A food critic is someone who eats so you don't have to. Today, Burke and I took a bullet for all you curious, post-Tarantino gastronomes. We sacrificed our appetites to McMammon: lunch yesterday was at our local Parisian McDonald's, known as "McDo" to the locals.
We were slugging around our flat at noon. "I have a perverse desire to eat at McDonald's," I said, adding insult to the injury of a whole morning wasted in bed. "You know you're curious, you know we have to try it once, just to say we did, you know the Royale With Cheese is something you must experience." We walked one block to the surprisingly crowded (it was by now 2:00pm) fast food giant.
It seems the French haven't figured out the "fast" part; service crawled, but showed characteristic Gallic civility ("Bonjour, Monsieur" to everyone). We eventually got a Big Mac, a Royal Cheese (analogous to the US Quarter Pounder), a Croque McDo, four chicken nuggets, a cheeseburger, fries, small Coke Light (our Diet Coke) and a strange dessert for which there was no name I could find: chocolate covered corn flakes.
In Paris, french fries are uniformly great. Every bistro and café in this city handles fries beautifully. Not so McDo--our order was inedible. Dry but limp, flavorless and almost cold, they were as bad as the other deep fried offering, the four Chicken McNuggets (they call it the "children's size" in the States). The burgers fared much better and came in styrofoam containers. Burke and I enjoyed the nostalgia of that (it's been more than a decade since such environmentally hostile packaging was forbidden to McDonald's in the US). The "special sauce" on my Big Mac was oddly different, though not improved. The cheeseburger was identical to its American cousin.
The Croque McDo was atrocious--a piece of "cheese" and a slice of "ham" between two center buns (those strange, neither-top-nor-bottom buns usually reserved for the middle of a Big Mac), pressed between flatirons until toasted. Indescribably bad. I didn't care for the dessert, chocolate covered pancake of cornflakes, but Burke enjoyed it. The real winner was the Royal Cheese--meaty, moist, flavorful, and with a bun of substance. Burke found it better than any Quarter Pounder he'd had in the States or Canada. High praise indeed.
We left unfilled but quite satisfied, all curiosity about alien fast food quelled. It's just as awful here as in the States, just as processed, just as uninteresting. What perversity drove us to jettison our perfectly good appetites, pass by a dozen brasseries and bistros, to reaffirm what we already knew? The curiosity of the cultural conqueror, I propose. Here is where French cultural blood was shed, and triumphant Americans raised their victorious flag. The foreign McDonald's is the memorial, the greasy, flourescent monument to our carpetbagger imperialism. An embassy of a sort, home turf on distant soil. We stopped in, had our esophagal passports stamped, and dispersed into the narrow, ancient streets of Paris.
A Burke and Wells Essay