AN INDESCRIBABLE SMELL

Stormy weather over a market town in south-west France. The beckoning glow from an illuminated giant ‘M’ habitually guided me through six weeks of beating rain to my unforeseen destination. I felt assured that inside the infamous burger joint would be obscurity, tepid warmth and—free unlimited internet connection. A newcomer to town the easiest backdrop for my digital schedule inadvertently led to a daily dose of watchful contemplation. Observations of performances—arriving, ordering, cooking, serving, eating and discarding— revealed inclusivity through docility.

A Sunday night and three young children bathed and groomed sit in their pyjamas alongside their parents. Snug inside a curved nest of a booth they munch silently through broad smiles. For countless hours the gaggles of teenagers uninhibitedly gossip, drink coffee and slurp ice-cream as they relish the sanctuary of communal neutrality. Lone regulars dissolve into ambiguity as they lunge, chew and swipe their iPhones and succeed to avoid eye contact. 

Teenage kitchen staff with netted heads and easy wash uniforms smile self-consciously as they murmur ‘bon appetite’ and deliver diners’ orders to wipe clean tables. Later on and off-shift they join their friends at the high-stool bars to slurp on soft ice cream and iced long sodas. The early morning shift clean the restaurant floor with a lethally slippery coating of water, soap and transposed grease. There is always a unique odour of cleaning chemical mingled with a slight dash of food, indescribable and constantly baffling.

The non-confrontational atmosphere offers its eaters an encounter with food that is easy and predictable—the menu, the packaging, the taste, the table settings and the visit’s routines all intensify a risk free and passive experience. There is no need to think beyond the initial food selection made at the fast track digital menu that suggestively asks, ‘Vous êtes un client?’ and ends with the functional query ‘Quelle zone assayer?’ enabling staff  to serve up your ‘I’m Loving it’ tray full. There is a reassurance that no ‘can’t stand’ ingredients will be included nor will the final bill at around €5.85 be a gasp of a surprise. The predictability offers cossetted security. The eating experience offers saccharine infantilism aiming to satisfy hard-wired tastes but not hunger.

The visuals of the meal are innocuous and unchanging block hues of brown, beige, pale yellow and red. The texture is of pulpy warm chewiness that offer little mandible resistance. The taste is an iconic and enveloping mix of salty near meatiness and sweet bun. The big ‘M’ experience was grotesque and glorious in equal ‘no questions asked’ measures. A place of flat-packed food puffed up into cartoonesque tastiness. Served from a theatrically lit preparation area that unashamedly offers consumers an easy-going obscurity that makes few social demands.