I love the McDonald’s near my campus, Old Dominion University. What I like the most there is its ambiance: two-story high ceilings; glass walls from ceiling to floor, providing ample light and panoramic views; clean and quiet.
There are not many customers who sit there to enjoin this; most grab lunch and go. The magnificent dining area is obviously underutilized. Whenever I come here, I can’t help wondering how lucky we are in the U.S. and how many do not realize that. In the rest of the world, especially in countries where population density is high and real estate is expensive, people would die for a seat at a dining place like this with a million-dollar view.
This is why I come here for lunch from time to time, either alone or with colleagues. Admittedly, most of my lunch buddies at my university frown at me for eating food from MacDonald’s. So, over the years, I have successfully dragged only two colleagues to come here to eat with me.
McDonald’s is frequently blamed for making Americans obese. It is true that fast food is often high in calories, fats, sugar, and sodium. Frequent consumption of fast food can lead to health problems such as obesity and diabetes.
What the mass media tend to overlook — or intentionally ignore — is that consuming fast food in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet is unlikely to cause significant weight gain or health problems for most individuals. Moreover, McDonald’s offers a range of menu items, including salads, grilled chicken sandwiches, and other options that can be part of a healthy and balanced diet. Most importantly, individuals are ultimately responsible for their own dietary choices and should be mindful of their food intake and overall lifestyle habits.
Another important fact that the mass media rarely mention is that MacDonald’s has played an instrumental role in spreading the positive effects of American culture throughout the world.
MacDonald’s is now viewed by followers of Putin and the Chinese Communist Party as enemies.
When McDonald’s first opened its stores in Hong Kong in 1975, it had to teach people to wait in line. At the time, Hong Kong did not have a strong culture of waiting in line, and people were used to pushing and shoving to get what they wanted. To help with this, McDonald’s trained its staff to be patient and polite and installed ropes and stanchions to guide customers to form a line. McDonald’s introduced the concept of queuing and waiting patiently in line to order food, which was a new experience for many Hong Kong residents. Over time, this new culture of queuing became more accepted in Hong Kong, and today, waiting in line for food is a common practice in the city.
McDonald’s in Hong Kong is open 24 hours a day and offers free Wi-Fi and a relatively safe and comfortable environment. As a result, some people stay in McDonald’s overnight due to the high prices of housing. Hong Kong is known for having one of the most expensive real-estate markets in the world, and many people, especially those who are low income or homeless, struggle to find affordable housing. McDonald’s provided a service to this need in Hong Kong, which the government and businesses failed to address.
When McDonald’s first opened in China in the 1990s, it faced a challenge: People there were accustomed to throwing trash on the floor and leaving the used trays and disposables on tables. To address this challenge, McDonald’s implemented a number of initiatives to educate Chinese customers about the self-service model and proper trash disposal. This included providing training and resources for staff to help customers navigate the ordering and payment process, as well as placing signage and instructions in restaurants to guide customers.
Over time, McDonald’s efforts to promote self-service and proper trash disposal have helped to normalize these practices among Chinese consumers, and other fast-food chains and restaurants have followed suit. Today, self-service kiosks and other technologies are commonly used in many types of retail and service industries in China, and proper trash disposal is increasingly seen as an important part of responsible citizenship and environmental stewardship.
For many Chinese, eating at McDonald’s is seen as a way to experience and participate in American culture. Chinese middle-class families put “eating at MacDonald’s” on their bucket list, along with “going to an American university.” Visiting McDonald’s, especially when it first opened, is a special occasion that is associated with celebrations and holidays.
McDonald’s first opened in Russia in 1990, when the country was still under the shadow of communism. Smiling at a stranger was offensive, especially since there was nothing to be happy about. Furthermore, communism destroyed trust, and KGB and informants were everywhere; thus, displaying too much emotion or enthusiasm could be seen as suspicious or insincere.
When McDonald’s came, it had to tell its employees that smiling while serving customers was not an offense. This was because the service culture in Soviet-era Russia was quite different from what McDonald’s was accustomed to in the United States. In an economy of shortage, salespeople did not have to please the buyers.
This was a cultural norm that McDonald’s had to navigate when opening its first restaurants in Russia, and it took some effort to train employees to provide the friendly and engaging service that the company is known for.
One aspect of this training was to explain to employees that smiling while serving customers was not considered rude or inappropriate in the United States and was, in fact, an important part of providing good customer service. This was a novel concept for many Russians at the time, and McDonald’s played a key role in helping to introduce and normalize the idea of friendly and engaging service in the Russian market.
Now, with the aggression of Russia and the global expansion of China, MacDonald’s, which greatly contributed to nurturing a friendly culture and civil behavior in these societies, is viewed by followers of Putin and the Chinese Communist Party as enemies.
We should counter the rise of anti-Americanism and treasure what we have here.
Shaomin Li is professor of International Business at Old Dominion University and author of The Rise of China, Inc.: How the Chinese Communist Party Transformed China into a Giant Corporation.
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