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October 06, 2009

McDonalds at the Louvre, Oh My!

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

London's Telegraph reports that a McDonald's restaurant and McCafé coffee shop will be opening soon in one of the entry areas to Paris' famed Louvre art museum. A few highlights:

Lovers of France's two great symbols of cultural exception – its haute cuisine and fine art – are aghast at plans to open a McDonald's restaurant and McCafé in the Louvre museum next month.

America's fast food temple is celebrating its 30th anniversary in France with a coup -the opening of its 1,142nd Gallic outlet a few yards from the entrance to the country's Mecca of high art and the world's most visited museum. ...

The Louvre has the right to protest against boutiques it considers fail to meet such criteria. However, the museum told the Daily Telegraph it had agreed to a "quality" McCafé and a McDonald's in place by the end of the year, which it said was "is in line with the museum's image".

"The Louvre welcomes the fact that the entirety of visitors and customers, French or foreign, can enjoy such a rich and varied restaurant offer, whether in the museum area or gallery," the museum said in a statement.

The McDonald's would represent the "American" segment " of a new "food court", and would be situated "among (other) world cuisines and coffee shops," it wrote. ...

There was already an outcry last year when Starbucks opened a café perilously close to the Right bank museum's entrance. Employees and art aficionados sent management a petition in protest; the café opened regardless but was asked to provide a cultural corner of brochures and catalogues as a placatory measure.

This interests me for two reasons. First, I take some of my meals at McDonald's when in France. Second, in May I had a cup of coffee at the Louvre Starbucks mentioned in the article.

Even though I'm a fussy eater, I do eat in French restaurants most of the time when visiting L'Hexagone. Still, there are times when a McDonald's is called for. Breakfasts at our hotel cost around 13 euros. For that amount you get orange juice, a croissant, a small baguette, butter, jam, coffee and perhaps another small item. The alternative I opted for was a ten-minute walk up the hill to the corner of the boul' Mich and the rue Soufflot (which leads to the Panthéon) where a McDonald's can be found. My breakfast there was comprised of the French version of an Egg McMuffin (lots more protein than the hotel fare) and a cup of coffee. The prix? Two euros.

I get the feeling that articles about McDonald's in France (or the headlines, anyway) give Americans the impression that an "Ugly American" operation is underway with hordes of uncouth, loudmouthed tourists from Flyover Country cramming every inch of every McDonald's while driving the French to seething hatred.

Sadly to some, 'tain't so. Sure, Yanks such as me do indeed patronize McDonald's in France -- besides Paris, I breakfasted there in Nice and Lyon last spring. But note that the excerpt above mentions that there are 1,142 McDonald's in the country. When you are away from the beaten tourist track, you'll find that a McDonald's just off the Autoroute or in the center of a small city will be filled with French people. The locals really like McDonald's.

I arrived at that McDonald's near the Panthéon one morning as it was opening. Ahead of me in line were six or eight police nationale getting breakfast takeouts on their way to duty at (I assume) the Palais Luxembourg. There were a few other earlybird customers, but I was the only American so far as I could tell.

At the Louvre there's a cafeteria zone featuring foreign foods. I recall seeing a place featuring Spanish food and I had a pizza slice from the Italian area on a couple of occasions when I needed a quick meal and was in the neighborhood. Given this context, the addition of a McDonald's strikes me as being no big deal. And if the Tour d'Argent wanted to muscle in, I suppose there's no reason to stop them either.

As for that Starbucks, it was a welcome place to rest my feet and regroup. Be warned that French Starbucks are no bargain, especially if you want to add pastry or other goodies to your coffee order.



posted by Donald at October 6, 2009


In the tourist areas of Paris, French restaurants are often quite overpriced and mediocre.

The best restaurant Myrna and I visited in France was an Italian joint out in the burbs. Second best, a Greek joint.

I don't even go to McD's in the U.S., except when I'm marooned on the interstate. I like the fries, but they are very sweet... obviously coated with sugar. The burgers are mushy and bland. Five Guys is much better.

I've never understood the appeal of Starbucks. Their coffee is very bitter. Seattle Coffee Roasters much better.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on October 6, 2009 8:57 AM

Seems to me that the whole hatred of McDonald's is like a lot of other issues - just a way for people to flaunt their political beliefs.

