June 29, 2006


Slumming the Golden Arches (Rolf Potts, Jun 5, 2006, Traveling Light)

This month marks the beginning of student-travel season in Europe, which means that — at any given moment — continental McDonald's restaurants will be filled with scores of American undergraduates. Quiz these young travelers, and they'll give you a wide range of reasons for seeking out McDonald's — the clean restrooms, the air conditioning, the fact that it's the only place open during festivals or siesta. A few oddballs will even claim they are there for the food.

European onlookers will tell you (with a slight sneer) that these peripatetic Yanks are simply seeking the dull, familiar comforts American culture. And this explanation might be devastatingly conclusive were it not for the fact that European McDonald's also happen to be crammed this time of year with travelers from Japan, Brazil, Israel, New Zealand, Argentina, Korea, Canada, India, Taiwan, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, and — yes — neighboring European countries.

Indeed, despite its vaunted reputation as a juggernaut of American culture, McDonald's has come to function as an ecumenical refuge for travelers of all stripes. This is not because McDonald's creates an American sense of place and culture, but because it creates a smoothly standardized absence of place and culture — a neutral environment that allows travelers to take a psychic time-out from the din of their real surroundings. This phenomenon is roundly international: I've witnessed Japanese taking this psychic breather in the McDonald's of Santiago de Chile; Chileans seeking refuge in the McDonald's of Venice; and Italians lolling blissfully in the McDonald's of Tokyo.

Thus the Timezone Rule.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 29, 2006 10:18 AM

New Hampshirians seeking refuge in the Mickey D's of Los Angeles?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at June 29, 2006 10:30 AM


When you update "Redefining Sovereignty, you should add a few essays about NGOs like McDonald's, Proctor & Gamble, and Google, and how they (along with other NGOs) are slowly building "Sovereignty" outside the old nationstate.

In a very old humor book called the "Magnificent 80s" (written in 1978), the book talked about the "Volkswagon Continental" brought about by cheap oil, the "Back to Technology" movement, and fighters with "AT&T" on their tails bombing a nation that nationalized its infrastructure.

All in all quite prescient, and funny too.

Posted by: Bruno at June 29, 2006 10:49 AM

I have 2-for-1 coupons. Anyone hungry?

Posted by: Bartman at June 29, 2006 10:55 AM

I vastly prefer the Irish pubs as a sure-fire method to get away from the locals.

Posted by: Daran at June 29, 2006 11:08 AM

Yes, just buy yourself of picture book of Italy, Spain, etc. and browse through it when you go to your local outlet. People go to great lengths to avoid change or exposure to the unfamiliar.


Thanks, but not that hungry.

Posted by: Rick T. at June 29, 2006 11:45 AM

People go to great lengths to avoid change or exposure to the unfamiliar.

Is that why God created Time Zones and State Lines?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 29, 2006 12:18 PM

I remember some actually having better burgers than stateside.

Maybe I was desparate.

Posted by: Sandy P at June 29, 2006 12:21 PM

Sandy, When I'm away from the U.S. running into other Americans or even a McDonald's is a bit of a fix of the familiar so we can go on enjoying the new and different.

Posted by: erp at June 29, 2006 1:54 PM

Does anyone remember, before McDonald's made inroads in Europe, the really awful burgers that Eurochains such as Wimpy's in the UK.

I recall eating a burger there in the early 80s that tasted like it was made from the meat of a 30-yr old farm horse that had been worked to death.

Reminds me of the dialogue in Whit Stillman's film Barcelona, where the expats note that Euros think Americans are idiots b/c we're famous for liking hamburgers, and the Euros only experience with burgers is the terrible ones they make in Europe.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at June 29, 2006 3:38 PM

In the States one can always find burgers, in Europe one can almost always find some local varient of dumplings. Sometimes they are tasty and sometimes they are vicious gastronomical attacks. But then there is always the potato pancake... next best thing to eating a rock.

Posted by: lebeaux at June 29, 2006 3:50 PM
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