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.
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.
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.