The majority of the food isn't tasty, and obviously not healthy. But I do patronize the "American Embassy" when I'm overseas sometimes, and need a quick, cheap bite, especially if I don't feel like waiting at a sit down restaurant for the whole ordering process. Given the choice between the local fare and McDonald's, I'll always choose the local food, but sometimes you just want a quick meal without all the wait.

I used to go to McDonald's on Sundays for lunch when I was in Hong Kong for work. Sunday is the day the Filipino maids have off, and the city is swarming with Filipinos enjoying their one day off. McDonald's was pretty much the only cheap place to grab a cheap bite, go off to a bench, eat and off to something else.

McDonald's in Japan were always a pleasure. The only fast food restaurant where the staff are polite and BOW to you after they give you your food!

The best item they have is the hotcakes and sausage meal. A simple food item to prepare, only an intellectual could screw this one up.

Posted by: Wade Nichols on October 6, 2009 10:32 AM

Where do French cops go for donuts? They do go for donuts, right?

Posted by: Pavel on October 6, 2009 11:35 AM

I ate at a Burger King the day I arrived in Madrid a couple of years ago. I'm a bit of a foodie so normally I jump at a chance to try the local cuisine but boy was I glad to have a quick convenient option when I was jet-lagged and didn't want to stay up until 11 p.m. to actually get some dinner.

As an aside, I've traveled lots of places by myself on business and Spain was one of more uncomfortable places to eat out by myself. Not that anyone was unfriendly but even at a tapas bar in a major city, I was the only person eating alone. The Spanish appear to be very family-oriented.

Posted by: CyndiF on October 6, 2009 12:22 PM

When Pupu first tasted McDonald's icecream, she thought she could die in heaven. From that point on, McDonald's appeal could only go down, and so it did. Today, Pupu has an occasional milk shake every few months, or if on the road, a breakfast at McDonald's. They always hit the spot. But the rest of the McDonald's offerings no longer hold any appeal -- the coffee is too weak; the burgers are too mushy, not meaty or red or real enough for a burger occasion; the fries are good but who goes to a place just for the fries? With all that said, Pupu is really looking forward to trying the new McDonald's ventures.

Posted by: Pupu on October 6, 2009 12:22 PM

he rue Soufflot (which leads to the Panthéon) where a McDonald's can be found

I was in that McDonald's one night a couple of years ago and all of the customers seemed to be locals. Though the Quick restaurant across the road was even more crowded. I think the French prefer Quick to McDonald's and Burger King but it is pretty clear they also like the American chains as they are conspicuous in the non-tourist areas.

Posted by: CanadianObserver on October 6, 2009 2:31 PM

Starbucks coffee is actually very French: unwholesome, over-extracted muck, though not quite as over-heated as the millions of brews that are destroyed daily across Paris.

But letting an American corporation open a franchise in the Louvre is unthinkable, akin to allowing an American starchitect to put a glass pyramid over the entrance to the world's most renowned gallery. Never happen.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on October 7, 2009 4:02 AM

Yep, the French really like Mcdonalds, I had a good French friend in Bangkok who would take MOSt of his meals at McD's. I've heard that the MCD's in France are much more elegantly and fancily decorated than those in the States, though, and that they appeal to a more sophisticated clientele there.

I always thought the opposition to McD's was moronic - of course the food is not fantastic, but no one ever billed it as haute cuisine. For what it is, convenient, fast, and simple fare, it's quite good. Yes, there are better burger places, but the burgers at McD's are perfectly tasty.

McD's fills an important and useful niche in the food world, and anyone who thinks all food all the time should be high cuisine is ridiculous.

Starbucks coffee is meant to be bitter - that's it's appeal. It's strong, bitter coffee, by some meaures much stronger than nearly everything else that's available out there. I love it. No other coffee comes close. And it's comfortable too, with a very pleasant environment. I can't stand the European coffee shops with their stiff backed chairs and absence of couches and their weak double espressos for 4 Euros (!).

Posted by: JohnC on October 13, 2009 6:43 PM

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