I’m sometimes asked by Chinese people if popular international fast food restaurants are in the USA too. This isn’t as foolish of a question as it at first seems.
“Do you have Pizza Hut in America too?” one of my Chinese friends asked my wife and I as we sat at a local pizzeria in Xiamen.
I burst out laughing. The question seemed ridiculous. Of course we have Pizza Hut in America, it’s an American restaurant.
But I’ve been asked similar questions before:
“Is there KFC in America?”
As an American I’m taught to identify fast food chains like KFC, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut as inseparable parts of my country’s international garb, and I take it for granted that everybody else does too.
McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, and Pizza Hut have been in other countries for so long now that they are just as much a normal part of the cityscape as they are in the United States. People in China know these restaurants for what they are: international fast food chains.
This concept is no longer whittled down to the fine point of a specific country. Multinational fast food restaurants are global, not American.
Sure, these restaurants popped up in the United States of America first, but they are now about as American as the assembly line, the airplane, and the blender. Sorry, I don’t feel a tinge of nationalistic pride when I see someone making a smoothie, and nobody calls a blender an American appliance. The same now goes for international fast food restaurants.
These restaurants are an aspect of globalized culture, and McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC are now pretty much as they are Chinese as they are American; Mexican as they are French.
KFC opened their first branch in China in 1987, Pizza Hut and McDonalds followed in 1990. This means an entire generation of Chinese have come of age where international fast food chains have pretty much always been a part of the landscape.
Sure, these restaurants are part of a cultural phenomenon that first happened in the United States of America, but this phenomenon is thoroughly global: nationality no longer applies.
Someone asking me if we have Pizza Hut in America too is no longer a foolish question.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii
August 29, 2013, 6:48 am
Hmmm… good one. I never thought about the blender or airplane analogy. It’s true that those fast-food chains pop left, right and center in the world, and that most times they adapt like crazy to their local market.
But they do bring something distinctively “American” to the landscape, even though they don’t advertize as such and, as you mention here, are not seen as such after several years. The best way to really understand that is by going to countries where there are zero or very little American fast-food chains: those people DO see McDonald’s and others as something very American.
I personally see KFC as something incredibly Chinese, despite the Colonel’s face and the obvious Kentucky roots. I must have eaten KFC in China at least 500 times (3 in the last 3 days… ow!), but last time I ate PFK (Poulet Frit Kentucky) in Quebec was in the 20th century.
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