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Module 2 • People and Culture: Your Culture and You
Student Page 2-2a
They Have McDonalds Too?
Article from National Geographic’s “Globalization.” This article is also available for online viewing
as Section III of “Globalization” in Your Study Resources of the Investigate section in Logistics at
PolarHusky.com
McLaks and Maharaja Macs
McDonald’s may be the most notorious name in the whole complex business of American culture
going abroad. There are approximately 24,500 McDonald’s restaurants in over 115 countries; a new
McDonald’s opens somewhere in the world every six hours. Like Coke, though, it’s easy to denigrate
as the symbol of the crass, unhealthy, commercial side of American culture. Some Japanese critics
have blamed sugar-laden junk food for juvenile crime.
American scholar Benjamin Barber has gone even farther, summing up everyone’s fears of cultural
homogenization in the simple but oddly distressing term, “McWorld.”
But McDonald’s has actually been remarkably responsive to the local cultures; they offer ayran (a
popular chilled yogurt drink) in Turkey; McLaks (a grilled salmon sandwich) in Norway; and teriyaki
burgers in Japan. In New Delhi, India, where Hindus shun beef and Muslims refuse pork, the burgers
are made of mutton and called Maharaja Macs.
And if you’re vegetarian, as many strict Hindus are, even better: There’s not only the McAloo Tikki
burger, a spicy vegetarian patty made of potatoes and peas, but they even figured out how to make
a vegetarian mayonnaise that’s really pretty good, and doing it without eggs is no small feat.
I had lunch in one of the eight McDonald’s in New Delhi; first mariachi music, then a disco version of
the theme from Titanic blared from the ceiling. “Cooking lamb is very different from beef,” the man-
ager, Sandip Maithal, told me. “The fat percentage is very different. And for the vegetarians, we have
two separate tracks of preparation. Workers with green aprons handle only vegetarian food, while
those with black aprons handle nonvegetarian food.
“We even separated the two menus—being Indian, we had a good understanding that vegetarians
wouldn’t want to have to read about meat dishes.” What this has meant is that mixed groups of
people, with drastically different tastes and customs, have finally found a place where they can all eat
together. Is this an American idea? Does it matter?
Pamela Singh, my interpreter, was impressed. It was her first time in an Indian McDonald’s, and she
didn’t mince words. “I’d eat here again,” she said. “It’s quick, it’s clean, it’s cheap, and it’s better
than those horrible oily places—you won’t get sick. If a local company did what McDonald’s does,
they’d do just as well. But I haven’t seen anywhere this concern for the level of cleanliness. I applaud
these people.”
I did some reading up on McDonald’s around the world, and I found that while it undeniably repre-
sents change, it’s usually positive. Take bathrooms. Till McDonald’s arrived, customers of many Asian
restaurants were resigned to bathrooms that were horrifying. Now they’re demanding better. (I
approached one mother in a Shanghai McDonald’s whose toddler was gnawing french fries. Did she
think the food was good? “No,” she replied. So why did she come here? “Because it’s clean,” she said.)
Women in traditional cultures like to meet at McDonald’s because there’s no alcohol served, and they
see it as a safe, socially acceptable place for a woman alone to go. And, far from being a place where
you eat and run, many people, from the elderly to teenagers, see it as a spot where they can linger.
In cities where space is at a premium, like Hong Kong, teenagers like it because it’s somewhere out-
PolarHusky.com
© NOMADS Online Classroom Expeditions GoNorth! Chukotka 2007 Curriculum 41
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