Erbil has a TGI Fridays.
It’s located on the road running from ‘Ainkawa to Erbil City Center, and is one of the places I passed yesterday on my way into town. Only I didn’t just pass it, I went in.
This isn’t one of those Middle Eastern knock-offs of American brands; it is the real thing. The decor inside is just as you’d expect from any TGIF location in the States. (As a courtesy to the staff and patrons, I resisted the temptation to snap a bunch of photos inside, but I was tempted.) Immediately I was set upon by friendly, helpful waiters and shown to a table. The patrons were a mix of Westerners and Middle Easterners; there was a group of three or four laughing girls in Muslim headscarves at a nearby booth. If I had to pick one word to describe the mood overall I’d say it was cheerful.
I ordered something light (juice, salad, bread) and enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. The place was brand new – it only opened last week – and they were determined to make a good impression. The staff were English-speaking and almost entirely Filipino (because of course) and very courteous and professional (like I said, Filipinos).
On my way out, I chatted briefly with the manager, and this is what he told me:
This is our fourth day. We opened on Thursday, so today is our fourth day. Is it hard to recruit staff to work here? No, not at all. We bring staff from the Philippines, Egypt, and some other places. Most of our customers are American, Kurdish, Lebanese, Egyptian, and some from Russia.
The staff don’t speak much Kurdish or Arabic, mainly English. They know how to say what is a chickenburger, what is beef, and that’s about it. So our language is Friday’s language – English.
I like the people here, they’re very nice. Business is very good, better than we expected. And it’s so green here – I worked in Kuwait six years before this, and Kuwait is all desert. But here it’s green.
You might wonder why I’m sitting in an ancient Middle Eastern city and writing about an American restaurant. But the economy in Erbil is growing incredibly fast, and Erbil stands poised to become a world-class city. For the Kurds, who have suffered so much for so long, this will be a good thing.