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McDonald's in East Asia

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McDonald’s restaurants are found in over 100 countries, serving tens of millions of people each day. It is considered the largest hamburger fast food restaurants in the world. The Golden Arches are the famous symbol of McDonald's, therefore; this paper basically entails the role of the fast food restaurants in East Asia. Having noted that McDonalds’ restaurants are found in over 100 countries and it is the largest hamburger fast food restaurant in the world, it would be logical to assert that the chain is therefore, found in the fastest growing economies in the world i.e. in East Asia. This paper seeks to look at what role McDonalds has played in East Asia. The paper will seek to address the question “Has McDonald's served as a vehicle to make East Asia more American or have China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, and Japan made McDonald's more Asian”? This will be done with respect to the general belief of culture vis-à-vis globalization.

Golden Arches East

In the book Golden Arches East by James L Walton, it is implied that  McDonald’s has largely become detached from its American ancestry and become a “local” institution for an entire generation of well off consumers in Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo. Is this really possible? Could such a large restaurant loose its American identity or roots?

In my view, McDonalds has revolutionized many cultures in the world and has transformed many to the American way of life. While looking at this topic, it is important to consider the manner in which many of the people in East Asia conducted and carried out their day to day activities before the “arrival and settlement” of McDonalds. A good example is in the mannerisms and the kind of foods eaten. In East Asia, people consume their lunch quickly. This is perhaps the reason why many of the Asian Tigers have become major economies in the world. They do not believe in time wasting while having lunch. In America, the reverse happens. Americans have their lunch slowly and take their time while eating. People of East Asia eat rice and vegetables while Americans eat bread and meat. These are just but a few of the eating cultural differences that exist between these two places. However, with the introduction of McDonalds in East Asia, this changed greatly. Many people in East Asia began eating meat and other fast foods just as McDonalds served. To many people in the East, McDonalds represents the American way of life.

Queuing for food is also another perfect example of how McDonalds changed the Asian way of doing things particularly pertaining to the fast food industry. "Queuing" and "self-service," are neither a natural nor unavoidable response to crowds and congestion in many parts of East Asia, yet McDonald's had to discipline its customers into orderly lines. This has meant becoming accustomed the rigidity of McDonald's factory-dining to the constraint of local culture. In Hong Kong, the "queue" and "self-bussing" separate the multi-ethnic from the country yokel. In Japan, customers' long relationship with McDonald's has introduced a host of eating behaviors heretofore negating to polite society. While the adult age group of the Japanese has long equated "eating while standing" with the behavior of animals, the practice has been institutionalized in restaurants too small to accommodate seated diners. In Beijing, customers prefer eating while seating in low tables. This to them signifies a civilized group of persons. McDonalds changed this trend and today m, many people in China eat while standing in restaurants.

Concern for public hygiene in restaurant kitchens and bathrooms in East Asia has been promulgated by McDonalds. This initiative has transformed consumer expectations in all of the countries in East Asia. In Beijing, the newly developing, specialized middle-class worries over foods served from street stalls by recent migrants. These migrants are mainly from the poorer nations of East Asia and are struggling to make ends meet. They therefore start selling foodstuffs on the streets with an aim of earning an income.  McDonalds is therefore the next best option for these middle-class persons as it offers hygienic food stuffs. It is important to note that in China, before; the foods being sold on the streets were widely bought and appreciated by many of the people. As Youngxiang Yan finds, "The idea that McDonald's provides healthy food based on nutritional ingredients and scientific cooking methods has been widely accepted by both the Chinese media and the general public" (p. 45). In Hong Kong, the case is slightly similar though it is in the bathroom section. Bathrooms once considered acceptable are now suspect and clientele have become, in general, more cautious of the restaurants they frequent. In Taipei, McDonald's hamburgers are painstaking a fitting--even nutritious--school lunch.

Another manner in which McDonalds has changed the eating culture of the people in East Asia is in the manner in which they respond to fast foods nowadays. In the earlier years, the people in East Asia were not comfortable with the idea of fast foods and did not advocate for it. They generally thought that it was a tradition to eat at home with the family on low tables with very small utensils. McDonalds brought with it the idea that one can actually eat a whole burger while taking a large soda at the same time. This culture has been adopted in many parts of East Asia and is widely practiced.

James Walton, however, has a valid point. He asserts that in order to build on their initial success, McDonald's restaurants must localize their foods (and some of their cultural associations as well), converting them into something that is routine and ordinary for the residents of East Asia, while somehow maintain their image as the symbol of the American way of life. That is why McDonald's has made great efforts in an attempt to fit into the local cultural setting. (p. 73). Practices such as introducing low tables in some of the restaurants, introducing “veggie” burgers, serving foods such as rice in some restaurants have been introduced to attract the more conservative population of the community.


Cultural imperialism is generally referred to as the practice of promoting, distinguishing, separating, or artificially injecting the culture of one society into another.  Globalization, on the other hand, describes an ongoing process by which regional economies, societies, and cultures have become integrated through a globe-spanning network of communication and execution. McDonalds has partly achieved this in East Asia. From the above inference, is it clear that through McDonald’s restaurants, the people of East Asia have adopted some American way of life. The American culture has therefore been injected into the East Asian countries. This is therefore, to some extent, a form of cultural imperialism. Through this, these nations have become unified in a way. The culture of the Americans has been adopted by the people of East Asia while the American proprietors of McDonalds had to learn more about the Asian culture. This has led to globalization of the different nations. In my view, McDonalds has made East Asia more American as opposed to Walton’s view of the opposite. This is because the American traditions that have been adopted in Asia outweigh those of Asia that have been adopted by McDonalds.   

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