On the basis of one obscure article from 2006, I adopted a crude stereotype of Middle East culture that has persisted, knowingly and proudly, to this day. Here it is: Like young people everywhere, young Middle Easterners love fast food, particularly American fast food, and even more particularly, KFC. Cannot get enough.
2006 was the year that Syria saw its first KFC opening, which was in fact the first-ever licensed American food franchise in the country. It was also, due to a confluence of international incidents, a year of extremely high tensions between Syria and the U.S., leading to a level of anti-American animus that was far beyond even the usual high baseline level.
How would this cultural imposition by the Great Satan play out then? Would 2006 Syrians treat the Colonel Sanders-led invasion as just further evidence of America’s desire for military hegemony in the region? Or would they put politics aside and just enjoy the delicious chicken? I think you know the answer:
The US flag serves as a doormat to an office and nearby merchants announce "we boycott American goods", but some Syrians can’t seem to keep away from American fast food at the new KFC fried chicken restaurant.
"I oppose American politics totally, but what does food have to do with it? Politics is one thing, and food is something totally different," Tareq Mashnouk, a 26-year-old fashion designer, said.
"To be honest we were surprised they opened this American restaurant in the midst of our political situation," said Tareq Farzat, 25, adding that he liked his Chicken Burger Combo and would definitely return to KFC with his friend Kalam.
Despite his sub-optimal order preferences which we’ll forgive because he was new at this, Tareq #2 makes a strong point.
It’s true that there were some holdouts who denied themselves delicious chicken due to the Colonel’s conspicuous political affiliations, but:
Many others seem pleased with the KFC experience and trust American brands. "This tastes good, and we’ll definitely come back to eat here when we’re in the mood for chicken," said a 45-year-old woman.
This anonymous 45-year-old woman, with her unimpeachably sensible argument—it tastes good and so she’ll return when she’s in the mood for chicken—cemented my anecdotal KFC-Middle East stereotype for good. For ever.
But today friends, it somehow grows even stronger. Behold, Gaza City, from the NYT:
The French fries arrive soggy, the chicken having long since lost its crunch. A 12-piece bucket goes for about $27 here — more than twice the $11.50 it costs just across the border in Egypt.
And for fast-food delivery, it is anything but fast: it took more than four hours for the KFC meals to arrive here on a recent afternoon from the franchise where they were cooked in El Arish, Egypt, a journey that involved two taxis, an international border, a smuggling tunnel and a young entrepreneur coordinating it all from a small shop here.
“It’s our right to enjoy that taste the other people all over the world enjoy,” said the entrepreneur, Khalil Efrangi, 31.
You’re goddam right Khalil. The piece spins a theory that the Gazans’ love of KFC stems from their broader deprivation due to the Israeli blockade and severe trade restrictions, making them crave everyday items that are not otherwise very special.
Perhaps, but I think this is more on the mark:
Ibrahim el-Ajla, 29, who works for Gaza’s water utility and was among those enjoying KFC here the other day, acknowledged that the food was better hot and fresh in the restaurant, but he said he would be likely to order again. “I tried it in America and in Egypt, and I miss the taste,” he said.
Exactly, Ibrahim. You miss the taste. Ibrahim doesn’t need overdetermined psychological theories to explain the allure of the Colonel’s secret recipe.
The illicit delivery menu from Egypt is unfortunately limited to "chicken pieces, fries, coleslaw and apple pie" because other items like special sandwich orders "could be too complicated." That’s understandable, but nonetheless it’s scandalous that Tareq #2′s counterparts in Gaza can’t even get their beloved, sub-optimal Chicken Burger combos. Freedom deferred is freedom denied.
There is a happy ending though. Well, certainly not for the prospects for Middle East peace, or for the unimaginable carnage and depravity in Syria to end any time soon, or for the Israeli blockade to be lifted, or for Hamas to give up violence and stop immiserating its own people. Just in terms of the chicken, I mean.
Adeeb al-Bakri, who owns four KFC and Pizza Hut franchises in the West Bank, said he had been authorized to open a restaurant in Gaza and was working out the details.
Huzzah, freedom deferred no longer. The Colonel once again acting as the tip of the sphere for the army of democ….well whatever really it’s just chicken.