Disclosure: I am required by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to let you know I am a social ambassador for McDonald’s. I have been compensated for this Comfort While Traveling – McDonald’s to the Rescue post. All opinions are my own. #mcambassador
Finding Comfort While Traveling in Russia
The bus hummed as it continued on its never-ending path, bouncing from one bump to the next. My motion sickness was about to get the best of me.
It had been a long three-and-a-half weeks. We had been in Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Barnaul (Siberia), Gorno Altaysk, and the Ural Mountains. We were now in route to Ryazan to spend one last week before going home, and I had experienced more culture and knowledge than my brain knew how to process.
Everyone on the bus appeared to be as numb in the brain and physically drained as I felt. We were all recipients of a Fulbright-Hayes teaching scholarship for a four-week learning tour for teachers – an incredible experience with daily agendas that ranged from 7:30 a.m. often until late in the evening. These ambitious agendas involved site-seeing and lectures from area professors and professionals on the geography, ecology, and culture of Russia. There were also museums and art exhibits, operas and other performing arts, tours of universities, intense educational meetings with fellow educators, perilous hikes of Russian mountains, and plane or bus travels from one region to the next every three to four days.
And, of course, there was the eating. We had eaten our way around Russia. Potatoes, cucumbers, and the occasional roasted or boiled chicken – all often coated or garnished in mayonnaise – had become my daily intake. I had enjoyed the daily surprise of not quite knowing what I was going to get. Love it or hate it, surviving on the foods of a culture is part of the overall travel experience. I enjoy being immersed into something entirely different and new.
Even so, I was dying for a Big Mac and some French fries.
And so was every other person from my teaching group. All thirteen. One of our tour guides, a professor who was a personal friend of the American professor leading the trip, had promised us a stop at the McDonald’s leading into Ryazan. That promise had pushed us through a few more meals of barley and cold beet soups. We had talked about this upcoming visit to McDonald’s for days.
We were so excited when the bus pulled into that parking lot. My motion sickness came to a halt. People cheered. We took celebratory pictures in front of that red and yellow building to mark this momentous occasion.
It was serious, y’all.
We laughed for the rest of the day about how funny it was to be so excited about food that we eat on a regular basis at home. But looking back now, it makes perfect sense. We weren’t just craving a Big Mac. We were craving comfort from home. This new land had much newness to offer us – foods, experiences, language, rules, challenges, and faces. But it also overwhelmed us, and we were all in need of familiar flavors and reminders of home.
McDonald’s had loomed huge in our eyes as children – the occasional bribe by our parents for a Happy Meal, the weekend birthday parties, the friends who worked there during our teenage years. And, as adults, we drive by McDonald’s every day on our way to work. Those golden arches are a part of our pop culture which makes them a part of our comfort zone.
We ate at McDonald’s once more when we returned to Moscow near the end of the trip. This one was in Pushkinskaya Square, which had once been the largest McDonald’s in the world. Not only had this establishment been the first McDonald’s in Russia, but it had been the first ever fast food restaurant in Russia when it opened in 1990. It was at this particular location that I got in trouble for taking pictures. A security guard gave me a stern lecture in Russian with an even more stern face. Nearly everywhere we went in Russia, we got into trouble for taking pictures. Like I said, new rules and challenges!
Here are the few pictures I managed to take.
Finding Comfort While Traveling in China
Fast forward to the next year. Again, my travel companions – some new and some old – searched out McDonald’s as we maneuvered through Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, the Himalayas, and Chengdu while on another teaching tour.
We were so enamored with the Asian-inspired McDonald’s buildings. Just seeing these buildings brought comfort while traveling.
Although we dined at many four and five star restaurants on this trip, I have to admit I struggled a bit with the food. I had arrived to China with the expectation that I would live the whole month on chicken fried rice. I enjoy global foods, but Asian food is not my favorite. I had been naïve enough to think that my one go-to dish was a staple in China. In actuality, it is an Americanized version of Chinese fare.
I never saw chicken fried rice once during the whole month. However, I did come to enjoy many new things – such as dumplings and steamed fish. But the tofu? Nope. Most of the sit-down restaurants in China serve family-style meals with the food items placed on a large lazy Susan, and each person is expected to take some of everything. I ate the tofu to be polite, but you guys know what?
All I wanted were some McNuggets.
We had more free time for exploring in China than we had with the Russia trip, and we ate at McDonald’s a couple of times. We were beyond thrilled to find a McDonald’s in many areas of our six-city stay. It was interesting to see the different offerings on the menus. Since seafood is such an important part of the Chinese diet, many of the offerings there are based on fish and other seafood. But those McNuggets and fries were right there, my eyes drawn to their corner of the menu like magnets.
Travelers are sometimes razzed a bit when choosing to eat fast food during travels. My advise is to do what you need to do to enjoy your trip. If visiting your favorite fast food establishment means finding comfort while traveling abroad then do it. If you are trying the local cuisine, but feel a Big Mac attack coming on, don’t feel guilty. Exploring the global differences and similarities of a major pop culture icon like McDonald’s is a cultural study all in itself.
Linking up my Comfort While Traveling – McDonald’s to the Rescue post here:
Turn It Up Tuesday (Mondays)
Lou Lou Girls Fabulous Party (Tuesdays)
Too Cute Tuesday (Tuesdays)
Twinkly Tuesdays (Tuesdays)
Inspire Me Wednesday (Wednesdays)
Saturday Soiree (Fridays)