Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published July 9th 2012
If 'Coca-Cola' is the most recognised word in the world, then McDonald's golden arches would have to be the most recognized symbol. There are McDonald's restaurants in one hundred and nineteen countries, and economist Thomas Friedman once famously said that no country with a McDonald's has ever gone to war with one another.
The hope of world peace rests on these mighty arches.
He was wrong, of course – take the US invasion of Panama, or the 2006 Lebanon War – but McDonald's has nonetheless gained a certain currency among capitalist, free-market types. Even in liberal Melbourne, where 'capitalism' is a dirty word, street corners throughout the CBD blossom with fibreglass-fronted, golden-arched fast food restaurants. Are they worth going to? Does any individual McDonald's restaurant manage to distinguish itself from the others? Why not take a tour and see for yourself, starting with:
The Victoria Market McDonald's
There's something terribly brazen about setting up a fast-food restaurant next to a local café. It's David against Goliath, authentic food versus corporate-approved product. You have to wonder, then, what went through the mind of the person who built a McDonald's next to the food-court area of Victoria Market. Just across the road is a constellation of stalls: fresh-baked bread, yiros, cheeses, bratwurst, fruit shakes, salads, and pizza. And yet the McDonalds fills up each lunchtime with people, chowing down on the same meals from the same menu. Is it the attraction of familiarity, of not having to make a choice? Is it a greasy, once-a-day indulgence? Or is eating at this McDonald's an act of jingoistic rebellion against the cultural diversity of Victoria Market? The answer must vary from person to person. In any case, the daily crowd of customers says something depressing about human nature.
The Swanston St McDonald's
At the other end of the spectrum, this McDonald's sits within its element. It's located on the boozy end of Swanston St, neighbouring a Hungry Jacks and a KFC, directly opposite St Paul's Cathedral. Like the cathedral, it draws the outsiders, the down-and-out, those skulking at the edges of the campfire of civilization. Late at night, everybody here shows signs of damage: the smell of week-old sweat, nervous tremors, hunched shoulders and a hunted expression. There's an unofficial code of privacy, and only the most naïve or the most drug-addled dare to make eye-contact with other customers. The décor is as oppressive as any casino or hospital, relentlessly homogeneous, the same light level and temperature regardless of the conditions outside. In the eyes of people who have lost the thread of time, you can see the future of humanity: picking over a greasy box of chips and a half-drunk Coke, forever.
So far we've looked at sit-down McDonald's: the restaurants that draw people in for lunch or dinner. What about pass-through McDonald's, which target hurried workers looking to grab a burger to eat while they walk? The undisputed king of the pass-through McDonald's is the one in Melbourne Central, right next to the train turnstiles. Thousands and thousands of people commute past it every day. It's here that we see the true dominance of McDonald's over Melbourne – in the businessmen spilling mustard on their suit jackets, in the students eating chips one-handed on the tram, in the crumpled paper bags that drift like leaves over the station platforms. You don't have to go far to experience McDonald's culture in Melbourne. Stay where you are. It's coming to you.