From junk status to a secret passion

For many French people, Jose Bove, the moustached militant who bears a striking resemblance to Asterix, the cartoon character, had the right attitude when it came to McDonald's.

A For many French people, Jose Bove, the moustached militant who bears a striking resemblance to Asterix, the cartoon character, had the right attitude when it came to McDonald's.

Monsieur Bove was the man who, both physically and verbally, attacked a restaurant in Millau, a market town in the south of France. He called it "mal-bouffe" or "junk food" and together with a band of activists on August 12, 1999 dismantled a restaurant that was only days from opening, loaded the rubble on to trucks and dumped it outside the mayor's office.

But for all the cries of support and praise for his bravado, France's dirty secret is that it loves to eat in McDonald's.

This is partly because there is a part of the national psyche that admires all things American, partly because it is cheap, but also because McDonald's in France has been very smart to localise its offerings.

"McDo", as the locals call it, is recognisably French, but also clean and efficient. They began offering free Wi-Fi before just about everybody else, so travelling salesmen would use McDos as a convenient place to update their laptops.

They serve good coffee too. Children like it because there are places to play but also free toys and gifts.

Millau is also famous for the Millau Viaduct, the fabulous, modern Norman Foster-designed bridge that spans the valley, boasting columns taller than the Eiffel Tower. For all of France's innate conservatism, it can spot a good deal when it sees it and has the ability to see where the future lies.

rwright@thenational.ae

Published: August 3, 2011 04:00 AM

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