A giant yellow footprint on our landscape

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The Independent Online
Years ago I had a friend who lived in New York and often came to Europe to enjoy things she couldn't find in America. Ruined castles. Antiquarian bookshops. Small tomatoes grown for taste, not size. Little old tea shops. Things like that.

One day I was talking to her on the phone and I said: "Who are McDonalds?" She said: "Why do you want to know?" I said: "Well, I have just seen an advert saying that the first McDonalds is about to open in the UK. Is that a good or a bad thing?" She screamed and said: "My God, is nowhere safe? And why is it that America always exports the things I'm trying to get away from?"

That friend no longer visits Britain, but McDonalds has certainly meanwhile planted its giant yellow footprint on our landscape. In fact, it ruthlessly tries to plants its big yellow feet on anyone who remotely threatens its inexorable expansion. It now seems clear that there must be a whole team of people at McDonalds keeping their eyes open for anyone opening an eating place which looks at all like a McDonalds eating place, so that they can rain writs on it. You and I might wonder why anyone would want to open a place that reminded anyone of a McDonalds. Personally, if I ran an eating place which turned out to remind people of McDonalds eating places, I would have it closed down immediately. But a Mrs Blair in Buckinghamshire runs a sandwich place called McMunchies, and the team of people at McDonalds who have instructions to ruthlessly crush anything that looks or sounds like them sent out a hit squad to stop Mrs Blair using "Mc" on the front of Munchies, even though she had only used it to suggest a Scottish flavour.

These bully-boy tactics, which have all the elegance of stepping on a man in the scrum, or hitting your opponent after the bell has gone, are odd to find in a company which supposedly cares about its gentle image. Of course, the image of McDonalds has been tarnished badly by the so- called McLibel case in which bully- boy McDonalds have been trying to squash two harmless protesters and which has gained McDonalds more bad publicity than it would be possible to buy. In my case, the image of McDonalds was equally tarnished by a personal visit to a McDonalds eating place ( I refuse to use the word "restaurant" about a fast food joint ) and failing to derive any pleasure from the experience at all. I hope I never have to go inside a McDonalds again.The only disadvantage of never going inside a McDonalds is that you can't boycott the place. One's immediate reaction to reading about McDonalds' bully-boy tactics is to say, "All right, Mr Tough Guy McDonald, that's the last time I frequent one of your dumps!". But if you have already sworn that, what can you do? It's the same with British Home Stores. I received a circular from a Burmese pressure group the other day begging me not to buy things from British Home Stores, because of their trading links with the atrocious Burmese government, who are doing to democracy what McDonalds are doing to places called "McMunchies" and "McDelights" and "McDonuts". I would willingly comply, except that to my knowledge I have never bought a single thing from BHS and there is no known way of improving on that record.

Nor can I stop drinking American Budweiser beer. I would dearly love to stop, after reading a recent piece in The European newspaper which spells out how the American giant Anheuser-Busch - brewers of the American Budweiser - is trying to crush the small Czech brewery Budejovicky Budvar. This brewery produces a beer called "Budweiser Budvar", described by CAMRA (Campaign for real ale) as one of the world's great beers. The Americans are furious because the Czechs insist on calling it Budweiser. And why do they call it Budweiser? Because that is the German name of the place where it is brewed, and because the Czechs were calling it Budweiser long before the Americans registered the name for their brew (which CAMRA does not describe as one of the great beers of the world).

I cannot stop drinking American Budweiser beer in protest against this monstrous bullying because all the American beers I have tried were so soapy and dreary that I have never gone back for a second try. Still, I can at least go out and buy a few bottles of Budweiser Budvar to show my support. Anyone know any good Czech hamburger joints?