SOCIAL MEDIA

14 May 2015

Americans Abroad Eating at McDonald's

Many a snide comment has been made about Americans who, while abroad, choose to eat at McDonald's.

So it's not without some slight trepidation that I announce: I'm American, I live abroad, and occasionally, I eat at McDonald's or other fast food chain restaurants.

Eating at McDonald's Abroad

Please note, that, on the whole, I intensely dislike McDonald's, and when I'm in America or Malaysia I absolutely refuse to eat there because there is always a better option.

I choose to confess my obvious lack of class in visiting McDonald's while abroad in order to explain what may motivate some of the Americans who choose to eat in McDonald's while overseas.

These reasons apply to my situation:

1) I do not have an extremely strong stomach. I live in a region of the world known for delicious local foods as well as occasional high-profile cases concerning lack of food safety. Have you ever heard of the rat meat, bleached tofu, fried food coated in melted plastic, and gutter oil phenomenons? That's all real. The usual way to find out which restaurants to avoid and which to try is to get food recommendations from the locals, and even in our own neighborhood, there are a number of street stalls and food shops that our local friends caution us to stay away from. When we're traveling, or working, or otherwise far from home, I will often choose the "safest" foods I can find, because I don't have the opinions of locals to advise me, and I don't want to deal with stomach ailments instead of enjoying my time and getting my work done. Sometimes, even with as much as I know about McDonald's shady food prep practices, I perceive it as a relatively 'safe' option, given that the company extends certain food safety practices to all of its franchises.

Kung Pao Chicken and Green Beans with Minced Pork
 
2) Good food is expensive. We were in Hong Kong last weekend. Hong Kong is famous for its seafood and its dim sum, and as well as its high prices. Many a decent meal at a reasonably nice restaurant is in the 200-400 HKD range--while a double cheeseburger combo at McDonald's costs 22 HKD. Personally, I have a lifelong dislike of both dim sum and seafood, and I like to keep my vacation budget small, so paying big bucks for a local specialty dim sum meal when I've had dim sum countless times over the last decade and have never developed a taste for it doesn't make sense to me. Restaurant food is generally not a huge priority to me, so if it's up to me, I won't ever choose a fancy expensive restaurant--if I want an expensive meal, I'll cook it at home. I'm the kind of girl who is very content to go to the grocery store on vacation to grab oatmeal, bananas,  and  sandwich supplies and survive on those for the duration of vacation. My favorite food in the entire world is Indian flatbreads with curry--a meal which usually costs less than $2 (USD) when purchased in Malaysia. A kid's hamburger or a small fry (the only two things I'll typically eat on the McDonald's menu) are cheap and will stave off the hunger pangs for a few more hours so that I can do the next thing on my list. I'd rather be able to go on vacations that are affordable for me than to wait forever to save up money so that I can buy extravagant meals on vacation. That's one area where it's fairly easy for us to cut costs.

Pan-fried vegetable egg roll
 
3) When you live abroad, sometimes the thought of Western food is bizarrely enticing! Our usual weekly diet involves eating noodles or rice with delicious add-ons about 5 days a week, whether home-cooked or from our favorite shops, with the other two days being something like tacos, soup, fried chicken, or eggs. When you live just down the street from an amazingly delicious noodle shop, somehow, when you're on vacation, that exotic-looking Subway sign (there are no Subway restaurants in ShenZhen) and the thought of bread and an actual sub sandwich simply sounds more appealing than experimenting with visiting yet another noodle shop.

 Fruit on a stick

4) Eating at an overseas McDonald's can still be an exotic experience. From the seasonal "Prosperity Burger" available during Chinese New Year, to red bean and green lentil flavored sundaes, to chicken porridge, to burgers topped with mashed potato--you don't actually know what's being served in McDonald's restaurants around the world, so it can be fun to walk in and find out!

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Also, by the way, my hometown is widely considered the best place to eat in all of South East Asia, so I can get get plenty of fabulous, inexpensive food whenever I visit home--perhaps that skews my perspective about eating in unfamiliar places.

