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“You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France?”*

McDonalds St Omer, Pas-de-Calais

It never ceases to amaze me that the country that has given us foie gras, coq au vin, profiteroles and champagne has taken to McDonalds or McDo (pronounced MacDough) as the french call it. Everywhere you go now in France you seem to come across the green M and they are almost always full at lunch times and in the evening.  We expats just don’t get it.

Don’t get me wrong, I like McDonalds and worked in several branches in London as a teenager to earn some money while I was at school and college. In those days I truly believed that a Vanilla Milkshake was a valid hangover cure. I still occasionally indulge in a burger and chips though not so much these days being older and wiser (and fatter).

Whenever we have visitors they seem to be astonished that there would even be one branch in the land that is so famed for its gourmet gastronomy let alone almost 900 branches. Only the US has more McDonalds outlets than France – a fact that I find incredible and quite bizarre.

McDonalds opened its first French restaurant in 1979 in Strasbourg– home of the European parliament and a shrewd move, probably designed to appeal to the Eurocrats who inhabit the centre.  Taking on the French was a bit of a rocky ride for McDonalds though and in 1999 Jose Bove, an agricultural unionist, became a hero to anti-globalization supporters worldwide when he and his gang, Confederation Paysanne, bulldozed a McDonalds in Milau, France, to protest against U.S. trade restrictions on French dairy products. With bullhorn in hand, he declared gravely to the television news cameras: “We attacked this McDonalds because it is a symbol of multinationals that want to stuff us with junk food and ruin our farmers.”

There are some major differences between McDonalds in France from those in other countries.  On the negative side in France every burger comes with cheese, there is a notice on the wall that customer requests to remove cheese or anything else for that matter will not be agreed to – their attitude is “eat it as it comes or bugger off”.  On the plus side they serve beer with your meal and have a much wider range of food which is clearly designed to appeal to the epicurean French palate – including the recently introduced McBaguette with its terroir cheeses.

I suppose another reason for its popularity could be that at least McDonalds’ doors are reliably open. Even after several years in France I’m still surprised that restaurants and bars seem to close whenever they feel like it – so if you’re in France and looking for something to eat and the only thing open is McDonalds, you might overlook the lack of fine dining and classic French cuisine and be glad Monsieur Bove didn’t get his way.

A bientôt

*Pulp Fiction 1994 – and the answer is, as it was in the film – a Royale with cheese!

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