Friday, February 5, 2010

McDonalds... reflection of American society?

During our class discussion of Caldwell’s Domesticating the French Fry: McDonald’s and Consumerism in Moscow, I started to notice a trend in the comments that each student was making:

McDonald’s was ingenious to understand the Russian culture and alter its restaurants to be profitable in Russia. Russians consider McDonalds to be a local restaurant. The people of Moscow really believe that McDonalds is contributing to their idea of nash…

All of these comments began to resonate in my mind as I came to a startling revelation. McDonalds is an experienced global corporation and has had such success in creating markets in foreign countries based on incredible amounts of research and data collection on what the people of each particular country will support. They know what they are doing when it comes to marketing: giving the people of each culture what they are comfortable with in terms of food, social atmosphere and community involvement.

For example, Caldwell discusses many situations where McDonalds adapted their business prototype to accommodate the needs of the Russians. The Russians place strong value on the idea of nash, “giving priority to domestically produced goods (Caldwell, 181)”. McDonalds responded to this by heavily advertising that their ingredients were from the soil of Russian farms. Muscovites also placed strong value on community in their city and in order to make a good impression on the Moscow community McDonalds did their best to sponsor philanthropic events for the community and their events were met with warm response. McDonalds completely redefined themselves to the Russian market. When one couple from Russian went to a McDonalds in American they were surprised by the different and worse taste of the food.

Even more important than the difference in the quality and taste of the food in the different countries was the difference in the social dynamic of McDonalds in Russia and McDonalds in America. The American McDonalds is cold and austere and its customers sit there for only as long as it takes for their meal to be completed. The stark contrast between this environment and the home- like environment in Russian McDonalds is astonishing. McDonalds is like the neighborhood cafeteria in Moscow, many people bring their food there to eat and McDonalds has no problem with people just coming in to sit down even if they are not buying anything when they enter. It’s hard to fathom such a welcoming atmosphere in American McDonalds.

As I was thinking about how accurately the McDonalds in Russian reflected the cultural values of the people it came to me that McDonalds is a smart corporation that adapts their marketing strategy to the customer market they are targeting. So does that mean that American society is really the way that McDonalds is depicting it? A society where eating is just a process, where socializing is not accepted and where we do not care about the quality of the food we are eating so long as we can get it fast and cheap. Many people in American blame McDonalds for their unhealthy foods on the menu but McDonalds is only giving us what they can get away with. So many Americans blame McDonalds for the transition of our cultural values from a society where family and friends sat down for every meal together and had conversations to a society where meals were just interruptions to our daily schedules. However, could it just be that McDonalds is merely reflecting what is important to Americans? Cheap and convenient food where there is no need for conversation or interaction with others.

Caldwell, Melissa L. Domesticating the French Fry: McDonald's and Consumerism in Moscow. M. L. Caldwell and J. L. Watson. The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating, A Reader. (pp. 180-192). Blackwell Publishing.


  1. In some of the articles I was reading for my blog post I discovered that McDonald's in Russia HAD to use food from local farms to cut costs from importing. There was also the taste issue, but if you read in some of the sites for my blog - you'll see that the Russian McDonald's went from 80% importing to only 20% importing.

  2. Very insightful post. It really shows how cross-national comparisons can help to reveal things about a society that would be hard to notice otherwise. You wrote: "could it just be that McDonalds is merely reflecting what is important to Americans?" I would love to know what others think about this.