Russia: Sacked by Big Mac
In the summer of 1990, a conservative talk show host from Iowa, a popular Christian broadcaster from Florida, and the editor of a big weekly newspaper in Nebraska walk into Moscows brand-new McDonalds. No. This is not the lead-in to a joke. Three of us actually stood in a long line to get inside.
We ordered the Big Mac. The Big Mac was okay for the Proletariat, although the meat was a bit stringy. But, given that only the Nomenklatura had access to the really good eating places, we could see why McDonalds was so popular with ordinary Russians. McDonalds was clean, quick, and reasonably priced.
Immediately, two Russian college students asked if they could sit with us so they could improve their English. We soon learned their parents were members of the Nomenklatura, either scientists in the Soviet space program or professors at Moscow State University. We offered them English. They offered to drive us around Moscow. We struck a deal, although our English was better than their old Lada sedan.
Over the next two days, we learned the two boys were very bright, very privileged, and wanted to go to the USA to work on Wall Street. Holy Lenin! Could this be? We also learned they were both very vain, were consumed with becoming wealthy, were amoral, and had no knowledge of any kind of spiritual values. They would do well on Wall Street.
Although our journalism conference was in one of Moscows better hotels, the food was nothing to write home about. We asked, "Where is a good place to eat?" They said we must go to the Nomenklatura restaurants run by Georgian Mafia which, for some reason, had access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat. Sure enough, our dinner that evening was the best meal we had after almost two weeks in Moscow. Even the Georgian wine was good.
But we had more to learn about food in Moscow. On the final evening of the conference, we gathered in the hotels huge dining room for a gala banquet. The entrée was beef steak. Fortunately, at our table was a former East German fighter pilot then teaching at a major university in Boston and a famous, well-traveled Canadian journalist.
The first thing we noticed about our steaks was that they were almost raw. Our experienced friends told us the steaks had been briefly blow-torched in the kitchen and then set before us. We asked what would happen if we sent our steaks back to be cooked. Our friends said the steaks would be brought back burned to a crisp.
So, we sat back and watched that happen to those who sent their steaks back for more cooking. Sure enough, the meat came back in smoking embers. A few ate their steaks raw. Most of us just left our steaks untouched.
And that, of course, was the scam. Once we left, the waiters would collect about 400 uneaten steaks and sell them into the next days black market. That was 31 years ago.
Now, McDonalds is closing all its restaurants in Russia. Wise move. Because, whether it is the USSR or the Russian Federation, it is still just a scam-ridden, 3rd-world country. Unfortunately, with nukes!
©2022. William Hamilton.