On February 8, 2014, McDonald’s, one of the biggest beacons of Americanism there is, opened its very first restaurant in all of Vietnam, in Ho Chi Minh City. Saigon-based Neil Massey photographed the spectacle from 7am to 9pm on opening day and said he’d never witnessed anything like it. The festivities included blaring techno, live bands, and thousands of customers waiting up to two hours in 90-degree heat to get their dose of the famous fast food.
Despite valid criticisms of the food and its negative impact in other Asian countries, the brand is iconic and to have it available in Communist Vietnam is no small thing. Massey describes specific aspects of the appeal: “For most Vietnamese youngsters the chance to work at an international company like McDonald’s is a big deal. For the customers it’s the aspirational experience that brings them through the doors. The average wage in Vietnam is about US$150 a month; the cost of a Big Mac is US$2.82 and a Value Meal is US$3.99. So, for many Vietnamese, it’s a special treat to bring the family to a place like this. Last year Vietnam relaxed its investment restrictions, and since then it has seen big brands like Burger King and Starbucks come into Vietnam. Starbucks was a big deal on its opening weekend, but nothing compared to this.”