France, The Annual Family Holiday and French McDonalds

France 2017

“The people of McDonald’s need guidance. They need to be told that Europe is not Disneyland…. It should look like a normal European bistro and nothing to tell you from the outside that this is a McDonald’s except for a discreet golden arches sticker on each window and a steady stream of people with enormous asses going in and out of the front door.” Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

Every year I make myself a promise and every year I break it.

Generally around about February/March my daughter gives me a call and tells me that her holiday plans are disrupted because someone has dropped out and she invites me along instead. This time I said that I would be strong and resist. These holidays require the sort of preparation and training exercises that are considered even too tough for the US Navy Seals or the British Army SAS.

When the inevitable phone call came I was ready and said no, I said no in a very firm voice, I said absolutely no in a very firm voice, I declined several times in a very firm voice and then about an hour or so later I started making travel plans and ferry bookings because this year we were going to Picardy in Northern France.

Actually I booked some airline tickets to Paris with the intention of hiring a car to avoid the long journey but the costs started to mount alarmingly and eventually I had to abandon the flight idea and take a financial hit on the fares and accept that there was no real alternative but to drive which was something I wasn’t really looking forward to if I am honest.

We set off early on Sunday morning and made surprisingly swift progress along the UK’s congested motorways, caught the scheduled ferry and then made the two hundred mile journey from Calais to the town of Soisssons where we were spending the first night in a cheap IBIS Hotel.

We were staying at an IBIS hotel because my daughter Sally had got the booking dates wrong. We were due to stay at a nearby holiday park but the reservation didn’t begin until the next day so we had no alternative right now but to find a temporary stop over.

We didn’t stop driving until we reached the ubiquitous edge of town shopping mall which are a disagreeable feature of most French urbanisations as everywhere it is almost certain that the approach to any historic town or city must now pass through an aluminium clad collection of temporary industrial units, supermarkets and fast food restaurants.

And this is another curious feature of France because every town we drove through had countdown signposts and specific directions to the nearest McDonalds restaurant as though the French need the constant reassurance of the nearest set of Golden Arches.

The poor French. There they were, with their traditional bistros serving cassoulet, soupe a l’oignon and confit de canard and now all the people really want is rectangular food-like objects that taste vaguely of chicken, and a side of dipping sauce.

Mcdonalds France

Well, actually it turns out to be not so curious at all because even though they maintain that they despise the concept of the fast food chain an awful lot of French people do eat there. Across France there are nearly twelve hundred restaurants (restaurants?) and in Paris alone there are almost seventy, with even more dotted around the outer suburbs. That’s much the same as London, but with only a third of the population.

McDonald’s, or “macdoh” as it is known is now so firmly a part of French culture that the menu includes McBaguette and Croque McDo and in 2009 McDonald’s reached a deal with the French museum, the Louvre, to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé on its premises by their underground entrance.  That could almost be considered as sacrilege.

A consequence of the French love of fast food is a growing obesity problem in a country that has always prided itself on being slim and healthy with a belief that there is something in the French lifestyle that protects them against obesity, heart disease and diabetes. This is called the ‘French Paradox’ and is now being exposed as a myth because they are straying from the very dietary habits that made them the envy of the world – eating small portions, eating lots of vegetables, drinking in moderation, and only limited snacking.

Overall six and a half million French, that’s 15% of the population, are now classified as obese.

When in a foreign country I like to savour the local culture so after we had settled in and the children had finished dismantling the rooms I drove to the nearby McDonalds to get something to eat.

This was a tricky experience. The place was heaving and the only way to order food was by using the interactive display boards which is relatively straightforward in England but a bit difficult in France where there is no English language option and my assistant was a four year old grandson with faster fingers than me and who was impatient for nuggets and fries.

It took a while and I thankfully avoided a massive order of about €5000 and then we waited.  And we waited.  McDonalds is supposed to be fast food but the preparation process was slightly slower than glacial erosion and it took over thirty minutes to be served our order.

Back at the IBIS Hotel it took about thirty seconds to eat it and when the children were all safely in bed I poured a gin and tonic and drank it and then a second stronger gin and tonic and drank that and started to worry about the next ten days and what I had let myself in for.



47 responses to “France, The Annual Family Holiday and French McDonalds

  1. Looking forward to reading more!


    • A campsite holiday with six children doesn’t provide a lot of posting material but I have one or two thoughts coming up. I enjoyed my early look through your own posts.


