Tim in Georgia

This is a blog to chronicle my experiences in the Republic of Georgia as a Peace Corps TEFL volunteer. *The views expressed herein are mine and are not necessarily those of the Peace Corps or the US Government.*

18 November 2007


I think there are four kinds of people who visit my blog – people who are interested in Georgia, people who are interested in the Peace Corps/Volunteerism, people who find me to be a particularly fascinating individual, and people who were misdirected here while looking for something else. If you belong any of the first three groups, I should tell you that some very important and captivating things have been happening in Georgia that will have a large impact not only on Georgia but on the rest of the post-Soviet space. And I, of course, was here to witness it all. If you would like to know the impressions and interpretations of someone who is living and working in Georgia (specifically, me) during these most interesting of times – tear gas, riot police, elections, and rumors, oh my! – send me an email (link at left) and I will happily provide them to you. If you are fortunate enough to be on the list of people I irregularly correspond with via my listserv, you will get these thoughts – solicited or otherwise. But, as I currently don’t know anyone in Africa, Argentina, or Australia – and yet these locations appear on my ClustrMap – I think some unknown interlopers have arrived to my blog. If “unknown interloper” describes you, feel free to send me an email requesting my thoughts or commenting about my blog. And finally, a big and heartfelt thanks to you, unknown reader.

Now, back to what I was originally going to write about.

I don’t crave McDonalds. I never have, and hopefully I never will. Of course, when I lived in America, I enjoyed the conveniences that it offered. I possess the cooking skills of a broken toaster, so the thought of someone else broiling my patties always appeals to me. Additionally, I could glean those precious few nutrients from McDonalds at any hour, which fit well with my young-person’s lifestyle. Of course, McDonalds didn’t really stay for long within my digestive tract, which was perfectly fine with me. Garbage in, garbage out – and preferably as soon as possible. But, aside from as a hunger satiation station with low-yet-still-too-high prices, I never thought too deeply about McDonalds. I don’t know why this was. I detested Starbucks and Walmart, although for different reasons, but McDonalds passed through my ideological filters unscathed – or maybe just unnoticed. But recently, McDonalds has been on my mind more and more.

McDonalds is in Georgia. There are two franchises in Tbilisi. And I even have eaten there. It was exactly (exactly!) the same as in America. I know I shouldn’t have been surprised by this – the reason McDonalds is so successful and ubiquitous is because it streamlined and homogenized the process of making a hamburger so that it tastes the same in Chicago and Colorado and China, after all – but I was. How do they do this? I wouldn’t be surprised if they made the burgers and fries in America, froze them, and flew them to Georgia to be reheated. Obviously, though, this isn’t how it works. But you’d think that the beef or the bun or the sauce or something would taste at least marginally different, would remind you that you are not, in fact, at home. But there isn’t. And this wasn’t the only thing that was exactly the same. I could get the funny salads, the weird parfaits (what exactly is a parfait, anyway?), and the happy meal with a toy – and it was just as expensive as in America. This part really threw me. I could understand if prices were much cheaper or much more expensive – either you can find the products locally (much cheaper, as Georgian prices are not American prices) or you have to import them from another place (much more expensive, because if Georgia doesn’t have it, Armenia and Azerbaijan likely don’t have it either) – but I cannot fathom how the prices are almost exactly the same. It was as if someone went to a McDonalds in my hometown, multiplied the price by the lari-dollar exchange rate (1 dollar = ~1.60 lari), and put these prices in the Tbilisi McDonalds. I’m guessing that the Tbilisi McDonalds is operating at a profit margin unheard of at American McDonaldses. And nobody seems to mind this at all.

While outwardly appearing the same, however, there are distinct differences between the McDonalds experience in America and the McDonalds experience in Georgia. They are differences that only an American or someone who has been to America would notice, I think. Like movies and music, McDonalds is an insight into American culture. And, just like music and movies, it provides a view that isn’t exactly wrong, but isn’t exactly right, either. And it is in this respect that I think the experiences differ. To most of the rest of the world, McDonalds is, more than anything else, a symbol of wealth, speed, and efficiency – qualities more associated with America than with anywhere else. And, of course, McDonalds is a distinctly American creation. But the cultural impact and symbolism of McDonalds in the USA now is much different. It’s not a highly desired dining option. It is convenient and unhealthy, of course, but that does not make it one's first choice for a meal prepared by a professional food preparer.

That is not really true in Georgia. McDonalds is not just a place to dine, it is a means of expressing yourself socially and politically. It is not the McDonalds we know in the USA, even though it has the same taste and the same prices. It is a desired destination for food and a place to see and be seen. Georgian hipsters regularly hang out around the McDonalds at night.

In the end I think this is a good thing. I think it improves America's image abroad and lets us know that we still have friends and admirers. But, when a country is inundated with McDonalds, this appeal will fade. The view abroad will begin to converge with the view in America. Of course, eventually, Georgia will obtain a third McDonalds, and then a fourth, and so on. Who knows where it will stop. But hopefully it will. I'm glad that Georgia has McDonalds, but I don't think it would be good for Georgia to become Fast Food Nation. The one McDonalds in Tbilisi that I've been to does not have a drive-thru. It currently has a walk-thru express window. Here's hoping it stays that way.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very amusing idea

Mon Dec 28, 02:10:00 AM GMT+4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I share a love-hate relationship with virtual memory because of the way prices are always falling. I hate buying SD Cards for my R4 / R4i at (seemingly) a bargain price only to see it become ten percent cheaper a couple of weeks later.

(Submitted on PostN3T for R4i Nintendo DS.)

Wed Feb 10, 05:31:00 AM GMT+4  

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