This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated.
A few days ago, an article on the French site of the Huffington Post caught my eye: “Burger King opens in Marseilles with a roar…” The fast foot power house had left France in 1997, defeated by its two main competitors, McDonald’s and Quick. According to the article, Burger King’s new restaurant, located in a food court inside the Marseilles-Marignane airport, has drawn huge crowds since its inauguration last month. Locals flock to the come back kid, driving 45 minutes out of the city, and lining up for up to two hours, to get their hamburger fix. It’s official: France loves burgers. Quoi ? Say what?
|A happy French customer gets his Whopper!|
I can’t say I am that surprised. Rumors have been floating for months about France’s new craze: Le ham-bur-ger, or “Am-Ba-Ga,” when pronounced by some French people (since the letter “H” is silent at the beginning of French words.)
According to American expat/renowned pastry chef/writer/blogger/food connaisseur extraordinaire David Leibovitz, even hard to please Parisians have caved in; dropped forks and knives; rolled up their fancy sleeves; and grabbed American-style hamburgers wherever they can find them in the French capital, thus benefiting a slew of enterprising expats who are dealing their pricey (but, oh, so tasty) wares around town out of… their food trucks! Très romantique. Read the details here.
|le Am-Ba-Ga has nothing on you,
steak haché-frites of my youth!
Homesick American expats are thrilled (“Good hamburgers! In Paris! Score!”) Parisians feel as cool as… des New Yorkais. The media can’t get enough of the new fad. Vive la France, land of the Am-Ba-Ga!
Of course, this is hardly news to McDonald’s, unchallenged king of the Burger world.
McDonald’s (affectionately nicknamed “McDo” by my countrymen,) launched their most excellent French adventure some thirty years ago. There are over 1200 McDo restaurants in France today. Not only have les Français welcomed McDonald’s with open arms, they also love the McDrive concept! Quoi? The French are eating in their cars? Sacrilège!
France is McDonald’s second most profitable market after the United States. McDo loves the French right back!
|What’s next? The Moon? Mars?|
|You can’t go very far in l’Hexagone (France)
without bumping into a McDo!
French youth flocks to McDo. French youth have always been fond of American brands and are quick to adopt what they perceive as a token of the American lifestyle. But not all of McDo’s French customers are young. What gives?
A visit to Mc Do’s website, (and a closer look at their French products) help clarify things. McDonald’s has always succeeded where other foreign corporations have failed (you may remember the Eurodisney debacle in Paris in the early 1990s.) Their success can be summarized in a few words: In-depth knowledge of the local market’s culture, willingness to adapt their products (call it Am-Ba-Ga localization,) kick-ass marketing and lobbying teams.
|McDo’s successful “Come as you are” campaign, featuring the beloved Tintin|
|What Frenchman would not patronize a restaurant
where Gallic heroes Asterix and Obelix are regulars?
Things have not always been easy for McDonald’s in France. Years ago, some of the chain’s restaurants were ransacked by local activists to protest the company that came to symbolize American imperialism and – even worse – la malbouffe, (bad eating, bad food.)
In 1993, the Paris city hall defeated McDo’s plans to open a restaurant on the banks of the Seine river, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. McDo did not give up and later inaugurated a location inside the prestigious Carrousel du Louvre (the mall adjacent to the Louvre museum) in 2009. Cue in major uproar in the media. French intellectuals and the American expat community (for whom not all Am-Ba-Gas are created equal,) were outraged. But when the dust settled, the French public did not really seem to care that much, and shrugged.
|Where are these tacky Golden Arches?
McDo at the Louvre: not as showy as one might expect!
The French are pragmatists. McDo creates jobs and mostly uses locally sourced food. French cattle is grass-fed and hormone-free. This is the meat used to prepare the famous Royal Cheese, of Pulp Fiction fame.
Upon closer inspection, the McDo menu has been designed to appeal to French senses.
|Sandwiches made with French baguette|
|Christmas 2012 selection|
Some French people may enjoy the occasional drive-through service, but most of my countrymen still prefer to sit down and relax while socializing and eating. McDo gets it; offers comfortable and even plush surroundings, free WiFi, and a high-tech environment where meals can be ordered from a cell phone or purchased from a terminal to save time!
Here is food for thought, certainement.
I would love to know what you think about France’s love story with le Am-Ba-Ga, or her lasting affair with McDo.
When fast-food is concerned, are you Royal Cheese? fancy American Hamburger à la Parisian food truck? Jambon-Beurre, or Croque-Monsieur/salade verte?
Oh, and do check out McDo’s gutsy French commercial for the 2010 Come as you Are campaign, below.
Tutorial for the perfect [French] pronunciation of the word “hamburger:”
Pulp Fiction. The movie. The French and the Royal Cheese:
McDo’s “gay” commercial. Come as you are campaign. France, 2010
1/23/2013 update. Just found this online and had to add it:
Watch a nice American tourist trying to order food for his cranky toddler at the McDo drive-through in France… Oh, la, la… Not that easy, is it?