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14 May, 2019 22:09

Fries with that? In most American move ever, US outsources Austria consular service to... McDonald’s

Fries with that? In most American move ever, US outsources Austria consular service to... McDonald’s

Distressed American tourists who are not lovin’ their time in Austria will soon be able to seek urgent assistance at the nearest McDonalds, thanks to the US Embassy in Vienna signing a deal with the iconic fast food joint.

Yes, you read that right.

The US embassy in Austria recently announced via its Facebook page that Ambassador Trevor D. Traina had signed the agreement with the McDonald’s Austria boss Isabelle Kuster.

As part of the deal, McDonald’s restaurants across Austria will be granted permission to offer consular assistance to Americans who are “in need” and unable to reach the embassy by phone, starting May 15.

I have some questions.

Firstly, why would one not be able to contact the embassy by phone? Surely most American tourists have both phones and access to the internet (to check the number) via those phones? For those who do not have a phone or internet access, couldn’t they simply ask a travel companion or nearby stranger? If they are in the vicinity of a McDonald’s anyway, there’s probably already someone around who could help.

Then there’s the logistics of how this would all work at McDonald’s itself.

Do you go in and stand in line, as if you’re planning to order a Big Mac like everyone else? Or will there be a separate line especially for distressed Americans?

What about the staff? Will they need training for this, or are they literally just going to be making a phone call to connect people to the embassy proper? Even if that’s all they are doing, isn’t it a bit odd to have random Austrian citizens essentially working as intermediaries on behalf of the US government?

I mean, there’s upskilling and then there’s really upskilling — and it’s probably fairly unlikely that Austria’s McDonald’s employees bargained for this when they signed up. There’s a big difference between apologizing for a messed-up burger order and dealing with a panic-stricken tourist who just had their passport stolen.

Also, why Austria? Do US citizens find themselves in distress in Austria at a higher rate than other countries?

So, so many questions.

McDonald's spokesman Wilhelm Baldia told the Independent that the company had been chosen to attain mini-embassy status due to "the great fame of the brand” among Americans and because there are a lot of branches of the fast-food restaurant in Austria. Americans will be able to report lost or stolen passports or seek travel assistance at the restaurants, he said.

I can’t help but imagine that iconic scene at the end of ‘Not Without My Daughter’, when an exhausted but determined Sally Field finally arrives at the US Embassy in Ankara and sees the American flag flying above its gates… only this time she’s arrived at the nearest McDonald’s and is gazing up at those iconic yellow arches instead.

Doesn’t quite pack the same emotional punch.

Unsurprisingly, the news was met with mixed reaction on Facebook, with some feeling the McDonald’s-embassy deal was a genius idea, while other Americans (quite understandably) felt rather mortified by the whole thing.

“Introducing the McVisa,” one wrote sarcastically, while another wondered if her fellow Americans were “too incompetent” to contact their embassy without assistance from McDonald’s employees.

“...can we be more of a meme in the world?!” she wrote.

Anyway, there is a perfect aptness to the fact this deal happened in the era of Donald Trump — well-known for his own love of McDonald’s fast food. If nothing else, he’s probably fairly happy about it.

Danielle Ryan

Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleRyanJ