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AMERICA’S GREATEST export to the rest of the world, apparently, is fast food. It’s no problem to get a Big Mac or a Whopper in Europe these days. You can be wandering the cobblestone streets of some beautiful ancient city in Germany or England and-shazam!-the golden arches are there. In lesser quantities, you can find Pizza Hut, KFC or any other number of fine eating establishments.
As a guy who respects the coolness of tradition, and loves the food that different parts of Europe are famous for, it was disturbing to see so many fast-food shacks. At first I was amused, then annoyed, then finally a bit depressed. But as the days passed, my attitude began to change. I now understand the role of the Value Meal in Euro cuisine.
The ’tude change began in a small city in Germany, when I was hungry, tired and didn’t have much time or money-in other words, I was a musician on tour. I went to a nice-looking restaurant and looked at the menu posted on the street. I couldn’t read anything but “Wienerschnitzel”-which by then I was already sick of -and the prices were fairly high.
A good-quality meal, with a couple of Cokes (no such thing as free refills in Europe, kids), would have cost about 14 euros-roughly 13 bucks. To a wandering musician, this was not a good option. I pressed on.
Around the corner I saw it-a Burger King. It was as if a chorus of angels had sung out. The angels were actually singing “ugly American,” of course-but it finally dawned on me that these places serve a purpose. It’s not to replace the good restaurants, but to provide a quick alternative for people on the go.
That Whopper tasted pretty sweet, dude.
Inside the restaurant, I noticed something else. The place was packed, mostly with teenagers, and they were digging the experience. For them, this was about more than the food or the money. This was their way to sample American culture. It had a social aspect to it completely missing in the States. I felt slightly less guilty and finished my fries.
Now, don’t get me wrong-I still think there is something wrong when there are two McDonalds and two Burger Kings on the Champs-Elysées alone. And, of course, it’s a crime to eat fast food in the land of seriously wonderful food. But I get it now. I understand the role these places serve.
And as long as one eats mostly at the good and regular restaurants, and enjoys real European life and culture, then the occasional Big Mac won’t be the end of the world.
Now if they could only learn not to charge for ketchup. What’s up with that?