Sometimes things can be so ubiquitous that they become invisible. When we arrive in any new town or city over a certain size in the world we can just assume there will be a McDonalds there, but few people would actually go looking for one. They just seem to pop-up at the right time and place when we feel inclined to consume a burger, and the bland architecture of these places is completely inter-changeable whether you find yourself in Bordeaux or Buenas Aries.
It is therefore very surprising to find a McDonalds housed in a mock-Alsacian building opposite the Gare St Lazare, and yet somehow it seems perfectly normal. The building must have originally been constructed to house an Alsacian restaurant or bar, and is rather kitsch with it's fake wooden facade and sculptured storks. It's not clear whether this facade is now protected or whether McDonalds decided simply that it would be easier to keep the building as it is, but now it merely looks like something you might find in a corner of a Disneyland park.
McDonalds is a controversial organisation all over the world, but particularly so in France. It is attacked as a gastronomical terrorist, corrupting the tastebuds of young gourmets and yet is incredibly popular. Looking at this branch, we can see just why the brand is so prevalent. It is a kind of chameleon, and can slip into any kind of environment. Whereas in the US it was originally conceived to feed hungry drivers and was mostly placed in out of town drive-thru plots, in Europe it has had to adapt and move into city-centre locations. In Paris, this has largely been vacated bar and restaurant lots, often with restrictions on changes that can be made to the facade.
I personally have not eaten in a McDonalds for several years, but I can understand its popularity. Most people do not have time to sit down and eat several courses at lunchtimes, and even if they did, the slightly formal and often frankly cold dining experience that is offered in many Parisian restaurants does not offer an attractive alternative. For the individual diner, McDonalds offers an illusion of invisibility that provides a cocoon of security during stressful working days. For everybody else, it simply offers a uniform, impersonal experience without any surprises. And despite what we often hear to the contrary, the majority of people do not like surprises.