Why Are They Standing in Line?

This is something I wrote a year ago and posted on the other site (which will shortly be closed down).  Hope you don’t mind a little recycling.

Recently I went to MacDonalds for supper.  A co-worker is travelling this week, so I called his wife to see if she and their 3-year old son would like to go somewhere for supper.  We decided that the son could make the call on where to go.  Well, for a 3-year old, it’s a no-brainer:  MacDonalds it was.  I asked him why and he looked at me like I had just crawled out from under some big rock, and said, "The Incredibles!"  Fortunately, the rock I live under isn’t that big, so I could at least recall that I’d heard about a new animated movie with that title, and quickly realized that Micky D’s must be giving out "Incredibles" toys these days.  It made me contemplate the immense power that men and women in suits on Madison Avenue have over 3-year olds in Beijing—not just American ones, but the tens of thousands of Chinese 3-years olds as well.

When we arrived at the Golden Arches, we were at first hesitant to go in because we saw that the line was back almost to the door.  First of all, merely seeing a line (as opposed to a scrum) in a MacDonalds in this town is startling enough, but to see one that long…Ugh, we thought.  It must be a big night for hamburgers.  But it wasn’t.  We entered and instantly had one of those "what is wrong with this picture" moments.  There were indeed people standing patiently (!) in one line and it did stretch back to the door.  Beijing rule-bound Americans, our first instinct was to just get in the line, until we noticed that other registers were open, and they were serving customers.  Nothing about this scene was making sense, but we decided to skip the long line and head to the counter, still puzzling about that line.  "What’s up with that line?" 

I started to look around and noticed a sign above the register that said "pre-paid cards only." Ahah!  Now we’re getting somewhere.  Then I noticed a giant poster on the wall advertising a McDonalds pre-paid card.  "Go to X Bank to deposit some money. Then, use the card for discounted meals at McDonalds."  That’s why these people were calmly standing in line!  For discounted hamburgers!  Ah, it’s those powerful Madison Avenue Suits again!

You know, there was a time not so long ago in this country that people had to stand in line for the basics of life:  rice, flour, cooking oil, meat.  They stood in line becasue there was a shortage and things were rationed. And now it has come to this–standing in line so you can use your MacDonalds debit ard and save a few fen (cents).

It was a good reminder once again that even though the Communist Party is still in power, consumerism is what drives things now.