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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Part 3: The Ugly

I am Charlie ❤️🇫🇷

What can be so “Ugly” in the land of Paul Bocuse, Escoffier and Le Cordon Bleu? How about McDonald, Subway, Burger King, Dominoes, Pizza Hut and KFC!!! This for me sums up The Ugly: the complete invasion of the great American grub!!!

I could understand to a certain degree if these restaurants were offering a really inexpensive alternative to eating out for busy families. Let’s face it, restaurant food is expensive anywhere you go and the cost is relative to any country’s economy. I believe the success of the fast food outlets in Canada and the USA is a combination of fabulous marketing, accessibility and price. They offer the busy households the ability to feed family members at a somewhat reasonable price: my husband and I have noticed that fast food meals often cost about the same as buying the ingredients and making the meal yourself. Not always, but often! No mess, always ready when you are hungry and affordable.

That formula is the North American formula. But here in France (and in Spain), the cost of eating at any of these restaurants is far from cheap. We stopped at a McDonald on the road once near Avignon, hoping to buy cheaper sodas than what we had found so far and restrooms. My husband was also hoping to get a Canadian size coffee… For the hell of it, we ordered one BigMac combo with fries to share. We just wanted to see if the BigMac tasted the same because we had heard it was quite different. My sons both said they found some nuances in the taste of the bun and the meat. My husband and I thought it tasted exactly like a BigMac. Experience completed! But what was a shocker was the price: one combo meal plus 2 extra sodas and a coffee cost just short of 15€. In current exchange rate, that is about $22CD!!! In comparison, you can find sandwich shops and counters every few meters in most town centers. The average sandwich, served on crisp and insanely tasty baguettes (that’s a huge sandwich) cost anywhere between 3.5€ and 5€. Add a soda each at 2-3€ and you have the cost of a BigMac meal but as a bonus, you get the YUM factor!!!

The Europeans, more often than none, have strongly disregarded North American food, labeling it as being anything but real food. It has always been considered low grade and rightfully so (we even think so ourselves). The elevation of gastronomy in Canada (and the US) is a fairly recent phenomenon: thank goodness for that! And I can honestly say that now, some restaurants in my hometown would easily give French eateries a bit of a run for their money. So if they have laughed at our way of eating for so long, why on earth are they helping these icons of the fast food industry set roots on their territory?

Soooooo, if this type if food is sub-grade especially here in Europe and the cost of it equivalent, if not more, to their own classic take-out street food merchants, why are these restaurants experiencing such success here? That question baffles me other than maybe the youth is longing to experience the US way of life… And successful they seem to be as they are popping up EVERYWHERE! We could have eaten that type of food during our entire trip: they can be found at rest areas, shopping malls and even incorporated within the old town centers. There is a Golden Arch symbol wherever you go… And, it is all in English to boot!!! In the heart of old Montpellier is the famous square called Place de la comédie: it is a huge piazza boasting the beautiful fountain called “Les trois Graces” and surrounded by stunning Renaissance buildings. Countless cafés and bars spilling into postcard perfect terraces where one can enjoy a beverage while people watching. The quintessential European experience, even in January! And smack in the middle of old world charm, surrounded by names such as “Le Café Riche” and “Chez Joseph” is good old McDonald’s!!! And without trying to insult anyone, I find that at the top of The Ugly!