The Secret of Fast Food in Romania

By Davies, Alan I. | Contemporary Review, October 1998 | Go to article overview

The Secret of Fast Food in Romania


Davies, Alan I., Contemporary Review


Thoughtful Americans, if truth be told, cringe just a little when we see photos recording the opening of yet another fast-food outlet in cities we've never heard of in countries we can't spell. How can we, in good conscience, inflict so much deep fried food on a people with whom we're not officially at war?

Empire-building nations of the past marked their territorial expansion by the symbolically powerful national flag-raising ceremony. Today the spread of the American empire is evidenced by the hoisting, not of the Stars and Stripes, but of another McDonald's golden arch. The number of arches hoisted must be closing rapidly on the number of hamburgers sold!

Yet there is a redeeming feature to this relentless spread of American cholesterol-inducing cuisine. My wife and I stumbled on this unspoken but noble aspect of the only remaining superpower's gastronomic onslaught in eastern Europe amidst Romania's pervasive shabby, dusty greyness.

Romania is a poor country. After 50 years enduring the inefficiencies and inconsistencies of communism, it has now but a nebulous economic resemblance to its pre-World War Two self. Efforts so far to convert to a market economy have inevitably resulted in widespread pain. 'Downsizing' notoriously over-staffed state-run businesses caused an unsettling political crisis early in 1998.

In spite of that, the national government has just announced a further round of privatization giving greater flexibility to outlying districts in dealing with the entrenched central bureaucracy. It is hoped that this will instil free enterprize enthusiasm among the Romanians.

Meanwhile, travellers to that country quickly discover that the WCs are even more neglected than the infrastructure. In places such as relatively good restaurants and moderate hotels these retreats are generally unappealing. At bus and train stations they can be downright repulsive. Of course, the farther off the tourist treadmill one wanders, the more offensive they become.

In two weeks we visited several regions and cities and can reasonably claim to have surveyed a representative range of Romania's lavatories. Where we trod, they ran the gamut from a filthy hole in the ground up to the level of the conveniences offered by an hourly hotel.

Even in passable facilities, the fixtures themselves usually leave much to be desired. Overhead, wall-mounted water tanks predominate. A tug on the chain is often of no avail, or at best so little water descends that nothing is swept away. Wash basin taps resist one's best efforts to turn them off. Toilet seats tilt from side to side with the slightest weight shift. Seats and covers are made from a gauge of plastic no more substantial than a frisbee and, like that toy, they never stay up.

But like a gift from a generous capitalist heaven, McDonalds made the scene in recent years with its bright, modern, efficient restaurants. And they did not neglect their WCs.

Available in the men's room are child-height urinals, seen nowhere else in Romania. One discovers a relatively soft pink toilet tissue in the holder when all the average Romanian has known is his country's standard khaki-coloured, coarse toilet paper with the consistency of recycled cardboard packing cartons. …

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