The French and le fast-food


The news was somewhat surprising. Contrary to sales figures elsewhere in the world, notably in the United States, turnover in McDonald’s restaurants in France increased in 2014. How can this be in a country where no self-respecting French person ever eats in a McDonald’s restaurant? Or at least never admits to it. “Ah, non, je ne suis jamais allé. Je n’aime pas.” Setting aside the fact that it is difficult to not like what one has never tried, so much for that famed French grasp of logical thought, the results suggest the opposite.

“C’est pour les enfants,” French parents may sheepishly confess when caught emerging from a McDonald’s restaurant. That famous annual tasting week in schools, “la semaine du goût” when children are introduced to the various culinary traditions of France by professional chefs leads then to this predilection for fast food? Surely not! And yet, in France, where the shortening of names or words is often a sign of affection, or at least familiarity, the French talk about McDo. New McDonald’s restaurants can now be found in motorway service areas as well as astutely placed near motorway exits and in prime sites in city centres. The gastronomic curiosity of French children alone can’t account for this.

On the evening television news following the publication of the sales figures, the tone was sombre. How should these surprising figures be interpreted? Was France, that bastion of culinary excellence, alone among other European nations in falling into “le fast-food” trap? The experts were called upon to explain.

The analysis was complete and backed up by videos showing various French McDo restaurants and the famous McDonald’s sign which, lo and behold, in France has the familiar yellow M against a green, not a red background. “Pour faire plus bio” the analysts explained, before going on to say that not only was McDo in France projecting a more organic food approach, but that the restaurants were also being transformed to suit French tastes, including the introduction of the famous French baguette. Savvy marketing by Mcdonald’s strategists? Possibly, but the analysts were not giving them the credit. We have ‘desaméricanisé’ McDonald’s they proclaimed. A collective French ‘ouf !’ could be heard throughout the nation.

McDos weren’t the tip of a dangerous iceberg then. “Le fast-food, le burger gastronomique, le finger-food” were just the French adapting and, of course, improving on the original concepts. Cheekily the analysts even added that, if McDonald’s wanted to improve its sales figures on its home turf, they should look to France. But ‘de-Americanising America, they commented somewhat sardonically, would be a difficult task.

Learn more about the French and their relationship with food in the Kolibri Languages Practical and Pocket Guides.

Pam Bourgeois


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