The Null Device
Dragged kicking and screaming into the world of time-squeezed Anglocapitalist efficiency, the French have been taking to McDonalds in droves. Well, someone in France has, with the chain making more money in France than in Britain and reporting record profits. The funny thing is, it's never any French person anyone has actually met; all interviewed profess an existential disgust of le macdoh.
“No,” says Magali. “It is not. A croque is something ... beautiful. But thees is ... my god.” Correction. Magali is not appalled. This is something deeper than appalled. This is existential.
Magali doesn't eat in McDonald's. In fact, she says, she doesn't know anybody who eats in McDonald's. Stop any Frenchman on the street - and we stop plenty - and he will shrug and snarl and say that he doesn't eat in McDonald's, either.Going into an actual McDonalds didn't help the reporters find an actual French person who will admit to liking what McDonalds has to offer:
At the next table a family are eating together. “We're only in here because we're in a rush,” says the father, much like a husband explaining a mistress to his incredulous wife. “It's not normal. We would never eat in McDonald's usually.” He says that he is from Montreal, anyway, and that we may refer to him only as Mr X. The rest of the family stay silent, and munch, and blush.The French embrace of fast food has led to a steep rise in obesity rates in France, with some speculating that French culture's unpreparedness for such gastronomic habits may hit France especially hard:
French obesity rates have rocketed in recent years. According to estimates, 11 per cent of the French are obese and 40 per cent are overweight. This is better than the UK or the US, but it grows by about 5 per cent every year. One thinks of those previously untouched indigenous tribes that manage to wipe themselves out in a generation after being introduced to booze. The French are failing to eat in moderation. For a culture that prides itself on its waistline, this is a difficult failing to accept.The boom in fast food in France isn't all McDonalds, though; indigenous fast food concepts are appearing as well:
In recent years, at least in Paris, there has been a boom in fast-food eateries of the sort described above. The pioneer in this respect is a newish chain called Cojean. It was set up in 2001 by Alain Cojean, who had spent the previous 15 years working in research and development for - yes - McDonald's. Cojean is a very different beast.
We visit the branch across the road from the Louvre. Cool and airy, it is tastefully converted from an elaborately corniced patisserie. It sells fresh salads, proper coffee and sandwiches that are resolutely not triangular. We pick a ham and melon salad with noodles and rocket. The melon tastes as if it has just fallen from a tree, and the ham just scraped from a happy pig. There is a surprise bit of jagged plastic lurking in the middle, true enough, but we are not in McDonald's so we have no urge to sue. It just adds to the sense of handmade authenticity.During my recent visits to Paris, I've also noticed a lot of takeaway sushi places. (The Rue de la Verrerie in the Marais is particularly full of them.) These places have plastic boxes of nigiri and sashimi sitting on shelves in chillers, much as in many other global cities; from my experience, the sushi, whilst nothing fancy, is typically of a high standard. So for me, fast food in Paris has typically meant sushi.