The cautious political story of Iceland's latest McDonalds burger that simply won't rot, even after 10 years – Europe

One of Northern Europe's arguably most peculiar exports is "slow TV": real-time recording of train journeys, ferry trips or migration of reindeer, which regularly attracts record audiences.

Among perhaps the most successful – and least exciting – examples of that genre is the livestream of a McDonald's cheeseburger with French fries . At its peak, it attracted 2 million viewers a month. However, the only element of the screen that is moving is the time display.

The burger looks the same, hour after hour.

From this week it has looked like this for 10 years.

Purchased hours before the company withdrew from the country in 2009, in the wake of Iceland's devastating financial crisis, the last surviving McDonald's citizen has become much more than a burger. For some, it stands for greed and excessive capitalism that "created an economic collapse that was so bad that even McDonald's had to shut down," said Hjörtur Smárason, 43, who bought the fateful citizen in 2009. For others, the eerie fresh The appearance of the 1[ads1]0-year-old meal has served as a warning against excessive intake of fast food.

McDonald's has tried to dispel the myth that its burgers do not break down, claiming that there is a scientific explanation for Iceland's never rotten burger.

"Without sufficient moisture – either in the food itself or in the environment – bacteria and mold may not grow, and therefore degradation is unlikely," the company statement states. (McDonald's did not respond to a request for comment.)

The company may have debunked the myths about the burger's fresh appearance, but 10 years after, the political symbolism of the company's withdrawal from Iceland and the last remnant of the past that appear as more relevant than ever.


After a painful recovery, Iceland's economy was once again thrown into turmoil this year when the country's budget WOW airline went bankrupt. Overnight, a crucial factor for Iceland's recovery – the tourism industry, which now accounts for around 10% of Iceland's gross domestic product – encountered a sudden drop in visitors. About a third of them had traveled to Iceland with WOW Air. At the same time, China-U.S. The trade war began to weigh more heavily on the country.

Ten years after a devastating crisis, some Icelanders had deja vu and thrown them back to the days when the nation of around 300,000 witnessed all the major private banks defaulting. [19659002] But in the months since, Iceland's economy has surprisingly fallen again; Tourist bookings have remained fairly steady as other airlines have filled the gap of WOW Air.


Iceland was in a completely different position in 1993, when McDonald's opened its first restaurant in the country. Instead of focusing on resilience and government intervention – as has been the case since 2008 – Iceland laid the foundation for what would cause the system's collapse to last for two decades.

It embraced free market ideals like few other countries. The economy boomed.

As free market capitalism brought impressive growth worldwide, the vision of world leaders opening McDonald's restaurants became something of a symbol of victory of capitalism over socialism, just years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. [19659002] In the United Kingdom, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher became known as an outspoken fan of the corporation.

In Iceland, images from that time show the country's prime minister, Davíð Oddsson, and prayed for a burger the day the company celebrated its first Iceland opening.

"It was a very merry moment," said anthropologist Kristín Loftsdóttir, who has studied the history of the company in Iceland. The reasons for the country's enthusiasm were deeply rooted, she said.

"Iceland had for a long time been very anxious for its role in the nation's society," Loftsdóttir said. With a population the size of a small American city, Iceland was afraid it would not be a place for it on the table of mature nations in the post-Soviet world. The arrival of McDonald's, she said, seemed to indicate a new chapter: Iceland was modernizing and had become "part of a global community," Loftsdóttir said.

This success story began to loosen when the financial crisis began in 2007. Within months, Iceland was on the brink of economic disaster. But it took two subsequent collapses for the Icelanders to realize how deep they had sunk into crisis.

The first was the collapse of the country's banking system.

But it took McDonald's withdrawal to really humiliate the country.

Operating in the country had become too costly after the crisis: Currency collapsed; inflation skyrocketed. McDonald's was far from the only company to leave the compound country.

But for some, the chain extraction felt like being thrown out of the international community they had worked so hard to be a part of, Loftsdóttir said.

For her book "Crisis and Coloniality at Europe's Margins: Creating Exotic Iceland", Loftsdóttir interviewed a number of individuals who witnessed the crisis in 2008. For many of them, closing the restaurants was not so much a story of a company that laid off their employees, but rather about a nation's collective failure.

"We can't even operate a McDonald's," Loftsdóttir recalled an astonished source that summed up a widely shared sentiment at that time.


31. October 2009, marketing consultant Hjörtur Smárason was among the last customers of McDonald's in the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik. He waited in line in front of the restaurant with other Icelanders who wanted to buy their last McDonald's meal.

But Smárason had not come to eat. He had read about rumors online about never rotting McDonald's burgers and wanted to put the myth to the test. He bought a french fries cheeseburger, drove home and left the box on a shelf in his garage.

Three years went by where Smárason forgot the souvenir of a bygone era. He had other problems to worry about.

The financial crisis had hit him hard. "I lost all my savings," he remembered. "My clients went bankrupt. I tried to hang on to my house."

Three years later, as he was preparing to move to Copenhagen, he came across the McDonald's meal in his garage.

"I was worried about what I would find," Smarason said.

When he opened the box, he was shocked – but not for the reason he expected. Unlike the raw leftovers he was prepared for, he found what appeared to be a completely intact meal.

Smarason felt that he had a historical object. He reached out to the National Museum of Iceland, where the meal was displayed on a prominent display shortly after.

In the years since, some visitors seem to have mistaken a new meal. Some fries are missing.

The remains are now on display in a small hotel in Southern Iceland, where they continue to attract tourists, Smarason said.

He still visits the citizen regularly. The last time he saw it, he said, it looked "as fresh as ever."

Only the paper it is wrapped in has started to look a little yellow.

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