What about you? Have you ever gone for some familiar fast food when traveling outside of your home country, or are you a far braver person than I?

30 comments :

  1. Great post! The local food all looks very exciting. I do tend to go to McDonald's or similar places whilst abroad as I am not hugely adventurous with what I eat and it is always affordable. I do try to sample some local food though - mostly in the form of cakes. :)
    theemeralddove21.blogspot.co.uk

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  2. I love visiting "American" chains like McDonalds or Starbucks in other countries! You are right, there is something oddly enticing about it. Often they do things a little (or a lot!) differently, so it can be interesting to experience it.

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  3. I haven't eaten in a McDonalds in ....10 years? Maybe longer. I've disliked their food for about 20 years now. I ate there when I was a kid. Mostly the fish sandwich. My husband however quite likes their food, so when I lived in France with him he liked to go there. I would have been much happier at the local bistro or bakery.

    That is awful about those food scares and problems. Just horrible.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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  4. I can see that. t's familiar, and sometimes a girl just needs cheap, familiar food. haha.

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  5. A friend of mine who had done a bit of travelling always makes a point to visit McDonald's in whatever country he's in because it's a comparable experience and a good conversation starter. I wouldn't want to spend my entire vacation abroad eating fast food but I'd check it out for sure. Plus, I'm not very food adventurous and I'm always worried about eating something that will make me sick.

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  6. Hey, it's all about balance.. so I say go for it! It does sound like it's be fun to see what McDonald's are like in other countries too!

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  7. Haha I would never eat at a Mc Donald's either! I think they are so gross!
    Melanie @ meandmr.com

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  8. LOL I'm all about getting some Mc Donald's every now and then!
    xoxo
    Lee Anne
    http://www.lifeinatx.com/

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  9. Ahhhh Prosperity Burger-- hilarious!! I've actually never eaten at a McDonald's in Asia, but then again I've never been there for as long as you have. I can totally understand craving other foods-- I crave different cuisines whenever I've been traveling for a while.

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  10. Interesting! I can definitely see these as legitimate reasons why you occasionally eat at McD. I admit: when we're traveling (not out of the country, but just out of the state/town we live in) I really hate eating at "normal" places. When I visited Chicago in March, we ate at Steak 'n' Shake, and I was like, "this sucks because there's one close to my house!" Granted, it was really late and not much else was open, but still. In general, I do prefer to be adventurous, and for us eating good food on vacation is half the fun. That said, I totally know the feeling of just wanting something semi-familiar.

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  11. There's absolutely nothing wrong with eating at familiar places while abroad! =) I've never been out of the country, but I know I'd do the same thing.

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  12. HA! This is awesome! My mom kept taking photos of every McDonalds we saw when we went to Europe a few years ago. My students also say that it is different in every country.

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  13. #3 is so true! My husband spent 18 months in South Korea, and while the food there IS delicious, he was so happy when back home on leave to go visit a Chipotle. When I visited him in S. Korea, I was definitely just ready for a normal, American hamburger after two weeks.

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  14. I've definitely eaten fast food overseas before! No shame, it tastes good no matter where you eat it :)

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  15. You don't have to justify why you eat at McDonalds. Most of us go for the convenience and when traveling often times its a more budget friendly option — especially when you have a family. Also, if your stomach is not used to certain foods or spices it can get tricky!

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  16. I have also eaten at a McDonald's while in a few different countries but never eat it in the US. I don't get if for my kids in the US but have in other countries or airports. I never really thought about it until now. Good post! xx

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  17. I will openly admit that I enjoy eating McDonalds here. When I first moved here, I would go more than once a week (that's a little overboard, I'll admit), but I still enjoy it because it's a taste of home!

