I walk in the door and there is music pumping through the speakers as if I’m at a rave party at 3am. Out the window behind me I can see Ronald McDonald’s life size figure sitting on a bench. We’re on Main Boulevard, Gulberg, across from the Nike Store and Levi’s Shop. Main Blvd is the place to be in Lahore. Skyscrapers are going up everywhere.
Proud workers seem to be all over the restaurant sporting their navy blue pants, shiny black shoes, red striped button down shirts, and of course navy blue hats with bright golden arches. Gotta represent. I choose a table and sit down as one worker is happily moppin’ away to the beat of Eminem. Another young man in his red striped shirt spins a brown tray on his finger as he brings it to its proper place.
This is one of the coolest places in town for a date. As opposed to the West, McDonald’s in the developing world is an upscale restaurant frequented by the well to do. I observe one couple sitting near me. Two milkshakes, hers strawberry, his chocolate, and a large fry. He is slightly overweight and showing it in a white t-shirt sporting Bath n’ Body and Victoria’s Secret logos on his back. She, being much more stylish as all Pakistani women are, is wearing loose bright orange shalwar with purple and green stripes. Her floral dupatta is effortlessly thrown over one shoulder of her cream colored short sleeved kameez with matching orange trim. Her hair is dyed with lighter brown streaks and held back in a big black scrunchie. Designer sunglasses are perched on her head and her black leather purse completes the outfit.
Ahh! Something does not fit in this picture. Behind her stands a blond western man wearing shorts, or ¾ length pants with his hiking boots. This is not American fashion….German maybe? They seem to be all over these parts in the summer and they have no problem showing their hairy legs much to the amusement, or distress, or the local population. Shorts do not exist here in Pakistan, and in neighboring Iran one of my friends was thrown in jail for wearing them. I turn my gaze away, horrified at the fashion statement.
A solitary balding man sits at the table across from me and places his shiny silver mobile phone on the table with his new looking car keys. He’s wearing a tan shalwar kameez and it seems as if he considers each of his remaining hairs as precious. This is a trend in Pakistani men. If a spot on their head is balding, they will let each of the remaining hairs grow wildly and as long as possible in hope that they can twirl them around, stick them onto the bald spot, and give the illusion that they still have hair. Unfortunately for Pakistan, India has been exporting the comb-over look as haut couture. This man is definitely a victim of thinking that comb-overs are attractive.
I wonder if I am really in Lahore when I see a Pakistani man wearing navy blue ¾ pants complete with track suit stripes and cargo pocket, chatting with a smartly dressed businessman in the parking lot. The businessman wears nicely fitted black pants, shined leather shoes, a mauve collared shirt, and a perfectly matching patterned tie. As they finish their conversation the ¾ pants man jumps into a metallic blue sports car while the businessman speeds off in a white company van.
Looking towards the ground, I see dark wide leg jeans. They are so wide they are nearly hiding the gray and black skater shoes underneath. “What, are you trying to hide a family of 12 in your pants?” (Meaghan King if you’re reading this is for you…..remember our trendy friend with the goggles in that movie we used to love?) I look up to see a young man, most likely in his early 20s, wearing a dark blue T. He has a nicely trimmed full beard and his shiny longish hair falls to conceal his thick square plastic glasses. He grins crazily at a small boy in jeans and a turquoise shirt and I make a conjecture that this is his son or his little brother. To my surprise, a woman in a burka joins the wide-leg jeans man. She’s got white Adidas sneakers and white shalwar on under her big black tent, and she momentarily lets her burka slip off and reveal her wavy hair held up in a clip. She looks young and I assume that she is the boy’s mother and the trendy man’s wife. As she dips her tea bag in hot water she carefully puts her burka back over her head.
At this point I’m distracted from my people watching as one of my favorite salsa songs comes blaring through the speakers. Ok yes, I must confess that I loved the movie “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” which was based around Latin dancing, and this one song from the movie always makes me want to hop on the next plane to Cuba. In my mind, the McDonald’s is transformed into a Latin dance scene. I can see everyone, burkas and all, dancing on the tables. Letting their hair down. I’m teaching the steps as I grab the mic to sing along. 1, 2, 3. Back side together. 1 2 3. I imagine the workers standing in a line moving their hips to the beat, stepping in time to the music while they blow their trumpets. Their lips form huge smiles as they enjoy the music. They are feelin’ the beat. Blue pants, red striped shirts, and of course their navy blue hats. 1, 2, 3. Back Side Together. Come on ladies, let’s join together. Don’t be afraid to move. Don’t be afraid to dance!
