Monday, March 29, 2004

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Vive le Big Mac!! Vive la France!!

Todd Richissin writes in the Baltimore Sun that despite the frictions over the past year, France still loves MacDonald's. Why? It's their nourriture de confort -- comfort food:

Just a hop down the road, the Decler sisters could have been dining on a couple of tender frog legs or a mixed seafood grill with scallops, or an order of steak tartare so tender that the knife provided with it never comes into play.

But the Declers were having none of it.

They were dining on Les Big Macs and frites, Big Macs and fries -- french fries -- and loving every bite.

"I can love good food and I can also love McDonald's," says Vanesse Decler, 21, in a mini-review that the fast-food chain would have to accept as decidedly mixed. "I like the meat and the sauce and even the bun."

Call the French snooty, or just demanding, for their attention to good food, good wine, good atmosphere in their restaurants, for lingering over their meals. But the French have a dirty little secret: Of all the people in Europe, they like McDonald's more than anyone else does.

Pound for quarter-pound, they eat more of it, more often, than any other nationality on the continent, and the nay-sayers here who predicted the French would give up their beloved aged cheese before adopting the quick-fry meat patties so often seen as emblematic of America's bad taste, have been proven as wrong as red wine with white fish.

The French have taken McDonald's, a classic symbol of Americana, and made it very much their own, with menu variations that range from bite-size clumps of regional cheeses to fondue.

Despite the ability to order just about McAnything here, though, the old McDonald's classics are what keep people like the Declers filling the franchises, which can be found in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, among the street artists surrounding the Louvre and within a whiff of the restaurants at Les Halles, where the Declars were taking a shopping break.

"I love these," says the other half of the Decler sisters, 18-year-old Christelle, closing her eyes and placing a fry on her tongue. "Yes, there is other food around, but this is different, like food you want to eat as a break."

posted by Dan on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM


I notice that the French socialists won big in mid term elections. It must be appeasement!

posted by: TexasToast on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

Irony prevails... Actualy, the reason for their win was Chirac wanted to control healthcare costs.

posted by: Bithead on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

Put me in the camp of pro-McDonald's. I absolutely love it, and I consider myself a foodie. It may be terrible for me, but I love it anyway.

posted by: Patrick Barnette on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

I’m in a mean mood this morning. I wonder if the French are paying for the Mac burgers with money stolen from the United Nations Oil for Food program. Were those Macs suppose to go to Iraq? The irony is that I rarely eat at fast food restaurants. I’ve eaten perhaps one Mac in the least three years.

posted by: David Thomson on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

But the real question is, what wine goes with a 1/4 cheese?

posted by: Bithead on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

It's not McDonalds, per se. It's burgers. There are a lot of burger places in Europe. People don't eat in them very much because the quality isn't very good or very consistent. Other places could have better quality control, but McDonald's actually does it.

Take it from someone who arrived in Europe as an exchange student who never ate at McDonald's in the U.S., who evolved towards eating there 4-5 times a week, and then came back to the U.S. and avoided McDonald's again.

posted by: David Tufte on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

Beef sucks in France. Thats why their sauces have to be so good. I can see how McDs could have the most consistant burgers around.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

The European & Asian McDonald's I've been to seem to be better run than most that I've been to in New York - no surly teens with questionable hygiene giving you blank stares as they hand you the wrong order. I agree with David Tufte - no problems eating at McD's "over there", but avoid them over here.

posted by: fingerowner on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

When I was in Jordan, I found that McDonald's was kind of an expensive restaurant, as they kept close to American prices while all the Jordanian places had felafel and shwarma sandwiches for a quarter. As a result, families would eat there only a couple of times a year as a special occasion. They also delivered. And IIRC, you needed a college degree to get a job there, as fluency in English was a necessary skill since the American tourists all flocked to them.

posted by: Brian Ulrich on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

Is McDonalds even a US based company any longer?


posted by: Waffle on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

Yes, McD's is an American company - based outside of Chicago. Other comments:

1. If you are worried about hygiene, then McDonald's is actually where you want to go. With the tight control they place over food supplies, storage, production methods, etc., they have created a system much less susceptible to contamination than most restaurants. I've worked in several restaurants and known enough waiters and cooks in my day that you should never assume that a fancy restaurant is any cleaner or safer.

This isn't to say that one should live in a bubble, or even commit the intolerable sin of ordering meat well-done, just that you are taking your chances when you do not have control over the food chain. Since only around 500 people die per year from food-borne illnesses, I definitely take my chances. Bring on the Steak Tartare and Bone Marrow!

2. As for what wines to serve with a 1/4-pounder, I suggest a nice Pinot Noir or Burgundy, something a little earthy, rather than fruity. A to Z Wines (out of Oregon) makes a nice one.

posted by: Patrick Barnette on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]


I never expected an answer to that one.
Yeah, since I've served Burgundy at a steak-out, I suppose that'd work, at that, wouldn't it?

posted by: Bithead on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

Just to state the obvious, but wouldn't going to a McDonald's in France be like going to a French restaurant in the US? It is an experience of a foreign culture that serves as a nice break from the everyday.

Come to think of it, I could really go for some Mexican food tonight.

posted by: Gamer on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

“I've worked in several restaurants and known enough waiters and cooks in my day that you should never assume that a fancy restaurant is any cleaner or safer.”

Absolutely. Many years ago, I worked as a dish washer at the London Chop House in Detroit, Michigan. This restaurant is now out of business, but once served only the very wealthy. It even ranked in the top ten for the whole United States. I can well remember a worker using the squeegee regularly used on the bathroom floors---to pull down ice cubes in the ice maker! It was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen in my life. I also saw a waiter accidentally drop a steak onto the floor. He merely picked it up and placed it back on the plate.

posted by: David Thomson on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

I hope some people could take a quick peek at the "Merde In France" blog from Aug 27 2003, where he describes the way French retirees enjoy a cup of water or coffee at a McDonald's, because it is clean, cheap, open better hours, and comfortable. The link is here.

posted by: Hovig on 03.29.04 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

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