The British Pasttime

I arrived in London from snow-white Vienna on a gray afternoon full of Black Friday shoppers, and I texted Dan that we needed to go eat at a restaurant that was profoundly rich in British history and culture. He agreed and wrote that he understood. After I dropped off my duffel bag at his dorm, we headed over to the Five Guys in Dan’s neighborhood for lunch.


Shoppers carrying Zara bags and boxes containing Doc Martin’s spilled out of the burger joint, and a store employee stopped us right as we made to enter the restaurant. He pointed to a line that stretched along Long Acre Street and barked at us to get in the queue.


“But this is fucking Five Guys,” I complained to the employee, who pushed back his brown hair away from his already-receding widow’s peak and sighed. He had dealt with enough pricks asking him why they had to wait in line for Five Guys.


“And this is fucking London,” he snapped. “So you can either queue, or fuck off.”


Dan and I opted not to fuck off. I ogled at Londoners who rushed past us with their heads down and earphones plugged in. The pedestrians’ stylish, black outfits brushed up against the cabs as people casually ignored traffic signals and slipped between the spaces created by the clogged traffic. A young couple in front of us held hands and silently scrolled through their Facebook newsfeeds on their phones. I asked Dan how he liked the city, and he grumbled that as nice as London was, everything was too expensive. I laughed off his gripe, and we entered Five Guys after ten more minutes.


Quotations from reviews by London newspapers and magazines of the burger chain lined the walls inside, and employees scrambled behind the cashier to flip burgers, fry fries, and grill hotdogs. The employees all wore Miami Dolphins caps, and I nudged Dan with my elbow.


“What’s up with that? Like, why are they wearing Miami Dolphins caps?” Dan returned my question by glancing at me with a raised eyebrow.


“What? I don’t know – I guess that’s just how they do it in London.”


When I reached the front of the line, I ordered a bacon burger, a soda, and fries. The cashier, a kid my age with tired blue eyes, informed me that the total came out to fourteen pounds.


“Fourteen pounds? For Five Guys?” I fussed as I fished multiple Queen Elizabeths out of my wallet. “That’s twenty dollars back home.”


“It’s London, mate,” the cashier shrugged, half entertained and half incredulous. “What did you expect?”


“I didn’t expect a bunch of Brits to be wearing Miami Dolphins caps, for one. What’s up with that?”


“Yeah, well, the Five Guys here in Covent Garden are supposed to support the, uh, Minnesota Dolphins, so we’ve had to wear these since October.” The cashier adjusted his cap tighter onto his head and let out a sarcastic laughter. “Do you follow any teams, mate?” He cut me off before I could answer. “I’m kidding, lad, I don’t care for American football.”


“Premier league?” The employee’s eyes perked up at my question, and he leaned over across the cash register.


“Now we’re talking. Tottenham Hotspurs. Been a Spurs fan for ten years. We’re playing Chelsea this weekend, and it’s a bloody huge match. A win could take us to the top of the table.”


“Oh,” I pretended to care. “So, fuck Chelsea?”


“What? You hate Chelsea, too?” He smiled wide and put up his hand for a high-five, and I smacked it hard. “You mean it?”


“Fuck those Chelsea wankers!”


“Hey, James!” The cashier turned around and grabbed James, who happened to be walking behind him with two brown bags full of fries and burgers. “This lad thinks Chelsea is shit, too!” James told us both to fuck off, the manager yelled at both of them to get back to work, and the grinning cashier whispered to me that he’d give me extra fries. After I had picked up my order, I walked around the restaurant to find Dan, who had secured us a table downstairs, and sat down across from him.


“By the way, where are the soda machines?” I asked. Dan had already dug into his burger and gestured with his head at a line of customers standing twenty feet away from us.


“You’re gonna have to—”


“Queue, because this is fucking London, right?” Dan chewed and swallowed the rest of the food in his mouth.


Bravo, Hans.”


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