Saturday, January 18, 2014

An UnHappy Meal

I’ve mentioned before that Botswana doesn’t have much of a restaurant culture.  The few restaurants here are limited to fast food type places like Chicken Licken and a diner called Wimpy’s.  Really, the lack of variety here is not much of a problem for me since I prefer to cook at home.  After all, one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to try a new recipe each week.  However, when I travel I am often relegated to eating out.

When I was in South Africa last week I not only ate out, I ate at a fast food outlet.  You may have heard of it.  It was called McDonald’s.  McDonald’s and I have a bit of a history. A kind of love-hate relationship.

A couple of years ago I dated this guy who travelled overseas a lot.  I frequently went with him.  On our third date we went to Paris.  When we arrived he was particularly pleased to find a McDonald’s right across the street from our hotel.  I couldn’t believe it.  This highly cultured man liked McDonald’s!?!  He told me whenever he travelled abroad he would always visit a McDonald’s at least once.  I made fun of him so badly during that trip he did not visit McDonald’s.  At least, to the best of my knowledge he didn’t.  He may have snuck in there for some fries one morning when he went on a hunt for coffee, but if he did he never fessed up to it.

On another trip overseas we went to India.  This was where my anti-McDonald’s theory was put to the test.  I got sick about a week before our trip, but I didn’t want to cancel or postpone it.  The illness I had continued to linger throughout the three week trip, some days being significantly worse than others.  About a week and a half in I was in pretty bad shape.  I hadn’t been feeling well and was unable to stomach the food at our hotel, so I had barely eaten in two days.  This started to take a toll when we were on a tour one afternoon because I was just so weak.  My boyfriend was noticeably stressed about this situation and after consulting with the tour guide, who was unable to suggest an easy non-Indian restaurant option, my boyfriend suggested we go to McDonald’s.  “I know you don’t like McDonald’s, especially when we are overseas, but at least we know what they have and you should be able to get something that you can actually eat.”  I agreed.  We went to McDonald’s and ordered one of every item on the menu, complete with the Chicken Maharaja Mac, a McVeggie and a LambBurger.  It ended up being one of the most memorable meals of my life:
Now when I travel overseas, if the opportunity presents itself I visit a McDonald’s.  I consider it a kind of tribute.  So, when I was in South Africa last week I visited McDonald’s. Twice actually.  The first time I visited I thought I was going to die.  I had early morning meetings at Vaal University and didn’t have any time to eat breakfast beforehand.  By the time I finally left campus it was 2pm and I was ready to start chewing my fingers I was so hungry.  The first sign I saw driving out of campus was for a McDonald’s.  I figured this was my opportunity. I got a burger and fries kid’s meal.  I ate about four bites of the burger and half the fries before I threw it all in the trash.  About 30 minutes into my one hour drive back to my hotel I had to pull into a gas station I was so sick.

I spoke to a friend that evening and decided I could get a bad McDonald’s meal anywhere.  Perhaps this was just a fluke.  So the next day I went to the McDonald’s two blocks from my hotel.  There was actually a distinct reason for doing this: I wanted to test out the drive-thru.  Since the steering wheel is on the right and we drive on the left here I wanted to see if this impacted drive-thrus.  Answer: No significant difference (I hope all you professors and grad students out there laughed at my academic humor just now).

The drive-thru McDonald’s meal was as underwhelming as the previous one.  But at least I didn’t feel sick afterward which was particularly good as I stopped at the drive-thru on the way to the airport.  And we all know what happened at the airport.

But, at least now I have experienced McDonald’s in Africa.  One of my neighbors here went to McDonald’s in South Africa several months ago.  He highly recommended the ice cream.  Perhaps if I am feeling adventurous on my next trip to SA I will shoot for “third time’s the charm.”

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