McDonalds of the World

Shanghai McDonalds traditional looking

I have a “guilty pleasure” while traveling. I say guilty pleasure facetiously, because in reality I don’t feel guilty at all, because it’s just my thing when I travel. Though I have run into fellow travelers who try to make me feel guilty for this particular thing, like I am some sort of ugly American. Ironically enough, one of those same travelers chastising me for this in Egypt was the same one who couldn’t stop moaning for a Starbucks. She completely failed to see the irony in her stance on that one.  That guilty pleasure happens to be eating at a McDonald’s in every country I can. I make it a point to eat at a McDonald’s once during every vacation, even if the only one I can find is at the airport. That means everything from long weekends all the way up to month-long vacations. That adds up to be dozens of McDonald’s in dozens of countries. I certainly haven’t eaten in one for EVERY country I have visited. In those cases,  the countries typically didn’t have a McDonald’s. It may be one of the biggest global brands, but it still hasn’t made inroads into every country as of yet. The biggest global brand I have ever seen is Coca Cola products. I have NEVER been to one country that doesn’t have a plethora of Coca Cola products, but that is probably the penchant for the country to establish local bottling plants to spread the beverages as far as possible. There is only one country that has McDonald’s that I haven’t been able to visit, and that was Iceland. It certainly wasn’t for lack of desire, but this was the one developed country that didn’t have a McDonald’s that was centrally located downtown near the tourist areas. I kept seeing one on the outskirts of Reykjavik  when I was on bus tours [right next to a Taco Bell- which is extremely rare to find outside of the United States], but was never able to find it in my rental car.

Bergen McDonalds


What I have found in all these McDonald’s is that there are some interesting similarities and interesting differences. Many of the restaurants were located in actually beautiful and historic places. One in Bergen, Norway was in this beautiful , 19th century clapboard building (see above). I’ve eaten at a McDonald’s next to the Spanish Steps in Rome (though it wasn’t there anymore my last visit), and I’ve eaten in one right across from the Pantheon in Rome. You could eat your American fast food burger and fries outside al fresco and take in the view of the piazza and the ancient building. Talk about a clash of cultures.

Shanghai McDonalds


 In all these multitude of McDonald’s the only things standard to all of them are the fries, Big Macs, and some sort of McChicken sandwich. EVERY SINGLE McDONALD’S in every single country has their value meal number one as the Big Mac value meal, just like the United States. After that, it’s all up to regional tastes. I have seen things at McDonald’s you would never find in the States. Stuff like bulgogi burgers in Korea, calamari wraps in Germany (among a multitude of other regional items), and other things. Names might be different for even the same item. For those who have watched the movie “Pulp Fiction” , you are undoubtedly familiar with Quarter Pounders renamed Royales. In most McDonald’s in Europe you can get mayo instead of ketchup, which is a taste I acquired and continue to this day. U.S McDonald’s deliberately fill the cups with ice so you get less soda and they pocket more profit, but you are pretty lucky to find many ice cubes in McDonald’s in other countries (or in other restaurants for that matter, but that’s a post for another time).

My American traveling friends and I sometimes joke that McDonald’s is the “American embassy” just because it is so prevalent in many countries. I can’t really say I eat there because of any great need to maintain some sort of American touchstone. I guess I do it, just to compare the different experiences around the world.

Arriving in Shanghai

Shanghai East Nanjing Road 1

My profession has thankfully allowed me the opportunity to live in foreign countries. And for me, one of the great pleasures of living in foreign countries is the ease of foreign travel. As much as I like living in the United States, it is a very big country so it is a lot harder to just leave the country for a long weekend. Again my profession affords me a lot of time off in the form of long weekends. So when I live overseas I like to maximize those long weekends. That was what I did this past weekend. I fully intended on spending four full days in Shanghai, and I got close. When you travel on limited amount of days to a place where there is a LOT to see and do, every moment counts. So I try to get one of the earliest flights out and one of the latest flights back in. That was my intent for this trip. My flight out of Seoul was at 0855 and I SHOULD have arrived in Shanghai around 1000. Alas, this was probably about the longest flight delay I’ve ever experienced at eight hours. It was so long, I decided to take the 45 minute train back to my apartment and relax there on the Internet rather than hang around the airport for the equivalent of an entire work day. Of course it could be completely worse, but it was frustrating to lose an entire day of travel, because I didn’t arrive in Shanghai and get to my hostel until around 2000.

What was great, and saved a ton of time was the ride on the maglev (magnetic levitation) train to and from Pudong Airport. If you are ever in Shanghai, I HIGHLY recommend the maglev train. A round trip ticket costs 80 RMB (roughly 13 USD), and it is completely worth it. The 19 miles between Pudong Airport and the metro stop of Longyang road is covered in under 10 minutes with brief top speeds of 400 kph (248 mph). The maglev train is fast and smooth, and cuts down travel time significantly. I mean, who likes to waste time getting to and from the airport when you can cut out the traffic entirely? That just means more vacation time for you.

Shanghai East Nanjing Road 2

Since it was relatively late when I got to my hostel, and I was tired, I only walked around a bit. I was staying just off East Nanjing Road, which is a major pedestrian shopping street between People’s Square to the west and The Bund to the east. I have more night pictures of Shanghai in a future post, but the whole street was bright with a multitude of neon lights and it was buzzing with activity and people. It’s like Seoul or Tokyo or London or even Las Vegas. I saw more than one instance of Shanghainese dancing music routines in the street. I could never figure out if this was just an exercise routine or had some deeper meaning, but the participants knew all the dance steps and were dancing in time with each other. Even for someone who has spent a lot of time in large cities (and in fact I live in Seoul now), all the people, noise, lights and activity were a bit overwhelming at first.