You’ve got to hand it to the fast food king, MacDonald’s. Despite the fact that they trade on Big Macs, we don’t go there for the flavor, the quality, or the atmosphere. We only go because the toilets are mostly clean, it’s cheap, and kids are forever welcome.
Back in the late 90’s when we were travelling with our young family through Europe, Macdonald’s (or “Maccas” as Aussies like to call them) had another trump card up their sleeve. With a baby in tow and the need to breastfeed, these fast food places were one of the few places that seemed happy to offer a spot of lunch and a place to breastfeed.
Now I know that might seem a tad weird. But, really, where can you go to breastfeed your baby? To the toilets? Well, I ask you, would you like to eat your meal in a public convenience?
Our chosen alternatives, cafes and restaurants, turned out to be not that relaxed about having a ravenous 3 month old enjoying a discrete liquid lunch in a dark corner. Not that they created a scene by shouting at us or grabbing us by the collar and yanking us out into the street. Nothing like that. It was simply an atmosphere that said, “Madam, it is not the done thing to do.” So we took the hint and didn’t.
But, thanks to their, “sure we’ll take your order” attitude, Maccas came to the rescue. But don’t think for a moment that we were dreaming of travelling through Europe on a breastfeeding tour of MacDonald’s restaurants. No way!
It’s just how things worked out.
In any case, we laughed a lot about it, knowing one day we could go back and enjoy a more sophisticated experience. In the meantime, we joked about the cultural bow Maccas was making to different traditions. In Southern Germany, MacDonald’s adopted a kind of a thigh-slapping theme. I half expected a burger discount for customers wearing Lederhosen (and maybe a freebie if you brought along a Flugelhorn). So, it was a novelty.
Then in France, MacDonald’s seemed to be a little more discrete; with signs declaring you could get real coffee cheap. While, in Switzerland the biggest difference was (appropriately) higher prices.
We concluded that a bit of spin on each nation’s traditions was not a bad thing, so long as you didn’t take it too seriously. Here in Australia Maccas have their own emphasis on beef, play equipment, and a cheap cafe experience called McCafe. So obviously it’s a worldwide thing.
Of course, America (the place that invented the concept) has it’s own version too, with 39 psychedelic flavors of liquid everything (including the toilet hand sanitizer). Actually, I’m kidding about the hand sanitizer (there are only three).
By the way, in case you are thinking I am advocating such culinary genocide in favor of traditional dishes, remember that people have different needs. In our case, back in those days, there simply were no budget, slow food breastfeeding restaurants marked on the map. Besides which, not having a fabulous command of the language (though at least I tried) trying to ask if it was okay to have a meal and could we breastfeed our baby was a risky thing. Especially when my best attempts translated to, “Please, my wife wants to uncover her breasts. Our baby is furious, and we are all hungry.” At risk of being slapped in the face, thrown out into a back alley, or marched off to the police, we took the easier option.
After all, there’s travel guide perfection and then there’s what really happens. When the Feegers travel it is definitely a unique experience. But that’s okay because we always pack a sense of humor wherever we go.
So, if you ever come across someone is awkwardly trying to breastfeed her baby in some quiet restaurant corner, whilst her partner is gesticulating wildly, declaring, “Sorry my chat is bad but my wife needs to swell the baby”, simply smile politely and nod. Because you know it means there isn’t a MacDonald’s for miles.
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