Sunday, September 22, 2013

McDonalds Thoughts

McDonalds is an American chain recognized worldwide.  Its trademark is branded in the minds of most of the world’s population.  There is even a foreign currency index based on the relative price of a Big Mac, quite accurate to the best of my knowledge.

Having eaten in its restaurants in three countries, not a serious achievement granted, I have noticed how much its image is localized even if the food is supposed to be identical everywhere. (Israel had to plant their previously unplanted potatoes for it.)

In the United States, McDonalds is characterized by its flexibility.  In the fifties and sixties, what distinguished it from the other hamburger joints was its extremely limited and inexpensive menu.  The original founders removed the messy condiments from the public area and created an industrial system to produce a limited menu, basically hamburger, chips (fries), and milk shakes, quickly and cheaply.  A family could pull up and get a meal, if you can call it that, in less than two minutes without spending lots of money.  Several decades later, with weight, sugar, health and competition issues changing the situation, the new McDonalds is more an anti-McDonalds.  The menu is complex, varied, and expensive.  Apparently, the new strategy is working as the chain is still making money.  So, McDonalds in the United States can be viewed as a mirror, albeit unwilling at times, of changes in American eating culture.

In France, MacDo, as it is known, entered a world dominated by the local café and restaurant.  Lunch, being the main meal, was French, long, and expensive.  Adding some traditional wine with it, a working person could easily lose two hours of the day.  As younger French needed to compete with those overworked Americans and Germans (whose work week is unimaginably more than 35 hours), they ignored the outcries of the French intellectuals and found a cheap, fast alternative – Macdo.  You’re in and out within 30 minutes and back to work.  True, it is not particularly gourmet or French, but it is American, which is cool to non-intellectuals.  So, Macdo in France is the youth’s practical revolt against the French lunch.  (I prefer the latter, but I am half French.)

In Israel, McDonalds is a goyish invasion.  It is certainly not Israeli, generally not kosher, and definitely American.  For Israelis trying to escape from their culture, there is nothing better.  To eat a cheeseburger under the Golden Arches (but not on Yom Kippur, yet) was and often still is a statement of identity:  you have gone beyond eating falafel and shwarma.  Today, even Arab villages have their local branches with the menu in Arabic (and Hebrew).  Despite or rather because of its foreignness, I have seen no lack of customers there. 

So, to paraphrase the Navy song, eat McDonalds and see the world from a different vantage point.

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