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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Not in a pickle

Boar's Head pepperoni sandwichOne of the few items that made it into my bag on the way back from the US was this little pack of Boar’s Head pepperoni. As I was back in France, I had to class it up a bit, so I lightly spread butter on some good bread layered with cornichons and it was spectacular. Pickles are too big for me to enjoy, but a cornichon is a wonderous creation.

Learn something

Boar's head logoBoar’s Head meats are the best you can get in the US [site]. The company’s been around for almost 100 years and they somehow cure, roast and smoke the most incredible stuff. They also make cheese that’s equally delicious. If you’re ever looking for a good deli, check to see if they have the company’s logo in their window.

Learn something else

Pepperoni is an entirely American salami. (I’ve mentioned this before.) Snobs will tell you that since it’s not Italian, it’s a) not good or b) shouldn’t be on a pizza. As usual, snobs are wrong. Among the sausage’s many attributes are its consistency (no globs of fat), its slight spice and its perpetual eatability. I love other sausages too, but I would never be able to eat a quarter pound of, say, spicy soppressata in one sitting but I could totally do that with some ‘roni. This last thing is also part of what makes it American.

Be amused by something

Even though the appearance of the artisanal pickle was one of the early signs of the current Hipster-pocalypse, it can still be the source of comedy. Last year, “The New Yorker” published a four-part story by Simon Rich called Sell Out which is really funny and a clever indictment of everything that I think is wrong with America today. (Conversely, if you love what’s happening in the culture, you will also find your beliefs vindicated.) The story is *not* behind a paywall, so you can read it and then decree that everything “Is fine” in a knowing manner. [ETA: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.]

Last thing

“To be in a pickle” is a phrase that means “to be in a messy or difficult situation.” I imagine that being in a vat filled with vinegar and salt would be both of those things.


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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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Not on my watch

Lego, design, fun. I’m all about these things.

I’ve mentioned stuff that’s against my religion before, so I thought I should clarify exactly what I believe in. The basic tenets of my religion are practicality and efficiency. Also highly praised: a clean design aesthetic.

 

 

 

Some Things Which Are Against My Religion

Umbrellas
Sofa beds
Shutters
Round tables
Small dogs
Rubber bands
Coconuts
Slice toasters
Babies
Snobs
Brass, gold, bronze or copper hardware
Decorative pillows anything
Animal prints
3/4-length sleeves
Bath mats

What do you have a grudge against?