Is there anything more French than a baguette, slathered with salty butter and a thin slice of ham? Probably not, other than perhaps the other quintessentially French sandwich, the Croque Monsieur, a grilled variety of ham, Béchamel sauce, and melted Emmental or Gruyere between slices of bread.
The statistics are “stunning,” Bernard Boutboul, the director general of the restaurant marketing firm Gira Conseil, told the French daily. In 2000, only one of every nine sandwiches sold here was a burger. That crept up to one of seven by 2007. And now, six years later, it’s half.
I personally don’t often eat fast food, but once a year I have a craving for McDonald’s. I order the cheeseburger meal and am done for the next 12 months. I always do this with a certain amount of shame – you know, the cliché American living abroad. But I felt it more acutely when the craving came on this time, a week after arriving in France, in the country where sheep farmer José Bové became the icon of anti-globalization after he dismantled a local franchise in 1999.
My predecessor had assured me that the French actually love McDonald’s, which they affectionately call “McDo.” I thought about that conversation just the other day as I was walking to an interview, and passed a McDonald’s storefront in the center of town. Two very chic Parisian women were sitting on stools at the glass window, deep in conversation and apparently unfazed about succumbing to American eating habits in the birthplace of haute cuisine.
It’s not just fast food that has caused the “stunning” popularity of hamburgers. At a very trendy bistro, where my husband and I ordered the very French formule midi – appetizer, main dish, and dessert for lunch – I did notice everyone else had ordered the cheeseburger. And they were paying 20 euros ($27) for it. In fact, cheeseburger joints have sprouted up across Paris, not unlike how they have entered the fine dining scenes of New York City and every other capital city in the last decade.
Yet, I still feel there is a certain stigma. I was noting to French friends the other day that my daughter’s school lunch – a three-course affair that might include endives for a starter and leg of lamb for the main meal, and then often a cheese dish – regularly celebrates foods from other regions of France and countries. I love reading the menu. Soon they are having “American” day.
What’s on the menu? The starter: iceberg lettuce. The main meal: cheeseburger with French fries and ketchup. Dessert: a brownie.
“Of all American food, this is what they choose to feature?” I lamented. My friends were confused. “What else would you consider American food?” they asked, genuinely.
"Really?" I thought, slightly offended. Though as I am writing this blog, I have to admit, I am feeling the hankering coming on. Well, it's been almost a year.