In October 1990 the very first McDonalds restaurant in China opened in the Guangdong province of Shenzhen. Two years later, McDonalds opened more of its golden arched doors, but this time in the northern capital of Beijing. A classmate of mine from Germany was there in person at the time witnessing the entire affair. He humorously described to me how each customer that entered the new fast food restaurant was proudly wearing their best attire. Ladies were dressed in their gown dresses and the men stylishly dressed in slick black suits, all enthusiastically waiting in line at the counter to order a BigMac meal. For the Chinese public, the opening of a McDonalds was a proud and momentous occasion in Chinese history. To dine at a McDonalds at the time would’ve been considered the equivalent of eating at a 5-Michelin-star restaurant at the time.
For those of you who haven’t spent a long period of time in Asia, you’d be interested to find that McDonalds and any other western fast-food chain establishment are actually considered legitimate restaurants. Western countries tend to view fast-food establishments as nothing but a place to go for a quick midnight craving fix – it’s definitely not a place where one would visit for a healthy nutritious meal. In Asia, however, the McDonalds establishment literally takes on the ‘family restaurant’ meaning of the fast-food giant – an aspect that has all but truly been forgotten in the West.
The McDonalds of the East is also the place to be for the cool hip youngsters in high school. It’s a place where kids can hang-out with one another; take each other on dates and even an alternative for the library! Countless of times have I seen McDonalds in East Asia being swarmed with high-school teens doing their maths homework or studying for their up-coming exams. You’d certainly never see a McDonalds in Australia or America being filled with studious youths.
At home, the majority of the times I would personally eat McDonalds is pretty much when I’ve got the drunken munchies. Although I don’t consider myself a fast-food gourmand, I do take pleasure in visiting the local McDonalds when travelling abroad – the underlining reason simply being that I just like reading the McDonalds menu. I love how each McDonalds around the world becomes an embodiment of a country and its culture. Look at a McDonald’s menu in a random part of the world and aside from the standard McDonalds menu of Big Mac Meals and Quarter Pounders, one will be able to sample the local cuisine through McDonalds. Korea offers the f*#king delicious “Bulgogi Burger”; Israel transformed the local cuisine with their “McShawarma”; Australia has the proudly aussie “McOz”; India interpreted the Big Mac in the form of “Maharaja Mac”; France has the “Croque McDo” and Japan has the seriously addictive “Teriyaki McBurger”. My personally favourite, to which I have yet to sample, is the McArabia – a grilled chicken sandwich served on a flatbread and sold only in Arabic nations. All of these enticing samples of local cuisine are examples of how McDonalds integrates the local culture through its products – a process to which I like to refer to as ‘McDonaldization’.
Many of us who are brought up in western counties tend to go to McDonalds as a remedy for homesickness. Of course it’s not exactly the best reminder of ‘home’ but there is some sort of solace when consuming those damned high-calorie burgers and fries. Although I don’t think much about it in my home country of Australia, I do treat McDonalds as a genre of cuisine when abroad. Renowned travel writer Pico Iyer, a huge self-confessed lover of foreign McDonalds, shared the same view in his review of Lawrence Osborne’s The Naked Tourist: In Search of Adventure and Beauty in the Age of the Airport Mall:
“A McDonald’s in Thailand is to me as Thai as one in Santa Barbara is Santa Barbaran.”
Next time you travel to far off lands, remember to pop into your local McDonalds. Observe not only the customers who are purchasing the McDonalds products, but also observe the actual menu. See what they have to offer and then sample it. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised with your purchase, and like me, you’ll have endless thoughts of “why don’t they sell this at McDonalds back home!”