Wednesday, October 1, 2008

like a long lost friend

When I was an art teacher, I taught high school, and I loved it. I really liked working with teenagers figuring out who they wanted to be. I felt like I had some influence with them, and I could talk with them about their interests. I was also lucky enough to chaperone a trip to Spain, then lead my own to Italy one year, and London/Paris the following.

I loved traveling. It was all I wanted to do growing up in a small town. I wanted to see the world. When I studied art in college, my textbooks were filled with artworks, cathedrals, museums, sculptures, etc, that were all somewhere else. America is so young, and Europe is full of history everywhere you go. Sit on a park bench, someone famous probably sat there.

Anyway, when I got the chance to go...I packed light on clothes and heavy on film and I went. Sure, it was a guided tour, but I think Europe with a tour guide is good. With a translator is even better. I saw so many places and things that were in my textbooks. Sometimes I broke down in tears when standing somewhere that I had only seen in books. I was so touched. In Rome, I wandered in awe around the coliseum, where Christians were fed to the lions. How often can you walk in footprints that are thousands of years old? Not on this continent.

The last trip I took culminated in Paris. Such a pretty city with a really snotty attitude. I think the French countryside is gorgeous and the people are warm. I visited Versailles, the famous Monet gardens and bridge and walked the Louvre. Stood in front of and under this:

Don't know why I thought you couldn't walk underneath it. Seems silly now, but I guess I thought that would be off limits. It's not. Just so you know. And it is painted a chocolate brown. Didn't really think about that, either. I thought it was just faded black, but it is brown.

But interestingly enough, there was always one sight that warmed my heart and beckoned me closer. The bright lights, the tantalizing smell, the familiar menu. Ahhhh, McDonald's.

I hang my head in shame. I know. Travel that many miles and eat at a McDonald's? Seems really like an insult to the French people, the Italian people, the Greek people, the British people! But let me tell you, you will be so happy to see those Golden Arches if you ever travel abroad.


Let me explain.

Our tour included breakfast and dinner in the cost, so those meals were preplanned and not always so scrumptious. In fact, often they were repititous. And sometimes strangely foreign. Now I like to try new things, but I would like to choose them, not just have them set in front of me. So for two weeks our stomachs experienced some upheaval as we adjusted to food that we weren't used to eating.

But at lunch, if we were in a big city, sometimes we were able to find a McDonald's and it was so exciting. I remember in Rome, we walked down this street with some fantastically expensive shops, a bookstore and a Prada. Then, the McDonald's. It was like seeing the American flag waving and welcoming me home.

Double cheeseburger, no pickle, fries and a Sprite.


Isn't it funny that such a small thing can help us adjust and feel normal? I love to travel, but there are times when I am tired of absorbing the newness around me and just want something familiar. A security blanket of Americana, if you will.

And, I may apologize to the British, and the Greeks and the Italians for skipping the local fare and eating under the arches, but I won't apologize to the snooty French.

I think you know what the French can kiss. My derriere.


Sandy Toes said...

I have been to France. We ate at the restaurant on top of the Eiffel...they served Brie..thought it was cheesecake and almost died..I took a big bite of moldy, stinky cheese..still remember that!
McDonald's is great anywhere!
-Sandy toes

emily said...

There's a restaurant on the top of the brown Eiffel tower? I am amazed at all the things I learn everyday.

I harbor no judgment for your weakness for Ronald and his charming ways, my friend.

Frizzy and Bird said...

I have felt the exact same way while on my travels. I cheated and had McD's in London. Had Pizza Hut in Paris and in Bavaria. I even had Hard Rock Cafe and Rainforest Cafe in London on another trips. You can get too much of a good thing and yes the familiar makes all the difference in the world if only for a moment.

I took French in HS and never in my wildest dreams imagined I would some day see the Eiffel tour or the Louvre or the French Impressionists etc. etc. I cried when I saw the tower all lit up from the airplane window. Not a little cry but a sob of sheer joy and amazement. I have also felt that same pull toward history and those who walked in the same steps before my own.

I loved all of my travels in Europe but one. I'm not a big fan of Croatia. A creepy man kept following me around and seranading me while my husband was right there with me. The man even had the nerve to tell me how he wanted a woman who had curves like mine. He ruined the trip for me completely!

stefanie said...

Loved your thoughts.

Our kids watched SuperSize Me in health class in 7th grade and they were ruined for McDonalds forever. But I do love dipping their fries in a chocolate shake. Nearly a crying experience.

We were in Paris a few years ago and went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I was surprised by the gypsies and the warnings flashing in several languages to look out for pickpockets. People watching was tons of fun, so I didn't mind waiting forever. The view was awesome!

Esther said...

I laugh when you say that America is so young. Try Australia and only 200 years of (European) history. I used to bemoan our lack of history until I found some great books by Patricia Shaw which are all historical novels set in Australia in the pioneering age. I was very excited when I found one set in early Brisbane, where I used to live. They don't teach this sort of history in school. And I was bemoaning the other day that our kids don't even learn about our explorers anymore. It was something you could always count on...doing a project in Year 5 on Ludwig Leichart or Abel Tasman or Burke and Wills. All great and often sad stories and my kids wouldn't have a clue who they are.

I've never travelled overseas, but after reading those books I've fallen in love with our country and would prefer to see it's varied sights first.

Tara said...

I love to travel as well. I ate at a McD's in Germany. It just wasn't the same, but after touring Europe for 2 weeks, I was never so happy to be somewhere familiar!

Sarah said...

Girl, I lived in Europe for 3 years and traveled on the continent 4 times. Each time, those bright golden arches beckoned in a way like no other. The taste of's fun to order there in Spanish, or to see what each country does a little differently with their menus, but the bulk of it is the same.

My sister got her first taste of culture shock in McD's in London.Get her to tell her story- it's funny and sad at the same time. Imagine her, this little solitary, jet-lagged traveler opening her egg mcmuffin and realizing that it was not anything lik it is at home.

Lula! said...


I craved McD's and Burger King when I lived in Ireland during the summer of '97. We'd beg, "LOTS OF ICE!" everytime we ordered a Coke, too...or else we'd get lukewarm fizzies. Yuck! Irish food is much like British...not so great. It's amazing how delish McD's tastes when you're in a foreign country!

Caroline said...

There's nothing like a McDonald's when you've just flown into London on a Sunday morning at 7am and nothing is open except the golden arches. You betcha I dragged my jet-lagged a$$ in there (referring to my sister's comment). We are creatures of habit - except that McDonald's is not a habit for me here.

And when you eat at McDonald's overseas (particularly in the UK), there are no biscuits as we know them. Oh no, a biscuit would actually be what we know as a cookie. You get a hard as rock english muffin. Blech. It was crap. At least they have Starbucks.