Who Ate All The McDonuts?

Added on 13 January 2009

Douglas Lindsay is still writing the seventh book in the Barney Thomson triology, The Final Cut. The following first appeared in his Letter From Belgrade on 28th February 2004:

Had this brief exchange with my three year old last week:

Him: I love you, Dad.
Me: That's nice. I love you too.
Him: When are you going to die?

Okay, so he has a little bit of both his mother and father in him. Balance.

Letter from Belgrade really ought to have more about Belgrade in it. Mostly it could be a letter from anywhere. When we finally move on to our next posting, wherever that is, I'll likely not even mention it, and it'll be a few months before anyone notices from the letters that we're not in Serbia anymore. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I have no editor telling me I should be writing about more interesting things than my kids every week. Occasionally a reader will mutter something dark about the lack of insight into Serbian life, but it's not like I pay any attention, and a couple of weeks ago two or three of you wrote to ask why I'd never mentioned the depraved debauchery and sexual shenanigans of the US Ambassador and his wife, and that's just because I'd never even thought to. Obviously we, as frequenters of the Black Panther floating gypsy restaurant, are never done seeing them dancing on the tables and playing the spoons on the cocaine-smeared breasts of butt-naked pygmy women, but it never occurred to me that anyone would be interested in that stuff. If only I'd thought to write to the Mail on Sunday.

The other reason for the general lack of anything of actual interest to anyone is the fact that I am your classic sit-in-the-house-don't-go-anywhere-I've-never-been-before, personality type. I write my books in the morning, chase around after the kids like a headless chicken in the afternoon, collapse in the evening, and join battle every weekend to try and limit the amount of getting around we have to do. It's a recipe for uninteresting newsletters. It's a good thing they're so damned funny...

Just had another of those fun mid-term holiday weeks, when Barney no.6 - now entitled "The Last Fish Supper" - ground to a halt. We did all those things that you can do with kids in Belgrade in the winter when there's no snow. We went to the shopping centre, we watched tv, we let them play outside in the mud, we went to McDonald's, we went to McDonald's again, we went back to the shopping centre. It was a riot.

There are seven or eight McDonald's around Belgrade and we have crossed the doors of most of them in our time here. Now McDonald's is as McDonald's does, the kids like 'em, and we don't mind taking them there, but what is it with that stupid catchphrase? "I'm lovin' it!" What were they thinking? They took all the words in the magnificent, absurd, beautiful, complex, illogical and intricate language that is English, and came up with "I'm lovin' it!". But then, maybe they're right; it's the essence of junk food distilled into three words. Why use quality when you can use crap? The ethics of the new millennium. And you just know that they paid someone a tonne to come up with it. Here's what happened:

The Head of Marketing - we'll call him Norbert J Graveblatt Jnr so we don't have to keep referring to him as the Head of Marketing - put out a memo to all staff looking for suggestions for a new catchphrase. Free Happy Meal with Plastic Crap Toy for the best suggestion. The workers in head office, wherever that is, thought about it on the commute home that evening, and the following day Norbert J Graveblatt Jnr received a barrel load of suggestions, including the following: "McDonald's - Where Cows Go When They Die"; "McDonald's - Not As Shite As You Think!"; "Junk Is The New Vitamin C"; "We Also Do Salads"; "Elvis Preferred Burger King And Look What Happened To Him"; "I'm Lovin' It!"; '"If It Doesn't Give You Spots And A Fat Butt It Ain't Worth Eating".

Norbert J Graveblatt Jnr checked them over, rejected them all out of hand, and then called in the marketing consultants. Along trundled the chaps from Andersen Consulting or KPMG or whoever. They spent a month individually interviewing everyone who worked at the company asking them what they thought, at the end of which they had a list of suggestions, starting with "Where Cows Go When They Die", etc. They then selected "I'm Lovin' It!" as the finest suggestion, took it to Norbert Graveblatt Jnr, who absolutely loved the catchphrase because it had come from the boys from Price Waterhouse. He then paid them $8million and sent them on their way. This is how marketing consultants work. (Incidentally, if anyone from McDonald's is reading this and wants to use any of the original catchphrases employed in this article, they can have them for one million pounds sterling each, payable in any currency except dollars.)

The other thing that bugs me about McDonald's is the 'Mc' at the start of their products. McMex, McChicken, McNuggets. Fine, it's marketing and they can call them what they choose, but it doesn't mean that we, the customers, have to. Liberate yourselves. You don't have to say McChicken. If you approach the counter and say 'I'd like a chicken sandwich, please,' they're not going to look at you like you're an idiot, and say, 'We don't do no sticking chicken!' Neither are they likely to say, 'We'll only give it to you if you ask for it by its proper name.' They'll just give you the flippin' sandwich, with chicken in it. And it's double the crime to use the 'Mc' prefix when you're not even at the place and you're just discussing their tasty products with your mates. You don't have to do it. If you just say to your friends, 'I really like their nuggets,' they're not going to look at you astonished and say, 'Bleedin' Nora! They do nuggets!?'

Okay, some insight into everyday Serbian life, with one of my occasional political updates. After finally completing all the promotional work on his new CD of contemporary Serbian folk music, entitled 'Who Ate All The Pies?', Vojislav Kostunica has finally agreed to form a government. This came through last weekend after he received sponsorship from Dunkin' Donuts. In return for a $2billion (current value approx. two pounds, sixty-seven pence) investment into Serbia by the doughnut giant, Kostunica has agreed to serve exclusively doughnuts to all visiting heads of state, and dress in a Dunkin' Donuts t-shirt and baseball cap every time he appears in public, while also giving enormous tax incentives to Serbian doughnut eaters. (It's a deal based on the one George Bush has with US oil companies and defence contractors.) Here, at the Federal Republic of Drvarska, we're still trying to finalise our deal with Little Joe's Donuts, Curry, Pizza, Burger, Thai & Ice Cream Joint.

Kostunica will head a minority government, which is coming to power only because of support from the Socialist party, still headed by Slobodan Milosevic. As the Socialist Party will not form part of the government and will not be given any of the seventeen ministerial posts on offer, there is a great deal of conjecture about what has been offered to them to secure they're co-operation. Some pundits are already predicting a return to the attempted empire building of the 90's, although whether the depleted, underpaid and demoralised Serb army is capable of attacking even the smallest target is doubtful. In a trial run, Serb forces are currently reported to be massing off the coast of Millport. Given the general uncertainty of everything, it's impossible to tell how long this government will last before they all fall out and start calling each other names. That they have even managed to get this far is testimony to the power of the doughnut.