30 October 2009

Keening for McDonald's in Iceland

Icelanders, one would assume, are so busy trying to recover from their financial woes, that it will scarcely leave them time to pay attention to trifles. One would be wrong, some of the Icelanders are so observant that they have time to dance on other people's funerals. Well, if not exactly dance, at least quietly jumping with a gleeful expression. Like the Guardian's CiF correspondent Alda Sigmundsdóttir in her article McDonald's, gone from Iceland. The coda of this article summarizes exceedingly well its tone:

In a strange and poignant way, the departure of Ronald McDonald and company is like a release from the yoke of runaway capitalism and unrestrained greed, of over-processed fare and empty calories. Farewell, golden arches: you won't be missed.
To tell you the truth, I am not a connoisseur of McDonald's fare. Given a choice, my feet will always carry me away from their hallowed premises and, since my kids outgrew their craving for fast food, my feet do so unfailingly. So this post is not about defending McDonald's, rather about the general tone of the article, so familiar in the slightly poisoned CiF atmosphere.

In general, failing attempts of various food and drink giants to penetrate new markets are not indigenous to Iceland. From local experience: the Anheuser-Busch failure with Bud, which proved to be unable to beat the European competition and Starbucks folding their tents after a few years of an uphill battle against Italian chains. A matter of taste, after all. In both cases, I don't remember local press going into throes of ecstasy after the event.

Not so in this case of delighted Huzzah!! Especially when the decision to close the franchise is thus motivated:
So why drop the McDonald's brand? Well, apart from the hefty annual fees associated with owning the franchise, with the devaluation of the Icelandic currency, importing all those over-processed fish burgers and frozen beef patties and extra-long French fries has become too expensive. Apparently McDonald's has very stringent standards when it comes to production of its foodstuffs.
So, "stringent standards" are not what the owner of the franchise was looking for... he will continue to produce burgers, but according to his/her own standards this time. No comments.

Now to this one:
The vast majority of Icelanders couldn't be happier.
I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that an event like closing of a burger joint is having such a earth-shattering effect on the whole 300K+ Icelanders. And then this scorcher:
After all, economic crisis notwithstanding, this country's food production is, by most standards, exceptional. In purely gastronomic terms, the abandonment of the McDonald's franchise should be a vast improvement.
I wish I could be as confident as Ms Sigmundsdóttir. Especially, after reading the Wiki entry on Icelandic cuisine. Of course, wind-dried fish beats a burger hands down, not to mention fermented fish (the word "lutefisk" is carefully avoided in this Wiki's entry).

And of course, I overreact when I read a sentence like this:
Above all else, McDonald's in Iceland was a symbol of an era when Icelanders lost touch with their roots and the real things in life.
I can almost feel the "Rootless cosmopolitan" charge leveled at some sinister but unseen power. But of course, the target in this case is different:

Oh well. Another observation: in another article Ms Sigmundsdóttir says:
Now the government has crumbled we need all five parties to unite to restore our credibility with the rest of the world.
I wonder if this is the way she considers best to restore that credibility. But of course, I am taking a simple culinary issue too seriously. One thing for sure: if and when I happen to visit Iceland, I shall steer away from that burger joint, seeing as how "stringent standards" are not their thing.

I should do better with lutefisk fermented fish, I guess.