Parisians fight back against McDonald’s

Residents of a Paris street famous for its old world charm, have been celebrating since local authorities rejected a plan to install a new McDonald’s restaurant in their midst, in a sign that while the French have taken to US fast food, they have their limits.

The McDonald’s application to build a three-storey restaurant on Rue Montorgueil in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, was rejected by city authorities after fierce protests by hundreds of residents on Sunday, local representative Jacques Boutault announced in a statement.

“Jacques Boutault, mayor of the 2nd arrondissement, along with Green party officials, is delighted that the city of Paris has confirmed its unfavourable ruling regarding the installation of a McDonald’s on rue Montorgueil,” read the statement.

“This rejection is in keeping with the mobilisation of citizens, parents of schoolchildren, and residents, who opposed this project from the beginning,” he added.

McDonald’s would appear to have messed with the wrong neighbourhood, with locals fiercely protective of the pedestrianized Rue Montorgueil.

The street is beloved as a haven for those who wish to take their time perusing little cafés, cheesemongers and wine shops, with the huge, American-style shopping mall at Les Halles just minutes away.

The US fast food giant had planned to set up a location, open from 7.30am to 11pm, seven days a week, at the intersection of Rue Réamur and Rue des Petits-Carreaux, which continues south as Rue Montorgeuil.

The collective “Pas de McDo à Montorgueil” emerged in response, however, garnering over 400 signatures for its rejection of “the spread of soulless chains in the Montorgueil neighbourhood, and in historic Paris at large.”

Rue Montorgeuil is already home to a branch of Belgian burger chain Quick, and US coffee giant Starbucks, but the prospect of those imposing golden arches right at the entrance to the pedestrianized street, was evidently a bridge too far for local residents.

The beloved, pedestrianized Rue Montorgueil, by night. Photo: Sharat Ganapati

Main rival Burger King, on the other hand, seem to be having it all “their way” in France of late, as the slogan goes.

The chain gave lovers of Le Whopper an early Christmas present during the summer, when they announced it would be returning to the French capital this December, after 15 years away.

And just last week, The Local reported that Burger King had unveiled a plan to take a seriously big bite out of France’s growing fast food market, with up to 400 new restaurants in the pipeline across the country.

SEE ALSO: Fast food dethrones traditional French cuisine

Despite France’s world-famous culinary traditions, US-style fast food has taken over in cities across the country, especially among young people.

Indeed, a report earlier this year revealed that, for the first time, sales of hamburgers, pizzas and other fast food had surpassed those of traditional, sit-down restaurant meals.

“In the land of gastronomy, fast food has become the king,” wrote French magazine Le Point at the time.

The successful rejection of a McDonald’s on Rue Montorgueil, however, suggests otherwise. 

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40 years of Le Big Mac: Here’s how big France’s appetite for McDonald’s has grown

It's 40 years since the US burger giant McDonald's sold its first French fries in France. Here's a look at how the French fell in love with the Big Mac although the relationship has had its ups and downs over the years.

40 years of Le Big Mac: Here's how big France's appetite for McDonald's has grown
A McManure please. Farmers protest at a McDonald's in France in 199. Photo: AFP

The French may have invented nouvelle cuisine, but it seems the dish they love more than any other is served in a square cardboard box on a plastic tray.

The first French McDonald's restaurant – or McDo as they like to call it – opened 40 years ago on September 17th 1979 in Strasbourg and 40 years on the French cannot get enough of their French fries (though, in France, they are just called fries).

To see how much the French love McDonald's you just have to look at some of the stats:

  • 1.8 million – this is the amount of McDonald meals served up in France every day. That's almost two million meals every single day. 
  • 13 percent – this is the share of the restaurant market in France – the home of fine dining – that McDonald's has.
  • 1,464 – this is the number of McDonald restaurants currently in France, that's more than any other chain. The company aims to expand this by 300 – 400 in the next ten years. 
  • 74,000 – this is the number of people employed either full-time or part-time by the company in France. 62 percent of the team are less than 25 years old. 
  • 2nd – France is the second biggest market for McDonald's per head of population after the United States. 
  • 1st – the biggest McDonald's restaurant in the world is located in Disneyland Paris. 
  • €9 – is the average price of a meal in French McDonald's, making it the most expensive in the world. 

The French clearly have something of a love affair with McDonald's and it is reciprocated. When the company opened in France it was on the grounds that only French ingredients would be used, which is not the same in every country where McDonald's operates.

READ ALSO: Why do the French love McDonald's so much?

The menu has also been Frenchified.

Here they have at times sold the McBaguette with cheese and it isn't one of those plastic cheese slices, not on your life. In France, they use Camembert. You can also buy beer in French McDonald's, just in case you need a little kick with your breakfast McMuffin. 

In France there have been times when residents have protested against McDonald's closing or even demanded a new one open in their town.

Employees fighting to keep their McDonald's open in a suburb of Marseille said their restaurant had become the heart of the community, offering internships and jobs to people while providing a safe space for birthdays or meeting friend.

In a community in northern France a Facebook campaign garnered support among thousands and led to a street protest demanding a McDonald's open up in the area.


However, for as much as the French love McDonald's, they also love to hate McDonald's. The relationship has had its bumpy moments.

For decades, McDonald's was the brand French people loved to hate.

From the 1970s it was accused of being the exporter of “mal bouffe” (“bad food”) to the land of fine dining, blamed for introducing millions of French people to high-calorie American fast-food.

It was also resisted as a symbol of US economic and cultural imperialism, particularly by leftwingers, in a country that remains suspicious of globalisation — and more eager than most to defend its own language and culture.

French farmer and one-time presidential candidate Jose Bove built a political career through his opposition to McDonald's which saw him trash a restaurant in the south of France in 1999.

French farmers raided the building site of the McDonald's in Aveyron and demolished it. They had announced their intentions in advance and invited spectators along, offering a Roquefort-tasting at the same time. It was in protest at the Americafication of France

“Roquefort d'abord McDo go home” (Roquefort first, McDo go home) read a slogan daubed on the trashed McDonald's. 

Support for the farmers grew and led to more protests at McDonald's across the country, including some where manure was deposited on the restaurants tills and floor.

The protest outside a McDonald's in Toulouse in 199 saw people turn up with traditional French dishes in protest at the American fastfood giant.

And resistance to the golden arches continues: a mayor on the island of Oleron in western France has famously battled to keep the company out, and the brand is still a favourite target of anti-capitalist protesters during street demonstrations.

And there have also been clashes between McDonald's and the French state at a high level.

In 2016, the French taxman sent a bill for €300 million in unpaid taxes to McDonald's France. The profits were said to have been siphoned through Switzerland and Luxembourg. 

The fast-food restaurant also caused veritable outrage with some French food purists when it had the temerity to add potatoes to its Salade Nicoise in its Italian restaurants. Was nothing sacred any more? 

But despite the run-ins the French still queue up in droves for their burgers and even with the arrival of new rivals in the battle of the burgers like Burger King and Five Guys, McDo still reigns supreme.