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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London Loot 2: It Came From Under the Thames!

A Cadbury sampler that looked like this recently made its way into my hands all the way from London.

Cadbury Snowman sampler

I was really excited because all of these chocolates have featured in at least one British story I’ve read, like The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole or the “Bridget Jones” books and I’ve always been mildly curious about what fictional characters fixate on. (General tip: Don’t read the most recent Bridget Jones — it’s dreadful.)

Anyway, with the exception of Easter-time Cadbury Creme Eggs, Cadbury hasn’t really made any impact on the US candy market and, after taking a bite of each of these things, I know why. America already has one crappy chocolate brand (Hershey’s) so they don’t need to import another one.

Crunchie: tastes like a Whopper (the malt ball, not the burger) but long instead of round. Decent but significantly loud.

Dairy Milk: very thin, totally boring regular milk chocolate bar. Comparable to Hershey’s in every (bad) way.

Caramel: the caramel itself was nice and appropriately gooey, but this Cadbury chocolate is just not worthy.

Crunchie: it certainly was. The chocolate surrounds a substance that looks like hard bath foam and tastes even less good.

Flake: this seems like a mistake invention like Teflon or Post-its. Unlike either of those two things, this needn’t exist.

Fudge: this almost gets a pass because I generally don’t like fudge.

Chocolate Buttons: nothing to recommend.

the noidIn conclusion: I don’t know what they’re all on about. Awarded this site’s lowest ranking, The Noid.


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Morry’s Bagels, Paris 11è

Morry's 4

Garlic powder does not a garlic bagel make.

The thing about bagels is that they’re not just comfort food. You can dress a bagel for just about any meal and be satisfied: for breakfast with a schmear of cream cheese or some peanut butter; slap some cold cuts and condiments on one for lunch; toast one up as a side for soup at dinner or serve some fancy eggs on them for any time of day.

The thing with bagels in Paris is that they’re not good. At least not so far, but Morry’s, located in the 11è near the Ledru-Rollin métro stop, is one of the worst.

According to a list I’ve slowly been working through, Morry’s is the oldest bagel place in town (over 30 years) as well as “one of the best” and I can only say that the people who compiled that list have never actually eaten a semi-decent bagel in their lives.

The biggest crime is that Morry’s puts its bagels in a panini press, making them soft, rubbery and hot, not crisp and warm as they should be. A person who appreciates bagels knows that they’re supposed to have some kind of bite and then yield to a softer, fluffy inside. Morry’s delivers products so moist, they’re almost wet-dough pucks which shouldn’t be eaten under any circumstance.

the noid

Morry’s Bagels

Address: 1 Rue de Charonne, 75011 Paris

Further reading

Bagel research the way it’s supposed to be done, in NYC by serious people.

Rating: this site’s lowest award, the Noid. Avoid at all costs.