at Starbucks is not “medium” like it is at the burger place. No, “small” is called “tall.”

            My friend (you don’t think I’d go to a new place alone, do you?) dazzled me with her savoir faire by ordering a “tall venti nonfat caramel macchiato.”

            Then I learned that you have to wait until they call out that your order is ready. Which means you have to know the shorthand for whatever you ordered. So we sat down to wait.

            Pretty soon the clerk called out “venti skim carm mach” and my friend jumped up. And soon, after an elbow from my friend, I responded to “tall van cap.”

            I’m empowered now. I can go to Starbucks and order a “tall venti soy latte” -- or so I thought. This morning I went to Starbucks with Katie and managed (as I do quite regularly) to humiliate her with my ignorance.

            As we waited in line, one of the clerks called for our orders. We approached the counter and said what we wanted. “Tall mocha latte” rolled smoothly off my tongue. So far so good. Then I held out a ten-dollar (!) bill, and the clerk said, politely, “If you’ll take your place in line, you can pay at the register.”

            I looked around. “But I don’t know where I was in line,” I said pathetically.

            Two people pointed to a spot on the floor. “Here.”

            So I went and stood there, feeling like George Costanza in line at the Soup Nazi’s kitchen.

            At least they let me buy the coffee.

Copyright (c) 2010 Robin Traywick Williams