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The Right to Occupy McDonald’s

Koreans_McDonaldsFor the past several months, elderly Korean people have been occupying the tables of a McDonald’s in Queens, NY, oftentimes coming in as early as 5 a.m. and leaving in the evening. This has been causing some issues for the management, as customers have been complaining and asking for refunds for lack of seating. McDonald’s kindly asks their patrons to finish eating their food in 20 minutes, so that other patrons have a place to sit to enjoy their meals, but this has not stopped this group of Korean seniors from camping. After several months, the management got the authorities involved and had policemen escort them out of the McDonald’s. Now, Korean community leaders are fighting back in what they have perceived as rudeness and “stark racism”, as the leader of the Korean Parents Association of New York, Christine Colligan wrote in a letter to McDonald’s. Read the NY Times article here.

As a Korean-American, this incident makes me uncomfortable. Why? Because I think the Koreans are wrong. Sorry, Grandfather, Grandmother, Elder, Deaconess, but aren’t you the ones guilty of being rude? Aren’t you the ones that are overstaying your welcome in a fast food restaurant, and then once met with authority, galvanizing the Korean community about some non-issue? Even as I type this, my Confucian upbringing is screaming at me. I’m imagining the amount of hate I will get by some in the Asian community, probably thinking that my parents didn’t raise me correctly (to respect my elders, or some derivative of that sentiment). Well, a couple of points about the incident.

mcd-coffeeFirst of all, the claim that Colligan makes, that this is “stark racism” is unnecessarily inflammatory and simply wrong. What evidence is there of “stark racism”? It’s plain to me that this was caused by the actions of the Korean seniors, rather than targeting the elders for being Korean. It doesn’t matter what race you are, the behavior exhibited by those Korean elders would not have been tolerated. The NY Times article goes on to state that Colligan’s “global” call to boycott McDonald’s was based on the notion to “teach them a lesson”. So basically, she’s calling all 1.7 million Korean Americans and the 50 million+ Koreans in South Korea to boycott McDonald’s because she feels that McDonald’s is disrespecting Korean seniors who feel entitled to stay for hours because they ordered a coffee for $1.09? How petty. Frankly, this is embarrassing.

At first, McDonald’s calling the police seems a bit excessive, but if I understood correctly, the actions of the seniors was tolerated for months before the authorities being called to resolve the non-compliance. Furthermore, it seems that this doesn’t even work. The seniors themselves admit to leaving, then walking around the block, and then returning for a seat. So NYPD comes around as often as 3 times a day to resolve this. What a complete waste of resources. The police have better things to do than to tell seniors to move from a McDonald’s.

It should also be noted that there are other places that the seniors could congregate. An earlier NY Times noted:

“Yet there seem to be no shortage of facilities that cater to the elderly in the neighborhood. Civic centers dot the blocks, featuring parlors for baduk (an Asian board game), and classes in subjects from calisthenics to English. Mr. Lee, who comes to the McDonald’s from Bayside, passes several senior centers en route. One is a Korean Community Service center in Flushing, which recently changed a room in the basement into a cafe with 25-cent coffee after its president, Kwang S. Kim, got word of the McDonald’s standoff.

No one has come.”

To me, it seems like this group of elderly Korean men and women have the cultural expectations that come with being an elderly Korean man or women. Utmost respect. Immunity to error. Compliance from those younger than them. Except that this time, they expect this from an establishment as synonymous with America as Ford, Apple, Google, or Microsoft. This is the difficult part because for as much as America is a nation of many peoples, not one of those peoples should disruptively insert their personal cultural expectations into our businesses. These Koreans were breaking an unspoken social rule, and should quickly dissolve the attention that they are receiving from the media by moving their gathering to another location. It is starting to reflect poorly on the Korean community.

Paul G. Lee
Paul is a displaced Southern California native who currently resides in Washington D.C.. His post-collegiate experience was highlighted by his move to the East Coast where he worked briefly for Congress. After his stint as a public servant, he jumped into the private sector and currently works as a consultant with a D.C.-based technology firm.

4 thoughts on “The Right to Occupy McDonald’s

  1. The article is rather short and consequently leaves out some rather salient facts, the most important of which is that the conflict has been resolved. How was it resolved? By arbitration, negotiation and compromise and by involving community leaders and local politicos. McDs could have contacted these same people at the start and saved itself from looking bad in the media and being threatened with a boycott. Instead, they treated some harmless elderly people as though they were dangerous criminals.

