US fast food giant McDonald’s plans to set up shop in the world’s most famous museum by end of 2009
France symbolizes many things in the world, most of all its elegant cuisine and its fine art. So it’s no wonder that more than a few Parisians are fed up about plans to open a McDonald’s restaurant and McCafé in the Louvre museum in November.
The world’s most-visited museum will soon see France’s 1,142nd McDonald’s restaurant sharing real estate with the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. The fast food chain, considered by many in France as a symbol of both American culinary crassness and cultural imperialism, is celebrating its 30th anniversary in France this year.
To make matters even worse for lovers of French food and long lunches, traditional brasseries and bistros are in freefall from lack of business, while fast food giant McDonald’s opened 30 new stores last year in France and fed 450 million customers – an 11 percent rise from the previous year.
Museum staff, many already miffed about the Louvre’s plans to lend its name and artwork to a multi-million dollar museum project in Abu Dhabi, are reported to be experiencing indigestion already from the prospect of the golden arches in France’s temple of fine art. Some have been quoted, anonymously, in the press complaining bitterly about the commercialism — and the smells — that the new “McDo” will bring to one of the world’s greatest art meccas.
To be fair, the McDonald’s will not be in the museum itself, but positioned in the underground approach to the Louvre, known as the Carrousel du Louvre. This area is already lined with shops and eateries, though most are admittedly more upscale than McDonald’s. The stone-lined gallery, which is owned and operated separately from the museum, opened in 1993, five years after the famous Louvre pyramid, which also caused a great deal of controversy at first. The Carrousel’s contract with the Louvre Museum states that “commercial activities will be regulated and restricted to cultural or tourist activities”. The Louvre has the right to protest against commercial establishements that it thinks fall short of this standard. However, the museum has agreed to a “quality” McDonald’s that will open by the end of the year, with a look that will be “in line with the museum’s image”. The Louvre envisions the McDonald’s as part of the American section of a new food court in the Carrousel that would feature foods from countries around the world, to be welcoming to visitors of all nationalities. Museum spokespeople also insist that the franchise owner has pledged to make this particular McDonald’s a work of art, with decor and atmosphere worthy of its elegant new home.
Louvre Pour Tous, (Louvre for All) a website whose mission is to “inform and defend” visitors to the Louvre, complained: “Henri Loyrette, president of the Louvre museum, had only to say one word to stop the aroma of French fries from wafting past the Mona Lisa’s nose. He chose otherwise.” The McDonald’s brouhaha follows a similar outcry last year when Starbucks opened a location near the museum’s entrance. At the time, Louvre employees and art lovers sent museum management a petition to try to stop Starbucks from opening there. It opened anyway; in an act of conciliation, Starbucks agreed to provide a cultural corner in the store of brochures and art catalogues as an acknowledgment of its lofty surroundings. But for many, this was not enough to offset the insult of supersized coffee in cardboard cups in close proximity with the gods of fine art.
And now, the ultimate symbol of American dominance and culinary heresy has dealt the French culture police an even crueler blow. “Starbucks was bad enough but McDonald’s is worse,” said an unnamed Louvre art historian. Ten years ago, French hatred of McDonald’s and all it represents made a hero of José Bové, who bulldozed a McDonald’s in 1999 in protest against US imperialism and bad food.
But it seems he bulldozed in vain. Even a last-minute reprieve at the Louvre would not turn the tide in the battle of Le Big Mac. According to the fast-food chain, France has become McDonald’s biggest market in the world outside of the US, and it’s not going anywhere…except to the world’s most famous museum of art.
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