Attacco Big Mac

By Evan Pellegrino

I swore I would never eat American fast food during my stay in Italy, but two weeks into my European summer abroad, I caved and buckled to the greasy, salty sight of Ronald McDonald at a Venice train station.

“I could really go for a Big Mac,” I said jokingly on the train, to my American friends, speaking of it as if it were a pot of gold at the end of some rainbow I would never find.

We had been in Italy for just a week, but I was already sick of Italian food. It was pizza, pasta, pizza, pasta and more pizza, day in and day out, in Orvieto, the small Italian city where we are studying.

But as the train screeched to a stop, there he was, arm raised welcoming me with a big red grin.

It was like running into an old friend on the other side of the world.

I walked over to the counter with a pace as if I hadn’t eaten in days.

“Big Mac!” I practically shouted at the poor woman working there.

“Do I want a meal?! Hell yes I want the meal,” I told her, demanding that she supersize it as well.

“Big?” she said, holding her hands as if we were playing a game of European McDonald’s charades.

“Oh yeah,” I said, holding my hands three feet apart. “Grande! The Americano way.”

With the current value of the dollar, a Big Mac meal deal, with two ketchups, cost roughly 10 American dollars. In America, the meal would have cost me about $6, so it really put the exchange rate into perspective.

In minutes, there it was sitting in front of me. I opened the Big Mac box with an eager carefulness, like a boy unwrapping a valuable and delicate gift on Christmas.

Twenty seconds later the box was empty, besides a piece of melted cheese and lettuce, which was reunited with the rest of its sandwich after a few sips of Coke.

It was out of a scene from “Requiem for a Dream.” Big Mac. Flash, half Big Mac. Flash, no Big Mac. My eyes dilate.

Ketchup costs 10 cents here, or roughly 16 cents American. I practically licked those little containers clean when I was done with my fries.

I was on a budget. Nothing would go to waste on this trip.

My tasty beverage, a Coke, was chilled and came with no ice. No ice means more Coke but a European “large” is equivalent to the American “medium.”

Over in Europe, high fructose corn syrup is nowhere to be found. Rather, soda is brewed with sweet, sweet natural cane sugar. The results are glorious.

Americans are missing out in the soft drink department.

My meal was the definition of satisfaction. It was more than a cheap and greasy hamburger. To me, it was the delicious taste of home.

Sure, I broke a promise to myself, and I was feeling bloated and sluggish, but I had a grin on my face only rivaled by Ronald himself.

The world is flattening. Globalization is apparent everywhere I go. From McDonald’s to Starbucks (except in Italy where Starbucks is not allowed), corporations have expanded to every corner of the world, growing from the cement wherever the people have money.

From fast food joints packed with locals, to MTV and American music everywhere the ears turn, to Kobe Bryant jerseys on the backs of street vendors in Venice, to Italian teens in Orvieto sipping Budweiser, American culture has spread and can be seen all over Europe.

But it’s a two-way street – err, ocean.

Gucci, Louie Vuitton and Prada, companies that originated in Europe, line the shopping districts of the major European cities, as they do back in the States.

Sure, I could have spent my money at a local joint and continued to immerse myself in European culture, but on that day I needed the comforting taste of American fast food.

And it’s good to know I have the option almost anywhere I go, if I need it.

So when people ask me what my highlight from Venice was, I don’t speak of the glorious canals or the exquisite museums – I speak of my Italian Big Mac.