    Another very important factor: Queens has a long and documented history of bigotry and racial divisiveness. Individual incidents can be cited as far back as Howard Beach (google it and see) three decades ago, but more recent examples are a woman openly told she couldn’t be hired at a bakery because she was black, and a Korean couple at Hooters being presented with a receipt with the word ‘chinx’ typed in. It’s clearly a place where people have had some difficulty accepting each other’s racial and ethnic differences, but the writer doesn’t care to discuss the environment where our story takes place because it might lead us to question whether or not this incident might truly have some racial component – and he wants to assure us that this isn’t the case, though he offers no evidence aside from “It’s plain to me.”

    The issue of respect is nearly glossed over but that is really at the heart of things. Calling the police to act in the role of security guards for a multinational corporation is not only a waste of public resources, as noted, but it’s also an indication of profound disrespect, not only for the senior citizens who were treated so roughly but also the for immigrant and minority community at large. The message is clear: McDs has no interest in behaving as a partner and participant in neighborhood life – they are a money-making concern and that is really all they care about.

    The only time the word respect shows up here, the writer seems to seek to denigrate the traditional worldviews of the Koreans, seems to indicate instead that“Ford, Apple, Google, or Microsoft”represent the only worthy targets for veneration in the world today. The aged men and women involved here are of the age to have lived through or served in the Korean Conflict, and then lived through many decades of a brutal and despotic dictatorship that was supported by the American government. They are real people with names and histories that trail behind them and they have been through a lot before they sat down to drink that coffee.

    The writer doesn’t mention this, isn’t interested in humanizing the people involved, and perhaps it’s because it opens the door to the question of whether actual people, living people not corporations with stockholders and quarterly reports, might possibly be the best and most appropriate place to invest our respect.

    1. I really have no clue where you’re coming from with your point of view. Mcd’s doesn’t look bad in this. A FAST food company has the right to ask people to move along just like any other business. And this wasn’t a one time thing, they were spending hours a day in this location for months on end.
      And how can you make this an issue about race? Where is race in this? Explain? To say this would not happen to another racial group is wildly speculative and can’t be supported especially given that what McD’s did was so understandable and common sense as a property/business owner.
      They were also not wrong to use the police in this situation. If someone is on your property and refusing to leave, that is exactly what the police are for. As a society we do not want Mc D employees trying to physically remove them. That would be much much worse. Furthermore, the people themselves said they would just walk around the block and come right back in, even after knowing they had no right to be there. They are the ones being disrespectful and causing resources to be wasted.
      And if you didn’t know McDs was about making money, then i would like to know where you have been living your whole life. This isn’t a mom and pop, its a multi-national, as you are so fond of pointing out, and either way, it needs seats open for paying customers.

      But for real, I think you’re being pretty unrealistic if you think a business has to be tolerant of people sitting in its store for 12 hours a day while drinking a dollar’s worth of coffee just because they’re old or from another culture.

  2. A good counterpoint. The one issue is that MacD didn’t blow it up, although by involving police, might have lit a fuse. It are community leaders that tried to blow it up, to make a point out of it. I don’t see “race” being an issue here, and neither would age be the issue. Individuals remained at the same table for a very long time, one might even say passed politeness. Business were hurting, complaints were received and probably employees felt uncomfortable with those people constantly being around. Rather than cause violence, they asked an impartial third party to look into the matter (police) and follow through with the law (or interpretation thereof). I see no fault with how MacD tried to solve the issue. Wait until someone sits on your doorsteps for days on end, for no apparent reason, your neighbours will talk to you, you will feel strange everytime you enter your house, you will call the police since you don’t want to get physically involved. End of story. No race, No age. Just people who don’t understand that they are being obnoxious.

  3. Down here farther south the local Hardee’s often serve the same purpose, a gathering place for old people. They come in for breakfast sit and talk. I’ve even seen the practice encouraged. However, most of them have left by lunch. They don’t cause a problem during the morning hours because Hardee’s does most of it breakfast rush through the drive thru out here in the burbs. You rarely see an old person there after 11:00.

    It must be nice to grow old in a country like Korea where you can be as nasty and rude as your advanced age will allow. Here you start to be invisible somewhere around 50, especially women. Now that I’ve crossed that invisible line I’d love to be feared and respected like the average ajumma.

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