Tuesday, August 19, 2003

American: Ugly as You Want to Be

Jet lag is well in place at this time. I knew taking an afternoon nap upon my day of arrival was bad news. Jet lag is one thing to battle, but I succumbed to a much greater temptation late at night on my first day in Germany. The temptation was being an Ugly American.

It all started out innocent enough. I was fully awake at 10:00PM at night and bored silly. I decided to take a walk through the platz (neighborhood square). I encountered a beautiful illuminated fountain in the center of the platz with three levels of bubbling water cascading down. I stood and looked at this relaxing site transfixed on the thought that this must be so "European", to be taking an evening stroll and pondering my thoughts at the side of a beautiful fountain. Then it struck me as hard as one has to hit the break peddle on HWY 26 during morning, evening, afternoon, mid-morning, early-afternoon, mid-day, well anytime driving on HWY 26. Just pass the shimmering glow of the fountain, I saw a magical site that transfixed my eyes. What possibly could snap me out of this European wonder-moment I was experiencing, but the image of the Golden Arches.

My mind was initially disgusted. I had sworn off Mickey D's for this trip and felt confident that I could resist. I was better than that I thought. But as an American in a strange new land, one feels a certain comfort that is involved when seeing a little piece of home. It has nothing to do with the caloric value, the taste, or that stupid clown; but more so to do with security, warmth, and that ever-present American pension for convenience. Here it was, 10:30PM, and all of Munich was seemingly locked up tight as a button. You couldn't find a place that would accept your money this time of night. Ah, but the Capitalistic American Pigs new a good business proposition when they saw one.

I walked in through the door to find the place swarming with German teenagers and twenty-somethings. The kitchen was a buzz as fresh fries hit the hot oil. I could literally close my eyes and the smells were exactly the same as any other McDonalds. I sheepishly approached the counter and ordered "Ein Big Mac". You can all see that my 8 lessons of German before I left were really paying off. To my delight, as a marketing flunky, the friendly counterperson asked if he could get me a Coke with that. Ah yes, the "up-sell". It was poetry to my ears. A universal truth in marketing, but one that caused me pause considering I was in another country. I politely declined the offer and quickly received my trophy: a simmering hot Big Mac.

Feeling the shame of violating my personal pact to not eat at McDonalds after only being on German soil for about 8 hours, I headed out the door, Big Mac in tow, to see how I might "European-ize" the experience. I decided to head back to the glorious fountain that had first caught my imagination before I was spellbound by those angelic arches. I sat on a bench that was placed amongst other benches in a circle around the fountain. I looked around and saw people having nice conversations and sharing laughs and even kisses. On my bench, it was just me and my love at the moment. I chomped away and enjoyed the view and sounds of the water. My guilt of being another Ugly American infatuated with speed, convenience, preservative-infused foods, and commercialized ways melted away as nicely as the fresh cheese had done on my "all beef patty special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun". It was sweet bliss knowing that I was blending together elements of both sides of the pond to enjoy a quiet and comfortable moment to myself. There will be plenty of days for bratwurst & sauerkraut I thought. Just not tonight.


At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The McDonald's story is hilarious. I, too, gave in and went there in Munich. It wasn't quite the same as in the U.S., I thought. Was the Big Mac the same?


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