Sunday, February 13, 2011

Would McDonald's Rat You Out?

See, this is a personal quirk of mine: I avoid dining at McDonald's. Boycott feels too strong a word here; after all am not really an anti-globalist or anti-consumerist, and have little problem using other chains.

The franchise was long known among activists in Belarus as an unsafe place. Once a street protest is dispersed and participants are chased by riot police, a natural desire is to seek refuge somewhere civilized, pretending to be a normal patron enjoying your coffee. The word on the street, however, is McDonald's restaurant management would call up KGB or police on you. That if McDonald's have operated in Nazi Germany, they sure would have been first to turn in Jews to authorities.

However, not being an activist, I long discarded these rumors as unreliable: after all why would a chain with such a worldwide culture of neutrality do that? This all changed sometime in 2005. Street photography is one of my hobbies, so I was standing at that busy corner in Minsk waiting for a moment. To my side was a McDonald's restaurant. In a quarter of an hour, an employee peeked out, seemingly on his duties, and gave me a sizing look.

Were you ever mugged in a back alley, bullied in school corridor or laid off on short notice? Then you might know this vibe you get from a stranger's glance, that some shit is about to come. I was still standing there two minutes later, indecisively uncomfortable, when a police patrol approached me. They pressed me against the wall, combed through my possessions and gave me a pat-down. Then I was dragged to police station, and questioned regarding possible "anti-government photography" on my behalf. They ran my ID against a database, and after a while (spent studying the wanted list on their billboard) I was let go.

This incident made me more wary of the franchise (at least its Belarus branch), and less inclined to leave my money there. And now and then I still hear reports, worldwide, of people being handed over to police for any kind of suspicion, and wonder.

Did you ever have a similar experience with McDonald's? Were you an employee there - do they teach people that at Hamburger University? Is law enforcement cooperation a condition in the franchise rulebook? Please chime in to comments with more data points.