My McDonalds Alter Ego

Yesterday I had McDonalds for lunch, and it was delicious. Big Mac Meal with Coke, thank you very much! Don’t mind if I do. 😋

Something interesting has happened to me over the past (almost) seven years of living in Ukraine. I have developed an alter ego when it comes to McDonalds. This change came upon me almost immediately upon moving to Ukraine, and while for some years I was embarrassed to admit it, I now fully embrace the McKrainain version of myself. No shame. No hiding. This is me- with ketchup.

Let me explain.

I feel like the US has this thing going on where everyone publicly denies their love for McDonalds, and yet McDonalds thrives and thrives. Last year they reported a revenue of more than 7 BILLION dollars…in the US alone! Soooo…as much as we might hate to admit it, someone’s gotta be eating all that McD’s…

I get it, I get it. It’s not necessarily the cool place to be seen at. I mean, if I was at McDonalds in the US and someone I know walked in, I’d feel like I kinda owed them an excuse. “Ummm Jed just really loves McDonalds. Of course I think it’s gross, but he’s just gotta have his McRib! I much prefer Chipotle, but you know…anywaysss…” (It’s so much easier to throw Jed under the bus, since he’s literally impossible to embarrass. Not that I take advantage of that. Ahem…) 🤷‍♀️

I have a friend who lives just up the hill from McDonalds in our home town in Oregon and I feel like I would do just about anything to make sure she never saw me in the drive-thru. Is it just me? Why all the McShaming? You gotta admit their fries are the besssssst. Come on, don’t be shy!

So yeah, when we lived in the US I was totally on the bash-McDonalds-bandwagon. But then, something about moving 6,000 miles away from everything familiar made me shift my perspective. Can’t imagine why.

In our city, McDonalds is the only American chain restaurant to be found. It’s also the only drive-thru, so there’s that. A couple hours away in Kyiv you can find KFC (but no biscuits or coleslaw, so yeah, not the same), Dominos, and maybe a small Baskin Robbins? But I think that’s it. And in our town, McDonalds is all we’ve got.

Upon our arrival in Ukraine with 4 littles and zero language skills, those Golden Arches spelled “HOME”. Once the jet-lag wore off and we kinda began to realize we were here for good, we couldn’t get there fast enough. Anytime we felt homesick or sad or helpless or stupid, a double cheeseburger and fries was what the doctor ordered. The food tasted the same. The menu was super similar. We could order basically in English and they could “mostly” understand us. In those early days, McDonalds not only filled our bellies, but it reminded us that we were not just the dumb Americans who couldn’t even grocery shop without feeling stupid. We were smart people with friends and family who loved us and a whole history of not-stupidness behind us. Seriously, Guys, nothing brings on humility stronger and faster than moving to a foreign country where English is not the official language. It’ll bring you down about 50 notches in the first 10 days. Ouch.

Evie and Daddy on a McDonalds Date

Over the years we’ve come to rely less on McDonalds to ease our pains, and it’s become more of a special treat. We take our kids there on dates. On the rare occasion when Jed and I are in town together without kids, we go there and it feels like our special secret. It tastes like home, even though we rarely ate it till we moved away from home. Oh the irony.

Another thing to note is that McDonalds is a totally legit place to eat in Ukraine. You would never be embarrassed to find one of your friends at McDonalds in our town. McDonalds is always a good idea here. It’s something special and it’s different than any other restaurant in our city. I feel zero McShame while in Ukraine. Bring on the burgers!

But, the minute the airplane touches down in the US, all that changes. I instantly become a person who wouldn’t even consider McDonalds. I am so high above McDonalds I can’t even be bothered to watch their commercials. All that grease! Why I never!

Is it because I don’t want to waste my time eating food in the States that is readily available in Ukraine? Is it because I’m surrounded by so many much tastier restaurants in the US and McDonalds isn’t special there? Or does the high schooler in me so readily succumb to peer pressure that I slide back in to my old prejudices as soon as I return to my old stomping grounds?

I could dive deeper into how all the parts of my personality shift from one continent to the other, but I’m not in the mood for introspection today. Let’s just say, that my McEgos are just one facet of the confusion that comes with living cross-culturally. What is widely acceptable to me in one place, does not always make the cut in the other. We’ve all become part chameleon over the past 7 years, I guess.

What about you? Have you ever traveled overseas? Did you have a hankering to eat at places that were familiar to you? Did the Golden Arches beckon? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on food as “home” and on McDonalds in generally. Because, why not? 😆

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40 comments

  1. M💛M · October 14

    Yes! On a random day off, we used to drive over two hours, each way) with a border crossing that sometimes had an hour wait just for McDonalds! For me it was the fountain Coke. I never regretted the fries either. It was all you described!! Relatively easy to order, tasted familiar, and felt ‘ordinary’ in an other-worldly whirlwind of ‘out of the ordinary’ 😉
    We very rarely eat McD’s in the US, yet when I am visiting you, I always want to go to your McDonalds. For all the same reasons!
    The food at the Georgian restaurant is better by far, but for all the ‘feels’ it’s McDonalds for the WIN!!

