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Mc Donald’s Uber Alles

If you notice the categories I use for posting items, I’ve added one for Mc Donald’s. In each place I visit that has a Mc Donald’s, I’m going to write a separate post giving a brief description of their menu, prices, and other things I find different.

Why would I do this? Why would an American go all the way around the world to eat at Mc Donalds?

Good question.

Because Mc Donald’s is the cultural equivalent of the compulsories in figure skating.

Let me explain….

In figure skating, they used to have the compulsories. That is where the “figure” in figure skating came from. In addition to the performance which they designed, everyone had to do a series of “figures” in the ice with their skate. Everyone had to do the exact same thing. It was an equal basis on which to evaluate skaters which didn’t have any artistic component. It was just ability.

I wanted something I could find in most every country that would be slightly different, yet similar enough to make comparisons, and see if those difference can be used to illuminate the differences between places. A compulsory for countries if you will. Something to use as an easy to understand proxy for something very complicated: culture. The obvious choices were international brands: Coke, Pepsi, Mc Donald’s, Mercedes, Nestle, etc. Not all of them are American brands. In fact, being American was really irrelevant to what I wanted to do.

We like to think of Mc Donalds’ as an American company. In a way it is, but in reality its a global company that happens to be headquartered in the US. That is not a small distinction. It was hard to find any differences in Coke products other than packaging. The formula might be a bit different in places, but that’s hard to really show. Most consumer goods companies (Nike, Addias, etc) didn’t have much difference in product between countries other than their advertisements. Cell phone manufacturers pretty much sell the same phones and its sort of hard to compare unless you buy a phone everywhere.

Mc Donald’s was the easy choice. Its ubiquitous and every locality does it a bit different. They have some things which are the same everywhere (chicken nuggets, big mac) and other things which are unique (Spam and rice in Hawaii).

I have no particular love for Mc Donald’s. I’m not going to eat at every Mc Donald’s, or even most of them. I’m also not anti-Mc Donalds however, nor am I an anti-globalization zealot.

So here is the first Mc Donald’s review: Papeete, Tahiti.

A large Big Mac combo was 890 XPF or about US$10. I went all Pulp Fiction and ordered a “Royale Cheese”, which seemed like a smaller version of a quarter pounder. The fries and drink seems about the same size as one in the US. The fries did have “Voted best fries in New Zealand” on the package. The only thing on the menu which I saw which was unique was chicken wings. Plain old chicken wings.

  • 7 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. Thomas says:

    Sorry, but I disagree with your logic.
    If say, you pick a food item that every place in the world has, as an “interface”, but can be “implemented” differently (as a computer geek you should get this analogy :-) ), you are right on the money. However; McDonald and all the franchise in the world has a goal of making sure all the food in all their branches taste the same. So they are all, or supposed to be, implemented the same. In fact, if Ray Kroc read your blog and you report how the big Mac taste better in Paris, he will fly to Paris tomorrow to make sure “Le” big mac taste as bad as in Minnesota.
    Amy (above poster) said McDonald is an “easy out” – now that is the music to their ears. That’s all they are aiming at.
    About the pointless small difference – they are nothing but a corporate calculation taken place not in the hosting cities, but the regional or even global headquarter. How would lousy saimee (mass produced in “central kitchen”) in McDonald tell more about Hawaii than … street saimee itself?
    You wrote some very insightful “final thoughts” on places. And those serve much better than McDonald articles as materials to read about a culture. For example, your assessment on Singapore society lacking creativity – which is spot on. But by eating at McDonald, how can you find any place is “with” creativity? I’d say you should stop torturing your palate and feel obligated to visit all McDonald in the world. But of course, when you occasionally crave for high fat bland food, I do still enjoy reading about your Royal with cheese experiences, I just won’t rely it for cultural studies. :-)

    • Gary says:

      You are correct. Every Big Mac is supposed to taste the same.

      That isn’t my argument, however.

      I’m looking at what items are on the menu, not variation of tastes.

      The tarro pie can be found in Hawaii and in Hong Kong. I’m sure the pie tastes the same in both places, but the fact that it is on the menu there, and not in Iowa, is the significant fact.

  2. Cole says:

    I’m really intrigued by your trip and your McDonald’s reviews. I think it’s a clever idea.

    I would argue, however, that Coke products taste vastly different overseas. Not that I’m a coke fan anyway. -sigh- how I miss pepsi products!

  3. James Clark says:

    I always pop into a McDonalds around the world, even though I don’t eat Maccas. The Economist do the Big Mac Index, which compares the price of Big Macs around the world, converted into US dollars. Checking the price of a Big Mac in the country you are in is a useful way to see what the cost of living is like.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I DON’T eat McDonald’s at all, but I think what you are doing is fun. I was convinced to go into a McD’s while in Sardegna because it was the only thing open and I was shocked at how Italianized it was. We saddled up to the bar and ordered espresso. It was actually good! I loved seeing people order Big Macs with wine or beer too! Cracks me up and just goes to show how repressed we are here in the States. Enjoy, just don’t super-size it : ) Hey, find out if the DO super-size in any other country too!

  5. Amy says:

    In traveling, I always find McDonald’s to be an easy out. I mean, you always know you can find something there to eat and it will be fast and relatively cheap. I do hope you spend a lot of time in places that take more work – like your house diner last week.

    As a mother now, I am beginning to view McDonald’s differently. If I can keep my Claire from recognizing the golden arches and begging for a happy meal, I will count myself lucky.

  6. What you are doing is reviewing the state of American soft power in the world.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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