Originally Posted at PNN Tokyo Stories, January 1, 2008

Mcdonalds japan older woman sales clerk

Yamada-san takes orders at a Mcdonald's in Tokyo

I’m going to have to lie to Ms. Yamada. Tell her the 240 McDonald’s coupons she gave me were used on her days off work.

If Yamada-san is behind the McDonald’s counter, I always maneuver around the irregularly-formed queue in order to end up at her register.

I can handle ordering fast food in Japanese no problem.  I could breeze through with the teenage cashiers. But spry Yamada-san always takes extra care of me.

She speaks slowly. She carefully announces the prices, and insists on putting the paper bag of food into a second, plastic bag.  And when I get home, I often discover either something’s missing, or something I didn’t order is in there.

Yamada-san’s been working here for at least three years. Back then, if you wanted to save, you used a coupon clipped from a McDonald’s flyer. But now McD’s also offers cell phone coupons.

Every Friday around 9:00 a.m. McDonald’s sends an email to my phone. I click on a link in the email, the phone connects to the web, and I save to my phone an interactive image that offers about 30 different McDonald’s coupons, good for the next seven days.  The coupons can be reused within the deadline.

Now, with my cell phone coupon, I’m tempted to skip the chance to speak the Japanese that is easiest for me.

I can just point at the image in the phone.

Mcdonalds japan mobile phone coupon

Mcdonalds japan mobile phone coupon

Customers use mobile phones at Mcdonald's in Tokyo

But even with this, Yamada-san always leans in for a closer look at the phone coupon code number. (You’d think that repeatedly looking at the phone coupons on the first day of issue, she’d have the codes memorized pretty quick.)

She lives nearby. I ran into her once when she was out of uniform, and we walked along together for a minute.

I don’t know about her family. So I finally asked, in English, if she had kids.
“How many?”
“One,” she replied in Japanese.

The lunchtime rush was probably not the best time to start a conversation.

I think she said one kid. Maybe not. Because then she stuffed 10 McDonald’s coupon flyers into my bag. Twenty-four coupons in each. No one else around me was getting these.  Maybe her untangling of my question was “Can I have two hundred and forty coupons please?”

Mcdonald's Japan discount coupons

I don’t need the paper coupons. I have them on the phone. She knows that.

A teenage cashier eyed my bagful of coupons. When Yamada-san stepped away for a second, the teen leaned over the counter.

“What’s all this for?” she asked, in English.
“I don’t know,” I  said, “she just gave them to me.”
“Yamada-san is so funny”, she said.

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