Hannah Ellis-Petersen: Big Mac Blues

There are almost 35,000 McDonalds restaurants in the world. 35,000. Collectively, as a franchise, they have an economy bigger than Ecuador. Should you find yourself in Guadeloupe, and curried goat on banana leaves doesn’t quite take your fancy, a Chicken Deluxe with extra bacon, large fries and accompanying (diet?) coke are there to rescue your sensitive western soul from a cultural carcrash. In Saudi Arabia? Well you may not have democracy, but freedom can most definitely be found for $2.50, placed between a lightly toasted bun and smothered with bbq sauce.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am no MacDonalds misanthrope, looking down with disdain on anyone who walks through those golden arches as I snack on a self-congratulatory tofu twizzler. Next time I’m in Indonesia, I will be making a definite, albeit brief, pit stop to sample the delights of McRice. And I’m just frankly intruiged by the McBulgogi burger, a treat reserved soley for the South Korean branches.

But where my curiosity levels off, despair takes over. After all, it’s not just McDonalds. It’s Starbucks, and Costa, Pizza Hut, and god forbid, Nandos (yes, the plague of piri piri has gone global). Having chosen to exchange the spiralling economic and social black hole that is the UK for the (debatably) calmer climates of the Middle East this summer, I was envisioning an escape from the mall of homogeneity. I would live out my unapologetically pretentious dreams as I danced Dabke down the road to Damascus.

But who was I kidding? After all, I have yet to find a high street in the world that isn’t lit up by those two alphabetical beacons of boring, H&M, and Lebanon proved no different. The concept of an iced-coffee no longer exists (“oh, you mean a frappacino..”). And the FroYo has arrived in a big way.

I would never bemoan any country the freedom to import whatever high street gem they wanted. Rymans, Poundland, Debenhams; they are the world’s for the taking. But what I cannot help but object to is the fact that these institutions and monuments to monotony have become symbols of progression. If a country has a Starbucks, they are on their way up in the world.

And I regret to say such fallacies are not restricted solely to the high street. Encountering a fellow brit on my travels, the conversation inevitably turned to our mutual home.”Well I’m a from London, but I actually really consider myself a citizen of the world” was her opening line. It was all I could do to restrain myself from binding her up in union jack bunting and stuffing scones into her eyes.

Whilst the closest thing I’ve ever got to patriotism is a key ring from Windsor Castle, I can’t help but object to such happy hippie sentiments. Even a basic sense of national identity gives us a sense of belonging; lose that and we are simply 7 billion Kerouac-esqe figures, wandering aimless (and drunk) from one corner of the globe to the other. After all, if we celebrate difference as much as we pursue homogeneity, the world wil become a much more interesting place.

And by all means, indulge ourselves in a Big Mac from time to time. After all, the Queen herself owns a McDonalds in her vast estate near Buckingham Palace. If it’s good enough for Liz, well damn, it’s good enough for me.

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