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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Things I Learned in New York, Part 1

→ The kind of underwear I’ve been buying for years was discontinued. This meant a trip to Macy’s to find a new kind. “Intimate apparel,” a euphemism I loathe for how pervy it sounds, is located on one of the top floors, necessitating riding up the wooden escalators. I think I always forget these, the first of their kind in the world, exist so that I can be surprised every time I go up them. They’re worth a visit, if nothing else to make you take a moment and think, “Man, escalators used to be wooden and made horrible clacking sounds.”

→ Even though I might not need reminding, when taking the subway to Macy’s, I think of MIRACLE ON 34th STREET and get off at 34th (Herald Square).

Korea Way NYC→ Right by Macy’s: the best couple blocks in the whole of the continental US. 24-hour Korean food street. Every damn day of the year. Whenever you want it. It’s too upsetting if I think about it for long.

→ It is not advisable to eat four cheeseburgers in two weeks. This having been established, I will surely try for five next time.

→ There is no such thing as too much Korean though, as I ate it at least five times in the same time period. A favorite is MANDOO BAR  [site] because you can watch them make all the yummy mandoo [dumplings] in the window, it’s pretty fast and they serve super-cold drinks. Downside: their bathroom is not insulated.

→ Paragon Sports [site], a kind of snobby sporting goods store near Union Square, sells Wigwam brand wool socks. These are my favorite winter socks since they’re thick and warm and don’t fall down. Sadly, I’d already bought two pairs of wool socks from JCrew (they were on sale) and couldn’t justify getting more pairs, which is just as well since they wouldn’t have fit in my suitcase anyway. But now I know.

→ Cheerios that haven’t crossed oceans of time to find me taste noticeably fresher. Another point in the column of how unfair life is.

Unrelated, but everything about this is perfect (via)

NSA v NWA


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The Endorsement: Tekserve

119 W 23rd St. @ 6th

119 W 23rd St. @ 6th

The situation: You’ve got a Mac and Macs sometimes get problems. Occasionally, they’re serious problems, like when my computer decided to freak the hell out and destroy years’ of data and all my iTunes metadata and basically stop functioning. Other times, your Mac just runs slow or makes a loud noise when the fan is on. Sometimes, your Mac just wants to get kitted out in the latest fashions or check out what kind of upgrades it can get.

The solution: The best place to do all these things is an Apple-authorized store called Tekserve in Chelsea in Manhattan. Sure, you could go to the real Apple Store where no one will be able to help you for ages and you’ll be jostled by all the tourists and youngsters and people just milling about. It’ll be loud in there too and you’ll probably forget an important question you had and leave none the wiser.

At Tekserve, you get a number and you sit in a little area and you’re called up in a reasonable amount of time. (You can also drop off and they’ll get in touch with you later.) The person who helps you will know just about everything you could care to ask. They will address your issue(s), give you options if serious work needs to be done and make sure you’re okay about every step of the process. They understand that you live on your computer now, that all of your life is there and they treat it, and you, with the care both of you deserve. And lots of times, they won’t even charge you.

And this can happen

I was there on a day ending in Y so I was wearing a purple coat, purple hat, purple glasses and was carrying a purple shopping bag. I’d stopped in to get my purple hardshell-protected laptop air-blasted ’cause it was making funky sounds. An employee walking behind the counter passed me, observed how insanely I was coordinated and said, “She knows what’s up.” I *do* know what’s up, but so does that guy.

The location can’t be beat

After servicing your computer, you can go to the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. Who doesn’t want to have a legitimate reason to eat a ShackBurger?

Go here. Do it!

Go here. Do it!


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All the cheeseburgers I ate in New York

The first one is my traditional first-meal-back Shake Shack Shackburger but I was so hungry, so tired and so excited to eat it (and the shallot-n-cheese covered hot dog) that the picture came out terrible.

2013 Shack Burger 1

The second was a fancier pub style burger at 67 Burger which was also covered in shallots.

2013 Burger 2

The third and fourth ones were also from the Shake Shack, all from different locations. Upper East Side was first, then the original and best spot, Madison Square Park, and finally the Upper West Side (the least good one).

A good cheeseburger is my favorite thing.

Learn how it’s done

It makes me sad that most non-Americans think that McDonald’s sells a “classic” burger. Even for a fast food chain, they don’t make good burgers (I prefer Burger King in that race) but there are many, many different kinds which you can read about here. Some of them are among the best things to eat in the world. I like griddle burgers — meat that’s seasoned and slapped on a hot flat-top, causing it to get a crusty sear on the outside and provide lots of nooks and crannies for cheese to melt into. Mmmm, melted cheese on meat.

Obligatory SNL link

C’mon! It’s a classic! For a historical note, the cheeseburger bit was inspired by Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern. When I was stationed in that city for three months, I worked near the location said to be favored by John Belushi.