      • Well, when reading your post, it felt like the introduction of a book, and an interesting story about family holidays, filled with humor, from the perspective of someone from the U.K. vacationing in France. That in itself can keep me here looking forward to the next chapter.
        Thanks for visiting too. I had been absent from blogging and came back recently. I don’t know what I was thinking when joint a writing course and posting everyday!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It can only get better, Andrew, surely? 🙂 🙂 I’m appalled at the Louvre, McD! Sacre bleu!


  3. I can remember going on a school exchange to a place called Rodez, and I seem to remember that that was the location of the first ever MacDo which the local farmers promptly burnt down before it could sell its first flame grilled burger. At the time I can remember thinking how pathetic that was as a way of expressing a political opinion, but I bet a lot of French people are not so sure now.


  4. Oh dear, McDonald’s in France. I did find a Starbucks at the CDG airport which had much nicer pastries and sandwiches than in North America. Look forward to more about this adventure.


  5. Nineteen years ago one of my daughters and I did a 4000-mile road trip in the USA with my sisters and their kids (three vehicles). One niece was collecting Mister Gadget body parts so we ate at Macca’s (Australia’s slang for the place) way too often. Haven’t been back.


  6. Looking forward to reading about the next stage of your adventures, you have me hooked. My first ever McDonalds experience was in France as a penniless backpacking student. The little assistant with the speedy fingers really made me chuckle too.


  7. Fast food mania… the bane of modern life. And what four year old who has been introduced to McDs hasn’t been seduced by fries and chicken nuggets! How quickly they learn. It was certainly true of our grandkids. One advantage to taking our grandkids backpacking this summer was that finding any fast food establishment was at least a 20 mile hike. 🙂 We did manage a BK afterwards, however. Looking forward to your adventures, Andrew. –Curt


  8. Very interesting post! 🙂
    I am starting a new blog, making it my very own travel diary, go take a look!


  9. I started feeling really sorry and sympathetic and then you spoil it all by saying you enjoyed every minute. Next you’re going to tell me you were being ironic.


  10. I’ve never been a fan of McDonalds, but because my son worked there as a cook this summer, I often stopped in for a smoothie so I could catch a glimpse of him working his greasy magic in the kitchen.

    Enjoy a wonderful holiday with your daughter.


  11. Oh Andrew these family holiday posts are my favourite. Even more than the rental car fiascos. Keep up with the gin. That should help wash down the McMadness. 🙂


    • It turned out to be great fun of course. We took my car and Sally liked to drive. I had to keep telling her to slow down. “I am only doing the speed limit” she protested. The speed limit was 100 but I had to point out that this was kilometres per hour and not miles. For a week or so after returning I lived in fear of a French speeding ticket popping through the letterbox!


  12. In one sense I’m appalled too at the French embracing fast food culture, but NOT surprised that the French seem to care less overall these days about their culture in general!


  13. I suspect that McD’s will take over the world, or what’s left of it. I remember my mom coming back from Japan, decades ago, raving about the fact that they had a McD. I’ve often wondered why she bothered going all that distance.


  14. Having not been in a McDonalds since my niece and nephew visited from Australia in 2013, it sounds as if not much has changed, although we didn’t have to wait as long as you did. I hope things improve for you, and you’re not left with any hotel charges for putting those rooms back together.


  15. I’m sure you’ll settle in and enjoy the holiday as you always do, but I admire your pluck. I, too, was shocked, no not shocked, amazed at the number of MacD’s in France, but I doubt if we can hold them back now.


  16. Pingback: National Baguette Day (USA) | Have Bag, Will Travel

  17. Once, arriving very late at our overnight stopping town half way down France, we could only find a MacDo open. It was every bit as bad as its British equivalent. And I read the other day that France has, per capita, the most MacDos in the world outside America. Extraordinaire !


  18. It is certainly credible that Napoleon was connected to the baguette. At the time his scientists were busy working on tinned food.
    And you are right about the changes in France. The French are fools to give up their traditional cuisine for American fast food, a decision which may ultimately kill them.


  19. Lots of smiles in this one. I am grateful I never saw a McDoh in France.


  20. What’s the world coming to, Andrew….Croque McDo???


  21. Your daughter obviously knows which buttons to press! I too am shocked at the popularity of McDonald’s in France and wrote about it here


  22. Looked at my comment of yore, Andrew. The only thing I missed was I suspect you kept your gin bottle in the kitchen as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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