- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2002

PARIS The building across from the Gare du Nord train station is a massive stone structure that fills an entire city block. The windows have shutters on the sides, iron railings below, gargoyles above. The building conveys solidity, history, stateliness. It says, somehow, France.
But from one corner of the ground floor a red awning protrudes. And it bears a distinctly American emblem: the golden arches that denote McDonald's.
Inside, as he noshed on a Big Mac, fries and a shake, Jean-Philippe Bourgot, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering student, had some complaints about Americans.
"I feel like sometimes they are a bit arrogant," he said. Americans consume a disproportionate share of the world's natural resources but refuse to do anything about it. The United States tends to act solely out of self-interest and then uses its economic might to pressure other countries to go along, he added.
Similar conversations in similar settings can be heard around the world. McDonald's is, if not a symbol of global domination, evidence at least of American infiltration in almost every sphere of economic life.
From Tokyo to Moscow, the Middle East, Europe and Mexico, people gobble fries and complain about the selfish way Americans behave in international affairs.
"I feel they are very self-centered," said Hirokazu Okada, a 31-year-old free-lance proofreader, as he ate in a McDonald's in Tokyo. "I feel a sense of arrogance in their attitude."
"They don't go into a country and try to understand the culture," said another patron, Chisako Hara, 55, a part-time clerk. "Rather they go in and try to impose their own way and make it into the way they want it. Once it's done, they just leave."
These critics do not hate the United States. They do not consider it evil or a country that wreaks only havoc. They are a far cry from the French sheep farmer Jose Bove, who became a hero of the anti-globalism movement for vandalizing a French McDonald's to protest a U.S. levy on Roquefort cheese.
"The United States takes care of its own interests," said Gili Amoyall, an 18-year-old Israeli drama student eating lunch at a McDonald's in Jaffa, a neighborhood of Tel Aviv. "It does help the world, but for its own purposes."
Not everyone thinks that's a terrible thing.
"The United States is like a company, where the greatest shareholder has more right to intervene than others and make the rules," said Daniel Barrientos, 22, a plumbing parts salesman in Mexico City. "This is more true than ever today because of globalization."
While many people see the United States as overly focused on itself, they don't spend too much time thinking about the world's last superpower. Their focus often is elsewhere.
People worry about environmental degradation, the preservation of natural resources and the storage of nuclear waste. They worry about their children's chances to become educated and prosperous.
If she could change anything in the world, said Cecile Forrier, 21, a teacher's assistant in France, "I would try to make sure that everyone has access to an education. Because I myself am from a working-class family."
Some people worry about terrorism, saying that after the attacks of September 11 they no longer feel secure. But that fear is easing. A recent poll in Britain found that terrorism mentioned as a primary concern by 40 percent of those surveyed two months ago is now a major worry of only 13 percent.
The big concern in Europe, as expressed by Christophe Goulven, 23, a computer science student eating a Big Mac in Paris, is "European consolidation, first and foremost, so that we can strike a better balance with the United States, a better balance in economic ways, in political terms, in all respects."
In Moscow, many of the concerns are local.
People are worried about war in Chechnya, the Muslim republic in southern Russia where rebels have been fighting for independence. And they are worried about the government closure of TV-6, the last independent television station in the country.
"We are terribly, terribly disappointed at the closure," said Tatiana Malkova, 69, who met an old friend at McDonald's for a chat. "It is undoubtedly a political issue, one that can determine our lives in the next several years. We are feeling sad about the future for press freedom and for our own lives. Without freedom of speech there will be no prosperity, no money in our purses."
In Beijing, where the hundreds of McDonald's are festooned with paper horses, red lanterns and other decorations for the Chinese New Year, two themes are repeated: economic development and people's declining "suzhi." The term translates as "quality," but when used to describe people, it encompasses their morals, values and manners.
"Although people's standard of living has gone up and up, people's suzhi has not gone up," said Zhang Jie, a 26-year-old woman. "You can see it in their values and the way people treat each other. For example, on the bus, in the past a lot of people would give their seats to old people or pregnant women. Now no ones gives up their seat."
Two decades of explosive economic growth in China have raised living standards and given people more personal freedoms. But the byproducts include crime, prostitution and corruption.
In Japan, the biggest worry is the economy. A decade of recession and the highest unemployment rate in its postwar history have contributed to another postwar record: more than 33,000 suicides a year. And a dramatic fall in birth rates is creating a disproportionately elderly population.
"The whole pension system is crumbling," said Kayoko Tomita, 62, a housewife taking a coffee break. "We've seen the good times in Japan and contributed to it, and now we find ourselves in a position to enjoy it, but we can't."
Another issue facing Japan is what role it should play around the world. The country's postwar constitution is strongly pacifist and its troops are not allowed to take part in combat. But its parliament recently passed a law permitting Japan's ships to support the U.S. Navy in the war in Afghanistan.
"I'm against the idea of contributing military forces in such wars," said Mr. Okada, the proofreader. "But looking at the trend, it seems more and more likely that will happen."
In Colombia, from where American consumers obtain most of their cocaine and the country in which the United States has invested more than $1 billion in mostly military aid the problems are painfully obvious, said Jorge Forero, 44, a photographer.
"The guerrillas and the bad government, not necessarily in that order," he said as he munched burgers and fries with his wife and daughter in Bogota.
He fears the U.S. aid will be used not to solve problems but to kill people. The United States, he said, has done little at home to stem the demand for cocaine.
But from Mexico City comes the view that many of Latin America's problems are of its own making.
"Since we've all become more globalized," said Mario Bailon, 29, the owner of a print shop, "whatever happens in the United States affects us and every other country. I think this is just the price you pay for living in the same world. The difference is the United States has a more stable system than the Latin American countries. You can't blame the United States for everything that happens."
In the Middle East it is no surprise that, even in McDonald's, the conversation is dominated by war and peace.
For Moustafa Badr, 27, an architect in Cairo, the biggest issue is a Palestinian state.
"America could solve the problem in one day if they just pushed Israel to evacuate those crazy settlers and give the Palestinians the land they lost in 1967," he said, referring to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. "The fact that America doesn't do this is the reason why Arabs are angry right now."
Mr. Badr wishes Egypt were less dependent on the $2 billion a year it receives from the United States, so that it could "pursue an independent foreign policy with regards to Israel."
In Israel, too, the issue uppermost on the minds of many people is the fighting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the last 16 months, more than 1,100 people, most of them Palestinians, have been killed.
"I think this is going to be a war here," said Maya Mano, 18, who works behind the McDonald's counter in Jaffa. "It's going to be something big. I don't know, but I think it is going to involve the whole world."
It is fitting perhaps that humanity's most universal hope should be best expressed in this land of fighting and hatred and by a child.
Michael Rosado is 10 years old, a Christian of Portuguese and Ecuadorian descent, and a member of Israel's underclass.
He came to McDonald's to pick up a carry-out order. Asked what he thinks the world needs most, he laughed a little, as if the answer was obvious.
"That there should be peace," he said. "People should talk to their enemies and become friends."
Cox News Agency reporters Larry Kaplow in Egypt and Israel, Julie Chao in China and Japan, Susan Ferriss in Colombia and Mexico, and Irina Yermolenko in Russia also contributed to this article.

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