August 1, 2011

First McDonald's in Bosnia Drawing Huge Crowds

By David Paulin

Whatever happened to the Ugly American? He exists in President Obama's mind, and in those of anti-American elites at home and abroad -- but he's nowhere to be found on Marshal Tito street in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

That's where Bosnia's first McDonald's just opened -- and the fast-food restaurant is now drawing huge and adoring crowds of ordinary Bosnians, most of them young people under 40.

First Lady and diet scold Michelle Obama must be having fits.

It's been 16 years since U.S.-led NATO air strikes were carried out over Sarajevo to stop a brutal civil war in Europe's backyard. Now, all-American McDonald's is providing Bosnians with a oasis of American culture -- not to mention jobs and a sense that the country has taken a major stride forward with the arrival of the golden arches and Big Mac.

It's an inspiring story; yet outside of Bosnia it has gotten little news coverage in the mainstream media. One exception is an excellent article by Rusmir Smajilhodzic of Agence France-Presse (AFP), which is worth reading in its entirety.

Here's an excerpt:

"It took four years, a lot of red tape and a little local jealousy but the Big Mac is the new hero on Marshal Tito street in downtown Sarajevo and, for many, a milestone in Bosnia's post-war recovery.

In the week since the country got its very first McDonald's, crowds -- mainly young people under 40 -- have poured non-stop into the gleaming new franchise of the US food giant. [snip]

The splashy opening last week drew hundreds of eager Sarajevans who lined up on the main thoroughfare named after the late communist dictator to get a taste of the West, via American-style hamburgers and fries.

"We are becoming a part of western Europe, of a world from which we were cut off," local politician Aner Begic, 32, said as he munched on his meal. [snip]

EU hopeful Bosnia is one of the last countries in Europe to get McDonald's. Only Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo are still without, while Serbia and Croatia have had it for years.

The head of the three-member presidency, Zeljko Komsic, US Ambassador Patrick Moon and Sarajevo Mayor Alija Behmen were all on hand, with Behmen given the honour of buying the first burger in what not long ago was a rundown, two-storey university restaurant.

Ambassador Moon, in comments sure to rankle the First Lady, was quoted at the U.S. Embassy's website as saying:

"The opening of McDonald's is a visible symbol to the rest of the world that Bosnia and Herzegovina is open for business. McDonald's represents a U.S. tradition of entrepreneurship, innovation, quality, efficiency, and corporate social responsibility.

"The McDonald's story is a true testament to entrepreneurship - one that I hope inspires other entrepreneurs in Bosnia and Herzegovina to move forward with their own unique and innovative ideas."

The Sarajevo restaurant is just the start for Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald's, which says it's looking for new franchise partners to set up its golden arches elsewhere in Bosnia.

In its most recenl quarterly statement, incidentally, McDonald's yet again reported strong earnings at home and abroad. The fast-food giant has more than 32,000 restaurants in 117 countries, and employs 1.7 million employees worldwide. Fifty-six percent of McDonald's restaurant are overseas.

Interestingly, McDonald's over the years has reported some of its strongest sales in former cold war enemies China and the former Soviet Union -- and it has been a big hit in anti-American France, too.

To the alarm of French bakers, McDonald's is now adding baguette sandwiches at its French outlets -- a move intended to boost sales by appealing to potential customers who don't want an all-American meal. "The French love the baguette. We are just progressively responding to a natural demand," said McDonald's senior Vice President for France and Southern Europe, Nawfal Trabelsi.

Click here for a charming YouTube clip set to soft piano music of Bosnia's first McDonald's, made during a quiet moment at the restaurant. It apparently is from an independent filmmaker who is a McDonald's fan.

And below is a must-see local television report of McDonald's big opening night, including ribbon-cutting ceremonies in which Ambassador Moon (the man with the beard) participated. It's nice to see a career foreign service officer like Moon doing such a great job representing the United States abroad.

Photo credit: United States Embassy, Bosnia

Originally published at The American Thinker blog.

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