22 November, 2011

How to improve America's image abroad

In the picturesque Belgian square in the middle of Leuven are three types of businesses. Firstly, the bars. Lots of them, of all different types. Dark, dingy places with super cheap beers and foreign drug dealers to slightly more upscale places that will kindly tell you that yes, you can come in, but next time please don't wear Converse because we're classier than that. The second type of business in the square are the local restaurants. I believe there were three, including a frites shop, a waffle/ice cream place, and my favorite, a cheap falafel and schwarma restaurant. And finally, there were the two American chains: Pizza Hut and McDonalds.

I can't say I ever walked into that McDonalds, but several of us did drunkenly find our way into the Pizza Hut one evening with the intent of enjoying a cheap reminder of home. We were inside for all of two minutes before realizing that it was a nice, sit-down restaurant where people were actually dressed quite well. One look at the menu prices confirmed that this wasn't at all like your shitty Roxbury, Massachusetts Pizza Hut where you pick up your $10 order and get the hell out before getting shot. But we left just as quickly anyway, sans pizza.

Geneva doesn't have Pizza Huts but they do have several Dominos locations to choose from. Six, in fact. I've spotted a few while biking around but hadn't thought much of them or considered ordering from one. I would assume that with six locations in a fairly small city they're doing quite well, but even profitable businesses sometimes need an occasional boost to get people in the door, and what better way to do that than with Groupon. The Groupon deals here have been completely worthless thus far, mostly spa/beauty services and a few "deals" on 5 star hotels in the area. This past weekend they offered a 70% discount for two 30 centimeter pizzas. That's about 11 inches, so we're talking two Dominos medium size pizzas. Original value, without the Groupon? 65.80CHF.

Source: groupon.ch

65.80 francs at today's exchange rate is $71.88. That's $35.94 for one medium pizza. And we're not talking gourmet shit either, this is Dominos. They don't even stuff their crust with cheese for gods sake. Yes, Geneva is absurdly expensive and is consistently ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world. A friend from Texas (sorry Jess, you don't have a blog for me to link to) was here this past weekend and spent $25 on a cheeseburger meal and some jalapeƱo poppers at Burger King. But Burger King isn't crazy expensive elsewhere in the world (as far as I know), those prices are simply endemic here in this city. What the Dominos prices show us is a worrying trend in the export of certain American goods that is undeniably effecting Europeans' perception of America.

I'm going to assume that Dominos is stupid expensive elsewhere in Europe, like Pizza Hut, and that the Geneva prices are only moderately inflated above the Euro average. Pizza from large chains is an American staple, almost as traditionally American as McDonalds or Coca Cola. And yet you can get relatively cheap McDonalds and Coke anywhere in the world. For some unknown reason, American pizza chains have decided that they want to rip Europeans off as much as possible. Even in this city you can get a similar sized take out pizza for 10CHF if you know where to look.

It's been clear to me here that European youth don't have a great view of the US, and who can blame them? They are the 99%, forced to stare longingly into the windows of the exclusive American pizza chains that they couldn't hope to be able to afford. They haven't been experienced the 2:30AM drunken Dominos trips that have been an important part of the development of American youths. With these prices, that would be like Americans walking into a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in the middle of the night to get some drunk steak and potatoes. Absurd to even think about.

Dominos has come to represent America in their minds: a greasy, overpriced behemoth that doesn't want to help out the lowly Europeans. If we want to improve the way Europeans look at America we must either force these chains to lower their prices here or begin heavily subsidizing pizza in Europe. How can the hippies camping out in Parc des Bastions give up their Occupy cause now, when American pizza is still so far out of their grasp economically? The Chinese love America because we exported KFC and made it affordable to nearly everyone (citation lacking). Until Peace Corps Volunteers are sent to Europe to begin distributing pizza aid, America is doomed to be loathed by the Euro youth.

Dominos, you are the 1%.


  1. Think of all the Europeans who have been corrupted into thinking that this is what Pizza is? It's like thinking we are all a bunch of cowboy's with a Texas drawl.

  2. 1. McDonalds is known for being ridic expensive elsewhere in the world. A happy meal in Samoa was like $15.

    2. You have to make reservations at the Pizza Hut in Canterbury because it's where people go for a fancy night out. American pizza chains are also expensive - but not as prohibitively so as GVA. The best is Papa Johns (in Ashford - 20 mins by train away), which always has 2-for-1 pick up and is ultimately a better pizza. Most chains here offer weird European versions of the standard US menus - 'veggie special' here usually comes with mushrooms, peppers, and corn.

    3. Kevin - we aren't?

  3. Eating steak and potatoes while drunk is not an absurd concept. Your grammar could use some improvement, by the way.