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Thursday, June 29, 2006

McDonald's a cultural respite?

Neat bit of anthropological observation and reasoning by a guy named Rolf who runs a travel site on yahoo travel. His premise, which seems entirely plausible to me, is that McDonald's overseas is not an American cultural oasis, but an oasis largely free of culture. Whether this is positive or not, argue amongst yourselves. Regardless of where you stand, the chain clearly addresses a consumer need and admit that you already suspect it is not entirely tied to the food. Based on Rolf's premise, you could argue that McD's has developed a "third space" every bit as distinctive as Starbuck's.


"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,
, 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.

Read the whole thing.


Anonymous said...

That may be true, but I think there's another very basic reason which does not necessarily involve dining. For me, having been to a McDonald's in Argentina, Brazil, China, Czech Republic, English, Finland, France, Ireland, Peru, and Spain, I know that that is where I can usually find a western style bathroom with toilet paper. If I can't find a upscale hotel in the vicinity, I know that McDonald's is ubiquitous. Just a thought.

a from l said...

It is also reliably cheap, which may be why tourists / travellers on a budget will favour the brand rather than going into a restaurant and finding the prices too high.

Just developing this line, i have often wondered how much tourists really see of a place they visit - the tourist circuit of a city such as Paris bears no relation to actual Parisian life - and if you factor in McDonalds then the exposure to "otherness" becomes even more marginal.

Nick Rice said...

I think you're right. It's about consistency. After travelling the world w/ a Fortune 500 biz, you can always count on the same experience at McD's. Not that I sought them out like some of my companions, it's just nice to take a break and relax when you're away from home for weeks on end. You don't have to worry about translations or wondering what you've just ordered. While exciting, it does wear thin if you're not a little adventurous or at least conversant in the language.