My inner dance party is brought to an abrupt halt due to the interruption of Chris Isaac crooning an 80s love song. There’s no dance party here. No trumpets. No 1 2 3. No standing on the tables. Just cheeseburgers and fries. The young woman with the child has let her burka fall to her shoulders again as she finishes her last bite.
Next is Sting, “Every move you make, every breath you take…” at least it’s not Puffy’s version for the B.I.G. This is why people here think of McDonald’s as a romantic place. “Baby, baby…please…..do do do do.”
The romantic mood is gone as we enter into some Indian club mix. Whoever put together this rotation of music must have been a schizophrenic. I imagine we are in a Bollywood movie and I’m leading everyone is some bhangra hip hop line dance. A man in gray shalwar kameez and with a big belly walks in. Drum roll… he joins in my mental Bollywood number. Bust a move, ji, but first put on those cool black shades.
Reality: A little girl on skate shoes rolls by in a flowered skirt and bright pink tank top. I see one thin middle aged woman, a rare sight among the affluent, most of who are proud to be MOTI (fat). They are the only ones who can afford coming to hip places like McDonald’s. A man in dark denim jeans, a white button down shirt, and a tightly fitted navy blue turban strides in as he walks to the beat.
More Shaqira in the speakers and we are back to my mental Latin dance party. How bout the limbo this time? Ladies kick off those heels. I don’t know how you can walk in them anyway, especially if you have to dodge heaps of trash and open sewers in the streets. Wait, I forgot, this crowd doesn’t walk more than a few feet from their SUVs to their destination. I tap my foot against the table and think again of Cuba. Why do they have to be communist? As an American citizen I can’t even go there and search for my Latin dance party.
A big silver SUV picks up 4 stylish ladies in their bright shalwar kameez. Bounce with me, ji, bounce with me. The driver is a slender bearded man in tan shalwar kameez. I imagine him in a rap video carting the ladies around, zim zimma who’s got the keys to my bimma? Oh my….
Entering the stage, couple on a date #2. She wears big black chunky hells with her turquoise floral shalwar. Her wavy black hair is down, showing that she comes from a more liberal background, and her straight silver drop earrings make her look classy. A diamond sparkles on her left hand while she inspects her long manicured nails. Another small stone sparkles in her nose, yes this is the kind of nose ring that looks quite good for a small nose. She plays with her hair and straightens her shirt. She taps her feet to the beat of the now disco music and waits for her attractive young husband to come back with the tray of food. They sit close and lean in towards each other as they eat their fries. He bobs his head to the beat box rythym.
It seems Eminem is the cue for the sweeper, cause he’s out and moppin’ to da beat in the same exact place again. His shiny shoes slide over the floor as he mops. Back and forth. Swish. Swish.
A barefooted little girl in a jean skirt and purple t-shirt places her pink sandals on the table next to her happy meal. Her dad grabs the shoes and straps them back on her dangling feet as she sits at the table. She and her older brother enjoy their happy meals. “Happiness in a box” the cartons claim. Hmm…would that really comprise of burgers, fries, and a small toy? False advertising I think. The little girl turns around and stares at me with her inquisitive brown eyes. She innocently sits with her legs wide open and her diaper showing along with her chubby tanned thighs. She should enjoy this now, for little does she know what will befall her as a Pakistani woman. Her short hair is cut in a cute bob and part of it is tied up in a sprout with a red hair tie. Her thin bangs cover her wide forehead and she jumps down from the table and starts spinning without abandon. She sticks her tongue out in concentration as she spins and spins.
Two o’ clock. My friend has arrived. Time for me to become part of the hip McDonald’s crowd and not merely an observer. Yes I’ll take a number six please, with a coke, and no please don’t supersize it. Shukriya ji, and may I ask, who is responsible for choosing your music?