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  18. Yes indeed for #4! The fast food places in Asian countries tend to have really cool menu items that you can't find in the U.S.! :O I usually steer clear of fast food restaurants when I'm in the U.S., but when I'm out and about in Asia, I do visit them sometimes. :] I love the street food in Hong Kong, but there are times where my stomach really just can't take it! :P

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  19. I say - Enjoy! My first trip to Europe - when I was 25 or so, my husband and I vowed to only try the local cuisine. We were in Switzerland so the choices were not super scary. However, the day we ate at a small, cafe in someone's home (!) and I was served cold smoked salmon and my husband cold chicken curry (things we had never tried and weren't expecting to be cold) well, our friend's hamburger never looked so good! We try to only eat locally when we travel and about the only time we do McD's is on driving trips in the US. That way even McD's becomes a treat!

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  20. I love that you wrote a post about this. I love experiencing local food, but I love to have something familiar once in awhile and we DO visit McDonalds. What can I say, my expat American kids still love it! Well, if I'm honest I do from time to time too! ;)

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  21. So agree with all of these points. Sometimes I ate McDonalds in China because it was cheap and easy - I mean, they have McDonalds delivery, how crazy is that? And I did in Japan when I didn't feel like searching for a restaurant and trying something new that I might not like. Ironically, McDonalds in Japan is pretty good.

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  22. I don't eat at McDonald's at all anymore, but their foreign offerings are fascinating to me. My friend is on the World Race missions trip right now and tries to grab a menu or photograph one for me in every country.

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  23. ahhhh i recognized those durians on your feature post and EW. we definitely ate mcdonald's for one of our meals while we were visiting china (as well as russia) because you're right that it's also a different experience. our burgers came on ciabatta buns in russia and in china we got a taro root pie!

    agreed on sticking to the safer and often less expensive options!

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  24. We're actually taking our first trip abroad to Tokyo this fall, and we actually can't wait to try American chains! It'll be interesting to see what's on the menu and what the interpretation of American food is. Obviously, there are so many Japanese foods that we can't wait to try, but we'll be sure to stop by a Pizza Hut or something to get hot dogs in our crust (!). Thanks for the fun post!

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  25. Wow! Some of these foods look amazing! But I totally understand the McDonalds break!

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  26. Haha girl I was giggling throughout your entire post - love it. I craved McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, and even KFC when I was living in Europe. Me. Craving KFC. True story. There was something about the creature comforts of home that drew me to those places. Like a little smidgen of normalcy in a new place. Kinda sucks the American smidgen of normalcy is McDonalds for me, as opposed to something more culturally exciting, but hey what can I say. I missed Target and WalMart too.

    Did you notice any difference in the food quality? I don't mean to sound insane, but when I ate McDonalds in Paris I swear it was the best, freshest, most delicious McDonalds I'd ever eaten. But maybe that was my mind playing tricks on me because I was in PARIS. I also ate McDonalds in Luxembourg - totally different experience than any McDonalds trip I've had in the US. So weird, enticing, and terrible all at the same time!! haha

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  27. Love this Rachel! Sometimes while abroad it can be nice to have food that just tastes like home. And you are right, McDonald's in different countries can be so different so that can be an experience as well!

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  28. That's pretty insane about the quality of food over there- I'll be sure to keep that in mind should I ever be in China. Lol It's good that you're moving back to your hometown where the food is not only inexpensive and trustworthy but delicious. :) Can't wait to hear all about it and see photos! I love food! ;) Take Care Rachel! -Iva

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  29. While there weren't McDonald's in Rwanda, there were some restaurants we went to that I wondered if they were safe. Luckily, we had a Rwandan with us most of the time to let us know where we need to stay away from but even still, our stomachs are very different especially since we were only there two weeks.

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  30. I totally ate McDonald's in France. It's 100x better than in the States. The honey mustard for the nuggets is possibly the best mustard I've ever eaten. Plus they have regular fries, which are fine, but they also have these AMAZING small potato wedges.

    Mostly my friends and I met up at MacDo on Sunday afternoon to nurse our hangovers after dancing and drinking in Paris until 5am. Considering almost everything in France is closed on Sundays, MacDo is a logical choice that day!

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