Burger King opened its first location in Paris last month — inside the super-busy Gare Saint Lazare train station that’s a major hub for commuter rail in the region. And when the fast foodery opened a day ahead of schedule, Twitter went berserk and there were literally lines of hundreds of French customers eager to taste their first Whoppers.
I just don’t know what to say.
Fast food is rapidly taking over in Paris, where there’s a McDonalds (they call it McDo’s), a Subway or a Starbucks on seemingly every corner. (They really, really love Subway in Paris; it’s the U.S. fast food franchise that has the most locations in France.) Maybe it’s because today’s modern Parisian just doesn’t have the time to sit down to a 2-hour lunch at a typical bistro or brassierie, so they grab a burger to go. Or perhaps in these tough economic times, fewer Parisians are able to pay for a more expensive sit-down cafe meal. Or it could be that the French are just clamoring to Americanize themselves as much as possible.
But whatever the reason may be, each visit I’ve made to the city has revealed more and more young Parisians scarfing down American fast food. (Usually while glued to their iPhones.) For every person under age 25 I’ve seen in a cafe or bistro, I’ve seen at least 100 others carting their to-go bags from a fast-food joint. During my last visit to the city in November-December 2012, I was shocked to see a Starbucks with a line nearly out its door literally next door to a cozy cafe that was 90% empty — even though the ‘Bucks drinks were three or four times the price of a basic coffee at the cafe. There wasn’t even patio seating at the Starbucks (Parisians normally love, love, love to sip coffee and people watch), but that didn’t matter. The place was packed.
I recently read that Parisian political and business leaders rose up to stop McDonalds from opening a franchise on the quintessentially Parisian shopping street Rue Montorgeuil. And it pleased me to no end that someone — anyone — in Paris was doing something to stop the fast foodization of the City of Light.
But hearing of the clamor for the newly available Whoppers and the evidence I’ve seen with my own eyes, I fear the battle has already been lost. And that makes my heart sink.