In the last edition of Straight-up Travel Tips I recommended that you stay away from McDonalds because, hey, there's one right around the corner from your house, so why the hell would you go to one in a foreign country? Well, in today's issue, I'm contradicting myself and telling you that you should definitely go into that McDonalds in a foreign country at least once. How else will you tell Samuel L. Jackson what they call a Quarter-pounder in France?
Let me clarify: I'm not recommending you go to Mickey-D's every day. Don't. But it can be a mind-blowing experience to check out some of the American restaurants you think you know. For example, in India McDonalds has vegetarian options (cows are sacred there, folks). They also offer curry. In China KFC offers traditional Chinese breakfast items including 1,000 year old eggs and some unidentified gruel. I'm not recommending this option, just saying it's an option.
Other American-based restaurants have turned themselves inside-out and upside down. I was blown away when I had a meal at Pizza Hut in Shanghai. There I found the menu included a wine list, excellent desserts (tiramisu for instance), escargot as an appetizer option, and some of the strangest (and tastiest) pizzas I've ever seen. It's a sit-down restaurant with a modicum of class. Who would have thought? I ended up with a mixed seafood pizza topped with smoked salmon and stuffed crust.
Another store to pop into is 7-11. You may be familiar with the rolling heaters they use stateside to warm up hot dogs and taquitos, and walking into a 7-11 in China you would see the same machine. Only there they use it to warm up spring rolls and the like. The pretzel machine has been repurposed to warm local treats, and they have staff there specifically to prepare food.
Even if you don't buy anything, most restaurants are okay with you checking the menu, so take a gander and get in a good laugh. You never know just how different something familiar may be when inserted in a new culture.
So why don't these companies give us this kind of treatment here in North America? Because we never asked to be treated better. Then again, though the food may treat the locals well, it doesn't necessarily mean that it will treat you well. More on that next time.