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MCDONALD'S

The fight to save a McDonald’s in France

For decades, McDonald's was the brand French people loved to hate.

The fight to save a McDonald's in France
Photos: AFP

From the 1970s it was accused of being the exporter of “mal bouffe” (“bad food”) to the land of fine dining, blamed for introducing millions of French people to high-calorie American fast-food.

It was also resisted as a symbol of US economic and cultural imperialism, particularly by leftwingers, in a country that remains suspicious of globalisation — and more eager than most to defend its own language and culture.

French farmer and one-time presidential candidate Jose Bove built a political career through his opposition to McDonald's which saw him trash a restaurant in the south of France in 1999.

And resistance to the golden arches continues: a mayor on the island of Oleron in western France has famously battled to keep the company out, and the brand is still a favourite target of anti-capitalist protesters during street demonstrations.

– 'There's nothing else' –

But in a turn of events that would have French food purists choking, campaigners including local lawmakers have mobilised to save, not shut, a restaurant in one of the poorest suburbs of the southern city of Marseille.

“From the outside it might seem to be just another restaurant,” local MP and hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said in a visit last month to the outlet where he was cheered and applauded.

“But it's the only place where there's something going on in this area, where you can get something to drink or have a bite to eat with friends.”

The campaign to prevent the “McDo”, as it is known in France, from shutting is an unusual development for politicians better known for their opposition to multinational companies.

But it has also served to highlight how the American fast-food chain has become a pillar of the local community, underscoring the lack of other facilities, and economic opportunities, in France's deeply deprived suburbs.

“There's only this,” one local, Farida Mameri, told AFP as she arrived with her children. “This area without McDonald's? There'd be nothing. When you meet someone it's here, there's nothing else.”

– Drugs and poverty –

The restaurant is located next to the partly completed L2 trunk road in the tough northern suburb of Saint-Barthelemy, a multiethnic area home to a large Muslim population and some of the city's poorest housing estates.

McDonald's is the second-biggest formal employer in the neighbourhood with its 77 staff, after a local supermarket chain, trade unionists say.

Residents lament how shops and businesses have gradually moved out at the same time as drug-dealing has flourished — providing more lucrative, and dangerous, opportunities for unemployed local men.

Marseille remains an important gateway for drugs arriving in Europe from North Africa, causing deadly turf wars between Kalashnikov-wielding gangs that are a blight on the lives of local families.

In May, amateur video went viral showing several masked men armed with machine guns running through a housing estate in nearby Busserine, where police — and journalists — are often wary to enter.

Since opening in 1992, the McDonald's has helped to stop some of the criminality, employees and campaigners say.

“McDonald's kind of got me out of the shit, if you'll excuse the term,” Nordine Aklil, a 27-year-old employee, told AFP. “I had come out of prison and McDonald's offered me rehabilitation basically.

“It also allowed me to have more stability in my life.”

Salim Grabsi, a member of a working class collective in the area called SQPM, agreed that the business had played a “social role” under its previous managers.

“Young girls and young boys who haven't got internships, they end up here,” he explained.

“When kids no longer have any interest in school, or they no longer want to go to school, to avoid them landing in drugs and all that, their first job is often at McDonald's.”

– Honourable ending? –

At stake is the threatened closure of the restaurant by its current operator, a franchisor called Jean-Pierre Brochiero who owns the restaurant in a 50-50 joint venture with McDonald's France.

He claims the site is loss-making — which the branch's employees contest — and wants to sell it to a Tunisia-based company which would open an “Asian halal” food outlet targeting the local Muslim population.

The employees, who have been protesting for months, believe the takeover plan is a ruse to avoid paying them redundancy compensation and they have gone to court to prevent the transaction.

“As badly paid as they are, as bad as working conditions are at McDonald's, their whole life is built around this job,” a lawyer representing staff said after a court hearing on Monday.

“The whole life of the neighbourhood is built around this restaurant. McDonald's needs to be aware of that and they need to come out of this honourably too.”

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MCDONALD'S

40 years of Le Big Mac: Here’s how big France’s appetite for McDonald’s has grown

It's 40 years since the US burger giant McDonald's sold its first French fries in France. Here's a look at how the French fell in love with the Big Mac although the relationship has had its ups and downs over the years.

