January 31

This Day in History

Cold War

Jan 31, 1990:

First McDonald's opens in Soviet Union

The Soviet Union's first McDonald's fast food restaurant opens in Moscow. Throngs of people line up to pay the equivalent of several days' wages for Big Macs, shakes, and french fries.

The appearance of this notorious symbol of capitalism and the enthusiastic reception it received from the Russian people were signs that times were changing in the Soviet Union. An American journalist on the scene reported the customers seemed most amazed at the "simple sight of polite shop workers...in this nation of commercial boorishness." A Soviet journalist had a more practical opinion, stating that the restaurant was "the expression of America's rationalism and pragmatism toward food." He also noted that the "contrast with our own unrealized pretensions is both sad and challenging."

For the average Russian customer, however, visiting the restaurant was less a political statement than an opportunity to enjoy a small pleasure in a country still reeling from disastrous economic problems and internal political turmoil.

The arrival of McDonald's in Moscow was a small but certain sign that change was on the horizon. In fact, less than two years later, the Soviet Union ceased to exist as a nation, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as leader of the country, and various Soviet republics proclaimed their independence. As the American newsman reported, the first Russian McDonald's customers "had seen the future, and it works, at least as far as their digestive tract."

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