    • kimnjed · October 15

      Oh, nothing can beat Buba. But the nostalgia and comfort of McD’s is a whole other thing.

  2. Uncle Steven · October 14

    I only eat at McDonalds when I’m in a different country. So yeah, I get it.

    • kimnjed · October 15

      Yep- I knew you would.

  3. Karen Aquino · October 14

    My family and I lived for a summer in Singapore while I worked at the office there about 20 years ago. The food in Singapore is fantastic. Fancy restaurants, hole in the wall eateries, and the famous hawker stands. Every ethnicity of food you could imagine. Every price range you could think of. We loved it. We tried so many things we would otherwise never have eaten. But the day we discovered the American fast food place was definitely a high point. Burger King was the bigger one over there. But once we found that we discovered that there were many others also. Taco Bell, KFC, A&W, Pizza Hut and yes, McDonalds. We didn’t eat at any of those all the time, but every once in a while we indulged in the tastes and smells and atmosphere of home. It helped keep us content while we were there. Oh, and the day I discovered Tillamook cheese at the market there was rejoicing in our family!

    • kimnjed · October 15

      Oooooh I would die if we had an A&W here! I have a feeling root beer wouldn’t be super popular, but I would be happy!
      We recently found good cheddar and there was great rejoicing here too. It’s not Tillamook, but very similar. It melts right too!!!

    • Britney · October 21

      An A&W?? I would be in heaven. 🤣

      • kimnjed · October 22

        Me too!

  4. Rosie Snider · October 14

    Kim this post was the best! I would share McDonalds with you EVEN here in the states! We have eaten there in Ukraine, (Kyiv) and many other countries. I love the fact that the food tastes the same in every country. You are right in saying it is like it is a piece of home. Now when we go there we will be thinking and praying for you all! Rosie Snider

    • kimnjed · October 15

      Awww yes! Thank you! 🥰

  5. davencindyj · October 14

    davencindyj@yahoo.com

    Many times on Sunday after church we would drive to Skopia just for a Big Mac. It was a three hour trip.
    We can relate.

    • kimnjed · October 15

      I remember going there with you!

  6. Ardelis Matthews · October 14

    Yes, we do adjust to the world values around us. When in Poland, I saw a McDonalds from my hotel window and told my traveling, Russian companions, that I had to walk there right then!!! So we did. Hmm. I drove past one every day in my US town and only stopped with great-grand kids when I was treating them! He! He! Way to go, Kimber! Ardelis

    • kimnjed · October 15

      Yes! I would have been right with you on that walk!

  7. Victoria Dickinson · October 14

    I love your stories they’re the best, as usual.
    When traveling overseas, I’m embarrassed by Mickey D’s being the cuisine that represents the US. Really?, bogus cheese and Filet-o-fish?
    I remember going to the French Riviera and having to use the restroom and the only one that had one was the McDonald’s (grateful)
    the place was packed! and with all these beautiful French restaurants around… this is where everybody eats? I just wanted to scream “It could be so much better” (they’d probably think I was a lunatic, cause I don’t speak French) totally get the feeling stupid part.
    It must be they are enamored by all things American, just like I am by the culture I’m visiting, The French fries are good, I’ll give you that.
    Love you all, Vicster

    • kimnjed · October 15

      It is true. It’s a little sad that US cuisine is defined overseas by fast food chains. But, what else is truly “American” food? Maybe BBQ food? I think it’s popular overseas because it’s so different than other places. Kind of iconic maybe?

  8. Ruth · October 14

    Totally relate!! I never ate at McDonald’s before I lived abroad, and when I did, it was exactly the way you described—a totally normal place to eat abroad! I do still enjoy it now that I’m back in the US, although I secretly hope I won’t be caught there by anyone I know!

    • kimnjed · October 15

      I would never McShame you, Ruth. 😘 Why is it so frowned upon in the US? It’s not like Americans have the market on health…😆😆😆

  9. Kimberly Copple · October 14

    You are mcfabulous Kim!

    • kimnjed · October 15

      Haha! Well, thank you very much. 😘

  10. Noelle Myers · October 14

    My dad worked at McDonalds for many years when he retired from the Air Force. The owners were kind and supported us through some pretty tough times. So because of that I haven’t ever been “ashamed” to eat at or crave Mcdonalds really. That said, when I was in Ukraine helping a friend on their second adoption trip, I think we ate at McDonalds every other day or so the last week were were there. Like you said, it was a taste of home during a very VERY terrifying and difficult trip. it helped a lot that it was literally a block away from the apartment in Kiev. We were blessed to be able to try some Ukrainian restaurants at the hotels during the early part of the trip (the pizza was a highlight for both of us) But the McDonalds really was a slice of home. I also remember when I went to South Africa for several weeks, when my friends family picked me up at the airport everyone was super excited to go to McDonalds – the menu was similar although I distinctly remember the ketchup on the burgers being tomato sauce and not actually ketchup. I didn’t quite get the excitement then (that was when dad worked there) but now I understand why they were all so excited.

