December 10, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Super sized desperation

By |2018-03-21T19:04:17+01:00January 29th, 2015|"In the Sticks"|
More than 1,000 lined up for Burger King jobs in Grosseto.

am not one for dramatics, so let’s just get to the point.

Happy New Year.

If you’re still reading this column, I wonder whether it’s time for a career change or whether you just can’t be bothered paying whatever they’re asking over at the New York Times for this week’s respectable op-ed musing.

Don’t be ashamed. I hear it’s about “impact investing.”

To think, we spent so much time fighting for press freedom only to bore readers with a concept they will never have the time or disposable income to invest in.

Don’t take my word for it. I didn’t even read the first sentence of the op-ed. I just looked at the little profile picture of the author and wasted 10 minutes wondering why white collared journalists always go with the blue shirt — you’re not fooling anyone, you’re not an accountant.

And look, I’ve gone and done absolutely everything but get to the point.

So, they’re opening a Burger King in Grosseto. Shock! Horror! Outrage! Got it out of your system? Good.

Grosseto is the capital of what I like to think is the last bastion of unspoilt Tuscany. The place in-the-know and haughty tourists go when they’ve already seen Florence and want to go home gloating about all the authentic Italians and untranslated menus they saw on their last summer va-cay.

When I moved to the Maremma, you couldn’t even buy vegetables out of season. Now you can get a triple whopper sandwich with fries stuffed in the bun for an exorbitant amount that no self-respecting expat who grew up on the fast food chain would ever pay. Five euro for a burger? Dream on, Burger King.

If you’ve read my column, you’ll know I have absolutely no qualms with the cultural obliteration of Italy. It’s not a museum to be preserved for the posterity of fat foreigners who want to gawk over homemade pasta sauce and mustached old men who look like Super Mario.

Contrary to popular belief, Italians love fast food. You have to fight the locals to get a fries and Coke from one of the six McDonald’s in Rome. There’s one particular one, next to the Parthenon, that has held a special place in my heart since my very first visit to the Mother Country in 1999. It’s a free public toilet and disappointing taste of home rolled into one.

My husband, a born and bred Maremmano (who never shuts up about the subpar coffee and pizza in Australia) made the hour-and-a-half car ride to his nearest McDonald’s every weekend when he was a child just so he could make himself sick with too many strawberry milkshakes and Big Macs.

He was a portly child.

As far as I’m concerned, if you can nip into a fast food joint whenever you’re feeling “naughty,” you don’t have the right to be appalled about another one opening in Italy. Italians have the right to doom themselves to a mid-life crisis laced with high cholesterol too.

What I found appalling was recent news that more than 1,000 people submitted their CV to the Grosseto Burger King in a single week. Another 1,000 lined up for hours in near freezing conditions to audition “American Idol”-style for one of the 30 positions available (their so-called “30 heroes,” and I’m not even making this up).

Most of them were young people with hospitality school diplomas or university degrees in literature and philosophy. Considering how long it takes the locals to graduate, I feel particularly sorry for the thirty-somethings fighting over whatever piddly wage Burger King decides to offer — because it takes true courage, fortitude, wisdom and virtuosity to ask every single person if they’d like fries with that.

The general consensus among the interviewees was that working at Burger King was better than nothing. Clearly they don’t share the manager of BK Grosseto’s heroic enthusiasm for French fry burns and hairnets.

Italy’s youth unemployment figure hovers somewhere above 40 percent. Blame the thousands of gnarly almost-senior citizens who didn’t grow up on a diet of fast food and therefore don’t have heart disease to push them out of employment and into an early grave. Or you could just point the finger at anyone who ever thought literature was a valid career path.

My brother once said if your degree doesn’t have a job title in it, you’re not going to get a job. And he’s an accountant who studied accounting without being very good with numbers — and still found an extremely cushy job.

For once in my columnist’s life, I’m not going to make this all about me. My imaginary perfectly well-behaved and gorgeously well-dressed children never stood a chance anyway. My son dallies with fine arts and my daughter thinks she can follow my footsteps into the extremely lucrative career of journalism. Pah!

Instead imagine an entire generation of Italian youths who aspire to nothing more than elbowing someone in the face to get a job a Burger King.

We’re all flame grilled fucked.

About the Author:

Australian writer Elisa Scarton wrote the column "In the Sticks" from 2014 through mid-2019.