A zoning violation may leave the northern French town of Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise without a McDonald’s, triggering widespread protests by residents who demand their right to fine American dining. The stereotype-defying protest has made worldwide headlines, though authorities appear unlikely to comply with protesters’ demands.
McDonald’s had begun building a franchise in the town when authorities reversed their decision to allow the construction of such a franchise on the property, noting that zoning requirements forbade commercial properties on that land. The land is designated, municipal officials said, for industrial use. As the building does not comply with regulations, it is unlikely that construction will continue, despite protests.
Residents are still putting in an effort to see construction through. According to the UK Telegraph, residents in favor of the McDonald’s set up a Facebook page that has garnered 4,000 likes. They have also used social media to stage a number of protests down the streets of Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise. Participants were holding up signs that read “Protest for McDo,” the French nickname for the restaurant chain. The largest attracted 130 people in the town of 5,328 people.
Supporters argue that McDonald’s will not only benefit them by offering affordable and desirable foods, but the new restaurant would create 30 new jobs. Those marching included many unemployed residents of the town, students who would also be attracted to such part-time jobs, and union members. As the Daily Mail notes, unemployment in France stands at ten percent, and the straggling economy has become a major issue in local and national politics. The unemployment rate in France reached a 16-year high this January under socialist President Francois Hollande, who increased taxes on the wealthy 75% this year.
In addition to economic issues boiling beneath the surface of the protests, McDonald’s itself has surged in popularity in the nation in recent years, despite what the Telegraph describes as “often loudly expressed snobbery” towards fast food in France. France is currently the second-largest consumer of McDonald’s products in the world, after the United States. In defense of the restaurant, despite its nutritional reputation, residents of the town told the Daily Mail they believed small businesses in the town selling French fries and other fatty foods were just as unhealthy as McDonald’s.
McDonald’s is hoping to capitalize on this newfound popularity using a series of new advertisements featuring pictograms of the corporation’s most popular menu items that have been appearing throughout France. The pictograms–of such items as the Big Mac, fries, chicken nuggets, and sundaes–also feature in a television ad in which young French people place them across their cities.