    • kimnjed · October 15

      Yes! When times are tough it is very comforting. Ultimate comfort food. When I was a kid I wanted my dad to work at a fast food place so bad. 😆 It was my dream.

  11. Karen Elliott · October 15

    When i lived in Nexico i could not wait to get home to to fill my mouth with a skinny little burger with that pickle, squirt of ketchup and reconstituted dehydrated onions on the fresh gluebread bun. It was heavenly. Oh my yum!

    • Karen Elliott · October 15

      Mexico….

    • kimnjed · October 15

      YES! The onions are the best part, in my humble opinion.

  12. Jon Inman · October 15

    A few years ago on our last day in Zytomyr, we were getting a coffee at McDonald’s to sip on while we walked around in the mall. Someone came up behind us and in perfect English said “They’ll let just about anyone in this place “. It was Jed.

    • kimnjed · October 15

      Hahaha that’s great. 😆

  13. Jennifer E Symens · October 15

    Years ago I was traveling through India, and I had been traveling for a couple of months. India was my 3rd country in as many months and I was tired and ill. I was looking for some kind of a comfort and I was so relieved to see a McDonald’s. My driver thought I was absolutely nuts but I had to go in; even though it was a complete madhouse. Fries and a Coke always fix everything right?

    You are right so right! As McCheesy as it sounds, it is a comfort and a reminder of home. Embrace it, love it, savor it. No McEgos or judgement here.

    • kimnjed · October 17

      Thank you so much! Yes, you understand. So comforting!

  14. Christina · October 16

    It’s like how us Swedes call IKEA “the mothership” and sometimes go there just to feel at home, when living abroad :-).

    • kimnjed · October 17

      Haha yes!!! Kyiv just got an IKEA this past year. I still need to go…

  15. Andrea Gariepy · October 16

    I so enjoyed this post! When I was serving in Krivoy Rog 10 years ago, I found it so amusing how obsessed everyone was with McDonalds – foreigners and Ukrainians alike! You’re totally right, there is definitely no McShame over there! 🙂

    My hands down favorite Ukrainian McDonalds experience was over Christmas time when the organization I was working with did an event called McJoyful and took 5000 orphans to McDonalds over the span of two weeks. It was so much fun! My favorite days were the days we took the intellectually handicapped adults from the local “mental institution” (a horrible name but that’s what they called it and it was an accurate description…). Their joy was uncontainable!

    There used to be videos on YouTube but I can’t find them anymore. I do have some pictures on my blog from that time if your interested: https://ambassadoroflove.blogspot.com/2010/12/mcjoyful-day-one-in-pictures.html

    • kimnjed · October 17

      That is quite an undertaking! 5,000 in two weeks! Wow. I bet you were done with McDonalds for awhile after that!

  16. Denise M Woods · October 19

    I’ve only traveled one time outside of the US (well, besides Canada); and that was to Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico on a missions trip. I hear you when you say that it felt like “home” seeing the golden arches. It was familiar, you knew what you were getting to eat, etc. I don’t think we ever ate there that trip, but yes, it was reassuring you that it was “familiar.”

    • kimnjed · October 20

      Yes, a reminder that the familiar still exists somewhere out there. 😊

  17. Britney · October 21

    I couldn’t resonate more with a post. 😄 We don’t have McDs here but we have KFC and a Burger King. Both of which we never ate at in the States. I agree that there is so much shift between continents! It is crazy how different even my thought patterns were when I visited the states last year. We’ve now been here for over 2 years and we, also, now see these places as treats instead of where we ran to for cultural familiarity. Thank you for sharing!

    • kimnjed · October 22

      Happy to know I’m not alone! 😆

  18. yoongz · October 21

    i totally understand the need to have some “home” food. For us, it’s not McD’s but it’s that oily plate of fried noodles with all that lard, that roasted pork made from the super fatty 3-layer belly meat etc… When we lived in Singapore, we would try to be healthy, and have the soup instead of the tasty fried stuff but since moving away, every time we go back to Singapore, we stuff our faces happily and our friends join us, using us as the excuse to indulge along with us… lol… Now McD’s itself is a whole other discussion, you are talking about a family who has watched “Supersize Me” and that left an impression so we would eat McD’s only once in a while BUT i would never ever McShame anyone for eating McD’s, so i would happily eat McD’s with you anytime you want to (when we are in the same country), just like my friends in Singapore eat the fatty fried stuff with me when i am in Singapore. 😉

    • kimnjed · October 22

      Okay, those noodles sound much better than McDonalds!!!

  19. Melanee · October 23

    When I lived in China, I ate McDonald’s at least once a week. It was “home.” I did laugh at myself though when I got a nasty cold while there and the only thing that sounded good to eat was a McDonald’s cheeseburger and fries…At home, NEVER would I want McDonald’s when I was sick. Reality, I just wanted the comforts of home.

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