by Ahmed Tharwat
I was born in a small quite unassuming village resting on the bank of Egyptian Nile delta. The narrow streets, the mud windless houses connected like a stalled old cargo train. People’s lifestyles hadn’t changed that much since the time of the pharaohs, and local demographers couldn’t find any dramatic census changes for a long time, around a 1000 with a slim margin of error.
Villagers lived the simple life of a farming community, and their interest in the outside world went only as far as the edge of their corn fields. At dawn, men left with their animals for work and came back at dusk, while their wives stayed home, busy preparing meals and raising kids to work in the farm as soon as they mastered their first step. Women seemed to consult with the same fashion designer, where their costumes were traditionally made. People went to the same mosque, celebrated the same holidays, and for generations, villagers kept the gene pool very much confined to singular gene pool!
People life was a simple one, rhymed with nature, everyone knows everyone else, the Village had one street, one barber shop, one grocery store, one school and one mosque and ate one kind of cheese; always feta, and always white. Egyptians look at cheese as a live food, and they don’t through their cheese away, when it gets old they just give it another name and eat, from Qareesh, Barameely, Creamy, and when it gets rotten they call it, “Mesh” (Yacky Cheese).
However, and before president Nasser, fell out of US favorer and became a dangerous man , our school used to get help in form of American cheese. Looking at American cheese for the first time threw me away to a different world, a world of wonders, that is flashy, glossy, distant and protected, American cheese was like an innocent virgin, covered by a colorful hymen. To village attitudes, rejecting your feta was like rejecting your identity. At the school, admiring the colorful American cheese. There is nothing like carefully peeling off the wrap of a piece of cheese.
Before CNN, Aljazeera and fbook, my first contact with America, was through their Cheese I treated it with reverence, with love and respect, wondering one day I’ll go to this place that called America and eat as much cheese as my stomach can handle. When I left Egypt for America, a supermarket visit was spent mostly admiring all these colorful cheese; red, yellow, green, brown, black, a bouquet of followers.
Then all has changed, on my first visit to McDonalds near my first job; an assembly plant in the Coma area by the University. Everyday a group of coworkers leave for lunch break, one day I tagged alone, as I approached the restaurant, which from outside, looked like an old cottage, nothing special, and McDonald golden Arch, didn’t occupy my childhood memories.
Once I walked inside McDonalds, the restaurant wasn’t a place like any other place. I have ever seen before. From someone who just came from a country where things are happening in disorderly and in everlasting chaos. McDonalds was a breath of fresh air, clean, well lit, uncomplicated and extremely organized.
At McDonalds everyone knows his/her role, and people don’t convers that much at McDonalds, they just eat and they do it fast. Customer point on the big pictorial menu on the wall, triggering and launching the most sophisticated food delivery system in the world, in lighting speed you get your order, according to Marketplace website; McDonalds make 37 burger each second, there are more than 37,000 McDonalds in the world you do the math. For an immigrant who didn’t speak much English, McDonalds is the place to be.
A democratic place, regardless of your socioeconomic status, you que like everyone else, you wait like everyone else, you order the same way like everyone else. Your ordered almost the same thing like everyone else; burgers. My, managers, supervisors were standing behind me patiently waiting for me to figure things out. McDonalds is as America as it can get. At McDonalds, people are free to be all they can be, childhood, carefree, nothing destructible at McDonalds, where you can be messy and eat with hands.
20 years ago, the New Your Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the merchant of capitalism and free markets, once came with a cheesy idea, “no two countries that both have McDonald have ever fought a war against each other since they each other got McDonalds.” If a country has a stomach for McDonald , they don’t have a stomach to fight anyone.
McDonald stands for peace and freedom, Mubarak accused young revolutionaries protesting in Tahrir Square for being a bunch of traitors who take drugs, have sex and eat McDonalds. same with Thai protesters, as Vox.com explained, “ The Protestors opposed to the coup had taken to rallying outside of a McDonald’s that happens to be centrally located in downtown Bangkok.
The association led to what marketers might call organic brand extension, with Thais using McDonalds’ arches on their Facebook pages and elsewhere as a symbol of their movement to end military rule and return to democracy. Often, the activists do this with images replacing the “M”” in democracy with the McDonald’s logo.”
May I help you… the young McDonald Staff voice interrupted my fascination and brought me back to consumerism.
Big Mac .. I reflectively repeated what the person before me had just ordered.
I paid and moved to the left to get my order… a few minutes later..
I looked at my order, I looked at my Big Mac sandwich, I looked at the crispy sesames on the buns, I was taken by the fresh onion, fresh tomato, and sizzling beef, then came the shocking ugly image that violated any gastronomy rules, something that destroyed my old reverence of American cheese, I saw what was a symbol of freedom and American exceptionalism; destroyed, McDonalds humiliated my colorful cheese, tortured its innocence, turned it to milted yellow shitty liquid that smothered my Big Mac to obscurity.
McDonald’s, finally and Like everything else I learned about America, just doesn’t leave well enough alone. The fresh apple water boarded by chocolate. The Watermelons, Olives, Oranges have no seeds, fish has no heads, my fresh salads are covered by strange dressing Hey America just, leave well enough alone.