Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


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Burger King came to Paris

The hottest eating establishment in Paris for the past few months has been an unlikely one: the Burger King in the Saint-Lazare train station. The American chain pulled out of France in 1997 after the competition, McDonald’s and the Belgian QuickBurger, proved too tough, but they finally came back in December of last year.

The first time I tried to go, I honestly could not comprehend what I was looking at. There was a huge line — over a hundred people long — outside the main doors. A glance inside revealed a more compressed line with more people all crowding the ordering area. I decided to come back another day.

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Second attempt, same story. I still couldn’t figure out what was going on. If the people had all been expats, I might have understood (recall the madness of Chipotle‘s opening), but these were definitely French people, most of them young, urban types. And they were waiting ages to get into a Burger King. In Paris.

When I got home, I did some research. One blogger reported that the wait to order was 90 minutes. At Burger King. In Paris. She listed many problems with the layout and conception of the space which I hadn’t been able to see since I had been so freaked out by the sight of so many people waiting to go in a Burger King. In Paris.

She very intelligently noted that since most of these people had never been to a BK before, they didn’t know what to order, but you couldn’t actually see the menus until you were at the spot from which to order. Additionally, the menu was mounted near the ceiling but if you were standing in front of the part with the salads, you couldn’t read the one with the burgers or sides or desserts. A total fail, design-wise. Also, people seemed to enjoy just hanging out in the space instead of allowing their tables to be occupied by the newly be-Whoppered.

I decided that the third time would be the charm and can report that the maxim that 3 is the magic number held true. By this time, a couple months after opening, the people behind the operation had gotten wiser, installing an additional eating area out in the concourse, as well as a cordoned-off waiting line. There were also security / bouncer types (at Burger King. In Paris.) who waited until people had left before letting in new groups of 10-15 people.

I went mid-afternoon and was in the outside line for less than 5 minutes. I was behind three very smartly dressed French business types and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the hell they were doing there. I could have asked, but honestly, this whole thing was so weird to me that I felt like I was in some kind of parallel universe / daydream state.

Once inside, the crush of people was overwhelming. Everyone was taking photos of the space and selfies and texting their friends that they were actually in the Burger King.

I took a pic too but it was for journalistic reasons!

I took a pic too but it was for journalistic reasons!

Finally at the counter, I ordered what I’d been getting at Burger King since I was a kid: a Whopper Jr. with cheese combo. Since I’d made “a special order” I was asked to wait. (Apparently having it my way isn’t part of the French way.) There was no space to the side so I was squeezed between two scrums of people placing orders. The experience was unpleasant.

When I got my tray of food, I hightailed it out to the concourse because it was super loud inside the BK proper. My first reaction was that the fries looked like they were cut too thick. The first bite proved me right. Not good. The burger looked all right and I eagerly bit in. The bread tasted like it had been frozen and treated with some kind of chemical. I still can’t figure out what it reminded me of, but it was also not good. It had a weird undertaste, like when you bite a piece of tin foil.

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Food snobs at this point are probably thinking something like, “What do you expect it to taste like? Burger King is all processed and chemical! If you want something good, eat in a real restaurant!” To those people, as usual, I say, “Shut up.” I went to BK expecting to get BK and I got a much lesser product. My little expat heart had been craving a very specific taste for weeks, one that I’ve eaten hundreds of times before. I wanted to have that same experience, to travel through time to the favorite BK of my youth, to the one my boyfriend and I used to go to, to the one in Kenmore Square in Boston, to the one in DC where I’d go when I was hungover. I wanted that and instead I got something that looked like all the other Whopper Jrs. I’d eaten but didn’t taste like one at all.

the noidVerdict: Don’t go to the Burger King in France. If you are in Paris, take advantage of being in Paris and eat good food. If you’re homesick, go to McDonald’s — the meat is actually better than in the US — and the fries are just like you remember them.

Would you like to know more?

  • Sortir À Paris had an avant-première.
  • A great photo accompanies a report about the immediate success of BK.
  • The free Métro paper, 20 minutes, has a video.
  • An interview with a social anthropologist who studies consumer behavior on BK in France.
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Inside a Spaniard’s mind

Warning: generally speaking, you don’t want to be aware of the inner workings of a Spanish person’s mind because that shit will corrupt you and make you into a bad person. (I’ve mentioned before that they’re assholes, but as a populace, they’re also criminal.)

And yet, it can be instructive, illuminating and interesting to glimpse what the hell is going on in there. One of the most intriguing things I’ve read in a long time is this story about the leaked phonetically written speech given by the mayor of Madrid. I read the transliteration first, keeping in mind the Spanish rules of pronunciation and accessing my memories of how they e-speak the Inglish, and it took me right back to a place I never wanted to be again. But it was still fascinating.

how do you esay?

On a related note, my own mother is always complaining about how poorly [enter name of prominent Spanish person, especially a politician] speaks English and I always have to ask her what damn country she’s been living in for most of her life as Spaniards are habitually among the WORST English speakers in all of Europe.

Another terrifying look into the Spanish mind comes courtesy of a court ruling which was apparently inspired by that one episode of HAPPY DAYS where Potsie and Mouth are living together and get in a fight. Their solution, prompted by advice from Richie, is to draw a line down the apartment so that they don’t have to deal with each other anymore. Well, a judge in Sevilla has ordered a couple to do basically the same thing since they claim they’re too broke to actually file for divorce. (The weirdest thing about this story is that it happened in Sevilla, was reported from Paris and quotes a Catalan lawyer. Something very fishy going on there, but I can’t figure out what.)

Just ’cause three is a magic number, here’s a little Vanity Fair profile about my king’s penchant for women who are not his wife and how his whole family is scandal-bait these days.