Summer Postcards 2011

Under the Golden Arches

FLORENCE, Italy—It had been a long day. We had woken up at 5:30 a.m. to catch our 7:39 train to Florence, where we spent eight hours before hopping on a train to Pisa, sprinting to the Leaning Tower and back, and catching the 7:54 p.m. train back to Florence so we could catch our return train to Venice. We were exhausted.

By the time we got back to the Florence train station, we were also starving. Looking around for somewhere to eat, we were confronted with a sign pointing towards two familiar golden arches.

Normally, as a matter of principle, I refuse to eat at McDonald’s while abroad. Urban Dictionary, which defines an American tourist as an “annoyance on anyone trying to have a good holiday in another country,” points to eating McDonald’s in foreign countries as a hallmark characteristic.

In that moment in Florence, though, I couldn’t resist Mickey D’s call. “I’ve been in Europe for five weeks now; I’m not a tourist anymore,” I told myself. Thus rationalized, I succumbed. In the homeland of pasta, pizza, and gelato, I was ordering burgers—and a side of fries with that. Of course, in classic Italian style, ketchup packets cost 20 cents.

Despite my pang of guilt, my choice of some of America’s most dubious food over some of Italy’s best isn’t uncommon. The first McDonald’s opened in the heart of Rome in 1986 amidst heavy protest, and now 300-plus outlets of the American fast food staple fill Italy. Rome is checkered with signs pointing to the nearest McDonald’s. In Bologna, the golden arches sit across the street from the city center.


Despite my usual contempt for indulging in a Big Mac overseas, I have to admit that there’s something to be said for the place. Sitting with my McDonald’s bag on the train back to Venice, I gobbled down my burgers at lightning speed, inhaled my fries and, remarkably satisfied, licked my salt-enveloped hands. All I was missing now was a McFlurry. I would just have to settle for gelato when I got back to Venice.

Robert S. Samuels ’14 is a sports writer in Leverett House.


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