The Frenchified English of McDonald’s in France

I had the misfortune of eating at McDonald’s last Sunday when David and I decided to go on a drive to Chanaz, at the other end of Lac du Bourget. Unfortunately, we arrived at 2pm, when every restaurant in Europe closes because no one can possibly still be hungry at that time, so it was either starve (I normally eat breakfast at 11 and lunch at 2, I’m so unFrench!) or go to the only “restaurant” in this area that serves “food” after 2pm. So McDonald’s it was, though I think I should have chosen to just starve for a while longer.

I always have to laugh at fast food places in France because they try so hard to be American. Most of their menu is in English, though Frenchified English, because everyone associates fast food with the US, so of course you have to order in English to make the experience more authentic; and I’m sure it’s supposed to attract the Americans abroad. I got bored waiting at the drive-thru (that’s le drive in French) so I took a picture of their menu so I could see what ridiculous names they give the food. There’s the Big Tasty (Europe dropped the N’), the CBO (Chicken Bacon Oignons – why it’s 2/3 in English and 1/3 in French nobody knows!), Le P’tit Wrap Cheese & Sauce Ranch, and the value meals are called Best Of, though most burgers/sandwiches and the Happy Meal kept the same names.

Even though the spelling may be the same, the pronunciation is radically different, which basically means Americans who can’t speak Frenchified English can’t order at McDonald’s in France even though the menu is in English. Shortly after my arrival in France, the boulanger didn’t understand me when I tried to order un cookie because I pronounced it /ˈkʊki/ instead of /kuˈki/ and the whole time I was wondering why can’t it just be called un biscuit like I learned in French class. One little vowel and stress pattern changed and the word becomes incomprehensible. Though perhaps this should serve as a lesson why learning proper pronunciation of a foreign language is so important – especially the pronunciation of loan words that are deceptively similar to the original.

When we got home, I decided to look at McDonald’s French website for more “translations” – I highly recommend you don’t because the site is incredibly flash-heavy like most French sites – and came across this:

So I’m a little confused. Which is the English and which is the French? I’m pretty sure this is called a double cheeseburger in the US, but the translation seems to imply that Double Cheese is the English and that Double Cheeseburger is an appropriate translation into French. Why not just leave it as Double Cheeseburger and therefore have no need for that super helpful translation at the bottom?

  • hahahaha great post!
    What's annoying about English words in pretty much all languages is their preference for some particular dialect, which of course is never mine! In Europe they love British English, so I can never say anything in a way they'll understand when it's a word that, you know, has any vowel at all in it. Whenever an English word comes up in French and I give them a puzzled look, I only ever get it when they write it down.
    Funny you should write this – as a vegetarian I have almost never ever eaten in McDonald's, but I went in this week here in Berlin just for the hell of it, when I saw they had a “veggie burger”. I ordered it with “curly fries” and “ketchup”, but no matter how much I improve my German I don't think I'll ever pronounce the 'u' right in any 3 of those words! 😛
    I *hate* French flash websites. Guaranteed browser crashers. I hope they embrace HTML5 as quick as they did Flash!

  • McD's is a story onto itself. Outside of the US, France is McDonald's biggest market world-wide! Small surprise since that is pretty well the only major fast food restaurant (Quick being a distant second), at least up around Paris. It's THE place to be on any given Friday night, the parking lot is completely filled, the restaurant has standing room only, and food takes a while. About ordering? My husband has tried any combination of just ordering in English (a no-go), ordering the items in their original language (also a no-go) or trying to “French it up” (not French enough it seems).
    Thankfully we figured out the “Menu Best of” pretty quickly because I had a constant craving for Big Macs when I was pregnant. Also, the automated monitors where you can place your order can be switched to other languages, not that it was necessary anymore if you are only selecting pictures.

    French normally put so much emphasis on good food, enjoyed slowly. Why this particular bad fast food is so popular makes little sense to me.

  • bowlofjesslove

    oooh i love these posts jennie! but what language student wouldn't?

    when i was waitressing here in toulouse, my chef stumped me one day when he told me to to go to the kitcen and find a “tupperware.” the entire kitchen was bent over laughing at me as i quizzed him on what the hell it was (what's it look like? it's a type of plate? it's a bowl?) before i figured out that he was pronouncing a word from my own language à la française.

    I'd wanted to comment on your post from march 11 about this, but another one to add to the list: edd's friends all say something like “c'était le loose” as in loser when something was a flop or sucked. it always strikes me as strange.

    lastly, there is a musician here – french – who performs under the name marc chestnut. he's a pianist and he plays a character on stage that is like a french speaking brit that anglifies all his french. (“merci very much,” “on va le tryer,” etc…) at first i thought i'd hate this, but in the end its a fantastic performance and an act that mocks both the french for their love of english exoticism and the english for their earnest love of french.

  • You know that the French can't leave English words alone. They've got to mess with them. Like parking, pressing, and double cheese.

  • Zhu

    I don’t like fast food but I must admit they are a window into a country’s culture. I recently wrote about my own “lost in translation” at Mcdonalds in Québec ( and trust me, it was equally weird to order in Québec French. I mean, since when “Coke Diète” is more French than “Coca Light”???

  • Just found your blog, and I love it!

  • Claudius

    I'm not sure that the Big Tasty even exists in the US anymore. I didn't know that a “chicken bacon onion” ever existed.

    The French McD site keeps automatically partially minimizing its own window. That's a little weird, but it is a weird site. The flash was way too overused. It was not even used that extensively on most US sites even the flash heyday of some years back. Flash crept in slowly, and briefly seemed to be everywhere during a certain era. (My rather small personal site, currently only accessible to those with an email account from my university, uses no flash. I've never really liked it.) It looks like something from out of 2005/6. Not that I insist on everything being up-to-the-minute, but it's unmistakably dated in appearance. I mean, I the site was pretty much ALL flash, contentwise.

  • The funny thing is that I can never understand a word of English uttered by a French person 🙂

    By the way the big n' tasty still exists in the US, I had one last week 🙂

  • ielanguages

    Haha I so know what you mean about tupperware! The first time I heard a French person say it, I almost laughed out loud for real.

  • ielanguages

    I seriously think the only reason fast food places are so popular in France is because all other restaurants tend to be closed between 2 and 7pm and some people (like me) need to eat then. I get so annoyed at never being able to eat late lunch or early (for Frenchies)/normal (for me) dinner that I just give up and eat at Quick sometimes and I hate myself for it. lol

  • I can't believe no one's mentioned this yet! You can't write up a blog post on McDonald's in France and not mention that infamous scene from Pulp Fiction! Have you seen that movie? Do you know what I'm talking about?

    Here's the scene in question:

    Please, please, please tell me that they refer to a quarter pounder with cheese as a “Royale with cheese”! 😀


  • ielanguages

    Here in France they call it a Royal Cheese but in Quebec it's a Quart de Livre avec fromage. I had completely forgotten about that movie when I was writing this.

  • Hannah

    The English word ‘bacon’ is the same in French. So, technically, the CBO was 2/3 in French. And the French like to use English words because it’s seen as ‘cool’ and ‘glamorous’, just as we find it quite sophisticated to use French words – it adds that ‘je ne sais quoi’…