(CN) — In Austria, the fast-food chain McDonald’s has been recruited by the U.S. Embassy to come to the rescue of distressed American tourists who’ve lost a passport, cellphone or find themselves in some other traveler’s nightmare.
In an unusual partnership, U.S. citizens now can go to any of the 194 McDonald’s restaurants in Austria and ask to be put in touch with the 24-hour hotline at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna.
The deal immediately drew a plethora of media attention and mixed reactions. A German newspaper called it a “crazy deal.” The Independent in Great Britain characterized McDonald’s restaurants as becoming “mini-embassies” for Americans and highlighted President Donald Trump’s fondness for fast food.
The McDonald’s brand was once unheard of in Europe and it is still regarded by many as an unappetizing American intrusion. But today the fast-food chain is a common sight in Europe’s ancient cities and towns.
This first-of-its-kind partnership began Wednesday. The arrangement was announced on Facebook last week by the U.S. ambassador to Austria, Trevor D. Traina, a former technology entrepreneur, and the managing director of McDonald’s in Austria, Isabelle Kuster. In a photo with the post, the pair are seen smiling and shaking hands after signing a “memorandum of agreement.” They sit in a McDonald’s with an empty McCafé cup on the table.
“American citizens traveling in Austria who find themselves in distress and without a way to contact the U.S. Embassy can enter any McDonald’s in Austria, and staff will assist them in making contact with the U.S. Embassy for consular services,” the embassy said.
McDonald’s Austria said it was unaware of a similar arrangement anywhere else in the world. Bild, a German newspaper, reported that the U.S. Embassy in Berlin said it had no plans to follow Austria’s example, though a spokesman did not rule it out altogether, saying the embassy “is constantly evaluating how we can improve our service.”
McDonald’s is reportedly not being paid for the new service.
On Friday, the U.S. State Department declined to respond to questions from Courthouse News about the arrangement, saying only that “from time to time we work with private-sector and other non-government entities” to help U.S. citizens in trouble overseas.
The New York Times reported that the U.S. Embassy approached McDonald’s with the idea.
Reaction to the Facebook announcement was voluminous and mixed, and often sarcastic —sprinkled with cranky, ungrammatical, questionable and crude comments.
“Can you help me find the McEmbassy?” one person wrote. Another quipped: “Can I have a McPassport please?” Someone else alluded to the question of preferential treatment: “Can you open a Burger King embassy so we can have it our way?”
Another person said: “If we can also file our U.S. tax as expat at McD [McDonald’s], then we are talking.”
Many comments were positive.
“Of all [the] useless things, this is a good idea. Good job to the person who came up with it,” one person commented. Someone else responded: “How cool is that. There’s a McDonald’s is [sic] every country we’ve been in. Great if this was available everywhere.”
Others were critical.
“As a U.S. citizen, I find it odd that this seems to be an endorsement for a specific corporation. I would prefer if the government and corporations were kept separate,” one person commented. Another questioned: “Because apparently we are too incompetent to look up the U.S. embassy online?? My Gaaaawd — can we be more of a meme in the world?!” Someone else chimed in: “Everybody else in the whole world can figure it out. These are basic skills of living on the globe and traveling. This agreement is so ridiculous!”
Although mostly unresponsive to the online reaction, the U.S. Embassy in Vienna replied to one person who wondered if McDonald’s was being asked to help because the embassy lacks staff.
“Our Embassy is fully staffed and ready to assist American citizens in need,” the embassy wrote in a comment. “This partnership is only one extra way for Americans to connect to the Embassy when they are in an emergency situation.”
The spokesman for McDonald’s Austria, Wilhelm Baldia, told The New York Times that the arrangement was not about commercializing consular services.
“We will not be a mini-embassy,” he told the newspaper. “We will not take on any tasks of the embassy or any embassy services.”
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)