McDonalds in Vietnam

JW Sherman ponders the march of the golden arches

Fast food giant McDonald’s is slated to arrive in Vietnam this month, with the first store located at the top of Dien Bien Phu Street in District 1 and another at the intersection of Tran Hung Dao and Pham Ngu Lao. There have been numerous stories over the years as to why the chain has not entered the Vietnam market, from securing supplies to issues around their buy-and-lease-back property business model. The company itself said they have been waiting to find the right local partner to be the master franchisee.

Well, they certainly have that now, and, regardless of the reasons for the time it has taken, the fact is they are the latest entrant in a burgeoning fast food market. Look around, there seems to be a KFC on every other corner, Burger Kings have sprouted up all over Saigon seemingly overnight, Carl’s Jr, Popeye’s, Texas Fried Chicken and even Dunkin’ Donuts all have restaurants in Vietnam.

And yet the arrival of McDonald’s here has been greeted in some quarters as if it were the coming of the four horsemen. I’m not sure why this is. I mean, there is no shortage of international corporations doing business here. My only guess is that it is kind of a default reaction of the chattering classes who like to use McDonald’s as the symbol for all corporate evil. All the while chatting away on their Apple products made in Chinese sweatshops.

Sure, there are health concerns about eating too much fast food, but there is already enough food here, both western and Vietnamese, that must be consumed in moderation. There is a place for fast food, it’s convenient and we all indulge from time to time. It also just tastes good. Whenever my good wife and I touch down in another country we always make for a Mickey D’s to grab a burger. And it sure tastes a damn sight better than what you get at Lotteria.

But, it’s a treat, a once-in-a-while thing. I’m a believer in personal choice and personal responsibility, and, as such, I think people should be able to have a cheeseburger if they want. In the same way, if you over indulge, get fat, clog your arteries and have a heart attack, then you need to take responsibility for that.

Right about now some of you will be asking the ‘kids’ question. So, what about the kids? Last time I checked parents were responsible for their kids, so same goes. Keep it to an occasional treat and there isn’t really a problem.

There is also a somewhat troubling element to the criticism of McDonald’s coming to Vietnam, particularly from the expatriate community. Even if it is unconscious, the argument that McDonald’s is ”bad for Vietnam” carries the implication that the people of this country are not capable of managing the responsibility of living in an environment with corporatised fast food, and therefore are better off not having the choice in the first place.

I can’t help but detect a whiff of condescension in such arguments. If some folks overdo the fast food and suffer the consequences, well, Vietnam will be no worse or better than every other country in the world where these establishments operate. But the people should be free to choose.

JW Sherman is an American management consultant who has been living in Southeast Asia for more than 20 years.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of AsiaLIFE’s editorial team or management. To contact directly mail jwshermanator@gmail.com