Posts Tagged ‘TGI Fridays’

McCultures

December 11, 2011

Over the past couple of days, it’s been really quite hot in Melbourne. During my lunch break, I had a sudden hankering for one of my guilty pleasures…a Starbucks mocha Frappuccino. Yes yes, the name sounds incredibly wanky, and I feel like a bit of a douche anytime I say it out loud, but these things are freakin’ delicious! (Minus the whipped cream on top incidentally as that’s just…excessive)

So as I was standing in Starbucks; along with several Asian customers, a thought occurred to me; are these other customers locals, or are they drawn here because its familiar to them? In our own countries, fast-food chain restaurants are generally looked upon as nothing more than junk food outlets. You dont expect a fine dining experience, and usually, walk away feeling somewhat sick in the guts. Despite the lengths that McDonalds have gone to create a better image for themselves, there’s nothing prestigious about their restaurants. When overseas; particularly in a super foreign country, these junk food outlets take on a completely different appearance – they suddenly become bastions of the familiar and in particular, a reliable location to go to the toilet!

In a country such as China, the toilet situation can go from bad to worse. While in many cities it’s not particularly hard to find them, as you go further out, the humble squatter is the least of your problems. The worst scenarios I found, were toilets either lacking doors – or worse again – not even any dividing walls around you! Toilet tangent aside – there’s an unspoken yet always known rule; if you need to go, go find a McDonald’s. Western food chains are immediately familiar as no matter where you go on the planet, they are the same design.

There is an incredible number of western food chains on the Chinese mainland. In any sizable city (aka – every city), you’ll find at least 5-10 McDonalds and KFCs. You’ll find more Starbucks in China than practically anywhere else on the planet – excepting maybe the USA itself. Places such as Starbucks; which often has a name for its poor coffee, are thriving in China; the Chinese not knowing any better. Melbourne went from having many Starbucks to just a handful; the coffee culture simply not accepting the ‘fast food’ style of coffee. Another formerly numerous food chain in Australia; Pizza Hut, is likewise all over China, with several American chains also joining them, such as Papa Johns (who we don’t have in Australia incidentally).

Now, that all being said  – these places are so commonplace now, it had me starting to think – do the Chinese; when traveling overseas, now find a McDonalds, TGI Friday, Pizza Hut, KFC or Starbucks as familiar and comforting as we do? Do the Chinese see a McDonald’s as a reliable port of call if they need to go to the loo – or perhaps, a way to get familiar food in what to them, could be a very foreign environment? Has the humble food chain – which in many countries has a somewhat low opinion; certainly on the health front – transcended it’s traditional roots and become some form of cultural comfort zone?

My answer would have to be yes.  If I see someone from a foreign country in one of these city fast food outlets; particularly if they’re speaking another language to each other, I can’t not think about whether they have come to this place because like us when we travel, it’s familiar – thus, comforting in its own way. While I haven’t yet spoken to any travelers regarding this, I would be highly interested to actually find out.


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