40 years of Le Big Mac: Here's how big France's appetite for McDonald's has grown
A McManure please. Farmers protest at a McDonald's in France in 199. Photo: AFP

The French may have invented nouvelle cuisine, but it seems the dish they love more than any other is served in a square cardboard box on a plastic tray.

The first French McDonald's restaurant – or McDo as they like to call it – opened 40 years ago on September 17th 1979 in Strasbourg and 40 years on the French cannot get enough of their French fries (though, in France, they are just called fries).

To see how much the French love McDonald's you just have to look at some of the stats:

  • 1.8 million – this is the amount of McDonald meals served up in France every day. That's almost two million meals every single day. 
  • 13 percent – this is the share of the restaurant market in France – the home of fine dining – that McDonald's has.
  • 1,464 – this is the number of McDonald restaurants currently in France, that's more than any other chain. The company aims to expand this by 300 – 400 in the next ten years. 
  • 74,000 – this is the number of people employed either full-time or part-time by the company in France. 62 percent of the team are less than 25 years old. 
  • 2nd – France is the second biggest market for McDonald's per head of population after the United States. 
  • 1st – the biggest McDonald's restaurant in the world is located in Disneyland Paris. 
  • €9 – is the average price of a meal in French McDonald's, making it the most expensive in the world. 

The French clearly have something of a love affair with McDonald's and it is reciprocated. When the company opened in France it was on the grounds that only French ingredients would be used, which is not the same in every country where McDonald's operates.

READ ALSO: Why do the French love McDonald's so much?

The menu has also been Frenchified.

Here they have at times sold the McBaguette with cheese and it isn't one of those plastic cheese slices, not on your life. In France, they use Camembert. You can also buy beer in French McDonald's, just in case you need a little kick with your breakfast McMuffin. 

In France there have been times when residents have protested against McDonald's closing or even demanded a new one open in their town.

Employees fighting to keep their McDonald's open in a suburb of Marseille said their restaurant had become the heart of the community, offering internships and jobs to people while providing a safe space for birthdays or meeting friend.

In a community in northern France a Facebook campaign garnered support among thousands and led to a street protest demanding a McDonald's open up in the area.

Facebook

However, for as much as the French love McDonald's, they also love to hate McDonald's. The relationship has had its bumpy moments.

For decades, McDonald's was the brand French people loved to hate.

From the 1970s it was accused of being the exporter of “mal bouffe” (“bad food”) to the land of fine dining, blamed for introducing millions of French people to high-calorie American fast-food.

It was also resisted as a symbol of US economic and cultural imperialism, particularly by leftwingers, in a country that remains suspicious of globalisation — and more eager than most to defend its own language and culture.

French farmer and one-time presidential candidate Jose Bove built a political career through his opposition to McDonald's which saw him trash a restaurant in the south of France in 1999.

French farmers raided the building site of the McDonald's in Aveyron and demolished it. They had announced their intentions in advance and invited spectators along, offering a Roquefort-tasting at the same time. It was in protest at the Americafication of France

“Roquefort d'abord McDo go home” (Roquefort first, McDo go home) read a slogan daubed on the trashed McDonald's. 

Support for the farmers grew and led to more protests at McDonald's across the country, including some where manure was deposited on the restaurants tills and floor.

The protest outside a McDonald's in Toulouse in 199 saw people turn up with traditional French dishes in protest at the American fastfood giant.

And resistance to the golden arches continues: a mayor on the island of Oleron in western France has famously battled to keep the company out, and the brand is still a favourite target of anti-capitalist protesters during street demonstrations.

And there have also been clashes between McDonald's and the French state at a high level.

In 2016, the French taxman sent a bill for €300 million in unpaid taxes to McDonald's France. The profits were said to have been siphoned through Switzerland and Luxembourg. 

The fast-food restaurant also caused veritable outrage with some French food purists when it had the temerity to add potatoes to its Salade Nicoise in its Italian restaurants. Was nothing sacred any more? 

But despite the run-ins the French still queue up in droves for their burgers and even with the arrival of new rivals in the battle of the burgers like Burger King and Five Guys, McDo still reigns supreme.

 

 

 

 

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