by Lindsey Carlsen
American fast food is a booming industry, providing convenience to millions of customers each day. McDonald’s has been a leader in this industry for decades, dominating fast food culture on the world stage, and pulling people in with their golden arches. This monopoly of the fast food market began in California in 1948 when Dick and Mac McDonald opened the first McDonald’s restaurant (James). The original restaurant had a limited menu of just hamburgers and unlimited soda, but focused on providing customers with affordable food fast. The McDonald brothers were able to achieve success because they set up their kitchen like an assembly line to ensure efficiency, and in doing so they established the principles that modern fast food restaurants rely on.
Recognizing the early success of the McDonald’s brand, entrepreneur Ray Kroc became determined to help the McDonalds brothers franchise their business. Under the guidance of Kroc, the McDonald’s Company experienced swift growth, and by the end of the 1960s, the company had opened over 1,000 restaurants in the United States (James). This growth was accompanied by great success, due in large part to the heavy advertising campaigns employed by the company, most notably, the slogan “Look for the Golden Arches” (McDonald’s History). During this period of expansion, the restaurant also began adding new items to their menu, such as the Filet O’ Fish, in an effort to meet the demands of their existing customers, and attract new patrons.
The growth of McDonald’s in the United States was mirrored by growth in the international sector of the company. In 1972, McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in France (Audi). The restaurant, which was located in Creteil, a suburb of Paris did not experience success, as the French fought the Americanization of their country, and thus the franchise closed quickly. Therefore, McDonald’s recognizes its official entrance into France as 1979, with a restaurant in Strasbourg (McDonald’s History).
Given the volatile relationship that has defined relations between the United States and France in the twentieth century it is not surprising that there were mixed feelings among French citizens when McDonalds’s opened. Some French people saw the entrance of McDonald’s as the ultimate invasion of American culture in France, which was struggling to maintain its cultural identity in the face of globalization. The French began to call McDonald’s ‘McDo”, and feared that it would compromise the legitimacy of French cuisine, which they felt helped to define their cultural identity (Whitney). For these citizens, McDo is the “Trojan horse” of globalization, taking the emphasis away from locally produced food and leisurely meals, and putting it on convenience (Samuel). French people continue to resent McDonald’s because they feel that the company did not adapt their practices when moving into non-American markets (Kuisel). In part, McDonald’s does this in order to ensure that they make a profit, as they are an American food system, and must maintain this identity in order to keep their customers satisfied. However, during their expansion in France the McDonald’s company did recognize that they needed to adopt some business practices to suit French tastes, and they did so by creating new marketing campaigns, and offering more French sauces, such as pepper sauce and mustard, for the Big Mac (Kuisel).
As time has passed, French acceptance of McDonald’s has continued to grow; yet there is still controversy surrounding the company. In 2009, McDonald’s received a great deal of media attention when it announced plans to open a restaurant in the food court at the Louvre in an effort to celebrate its 30th anniversary in France (Samuel). Employees at the world’s most visited fine arts museum are outraged at this announcement, citing their disappointment because McDonald’s is “hardly the height of gastronomy” (Samuel). Employees also fear that McDonald’s will take attention away from the artwork that the Louvre is known for, stating that “the first thing visitors will likely see when they arrive are big golden arches.” (Samuel). In order to combat this opposition, museum officials have stated that this McDonald’s is in line with the image and aesthetic of the Louvre, and it also represents the American portion of the food court (Samuel).
Although the French have continually fought the Americanization of their culture, they cannot deny the success of American business models, especially in the case of fast food. While McDonald’s may have been a catalyst in the French citizens perceived downfall of their native cuisine, it allowed French fast food chains to become more successful. Many French chains adopted the McDonald’s models of product standardization and computerized operations, allowing them to provide a more traditional French customer with convenient sources of French food (Kuisel).
When examining the battle of globalization that exists between the United States and France, it becomes clear that the French are unable to stop the American cultural invasion. Despite opposition to American fast food, McDonald’s has seen great success in France. Today there are more than 980 McDonald’s restaurants in France (McDonald’s History). Also, along with Canada, Japan, Germany, Australia, and England, France helps to make up McDonald’s “Big Six”, generating 80% of the company’s international sales (McDonald’s History). In particular, 2008 was a year of rapid growth in France, as the company opened 30 new franchises in order to serve 450 million new customers, effectively creating the largest market for McDonald’s outside the United States (McDonald’s History). It is unlikely that French citizens will ever be truly satisfied with McDonald’s and the Americanization that it represents, yet French customers continue to be frequent patrons, meaning that the company will continue to have success.
James, Randy. “A Brief History of McDonald’s Abroad.” TIME. Time Inc., 28 Oct. 2009. Web. 04 Dec. 2010.
Kuisel, Richard. “Debating Americanization: The Case of France.” Global America? The Cultural Consequences of Globalization. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2003. 95-111. Print.
“McDonald’s History.” McDonald’s Canada. McDonald’s Corporation, 2009. Web. 4 Dec. 2010.
Samuel, Henry. “McDonald’s Restaurant to Open at the Louvre.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 4 Oct. 2009. Web. 04 Dec. 2010.
Whitney, Craig R. “Protesters Just Say No To ‘McDo’; Jospin Glad.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 15 Sept. 1999. Web. 04 Dec. 2010.