One nation under McDonald’s

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One nation under McDonald’s

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On election night, the American embassy theme park was in full swing (photo: US embassy London)

The US embassy is not an inspiring building. Designed by the celebrated Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen—responsible for the otherwise remarkable structures of Washington’s Dulles Airport terminal and St Louis’s famous archway—the Chancery, completed in 1960, is nothing but a colossal industrial brick flanking one end of Grosvenor Square. It can only be described as “pre-Ikea.”

Not to say that it doesn’t have its charm. The statue of Ronald Reagan (who else?) that towers outside the entrance smiles so earnestly that you feel as though you’re entering a theme park based on the Pax Americana that ruled from the space race to the destruction of the Berlin Wall. (Check out the statue of Eisenhower on the other side of the square.)

Late last night, that theme park was in full swing. Over a thousand people shuffled into the Embassy a little after 10pm to watch the election results come in. Embassy officials, diplomats, journalists, expatriates and guests (including Andrew Marr and Ian Hislop) mingled over cocktails and canapés and gazed intermittently at the various screens broadcasting the live coverage.

At an event sponsored by McDonald’s, there were so many opportunities to act American that it was almost a burden to keep track of the race. There was a concert downstairs and a Starbucks station upstairs. Men in Uncle Sam attire circulated, while an Elvis impersonator was on hand for any photo opportunities. White wine led to red wine, and red wine led to liquor.

As the night wore on, a few isolated voices cheered for Republican victories, but the majority clapped with their wine glasses for the victories of Democrats like Missouri’s Claire McCaskill. Many guests were still around in the wee hours of the morning when California went for Obama, tipping the scale decisively, but the loudest moment of the night was probably when Elizabeth Warren defeated Scott Brown for the Massachusetts Senate seat.

Partisanship, however, was not the theme of the night. In fact, you could say that the entire affair was a model of the very sort of unity President Obama emphasised in his acceptance speech. Everyone was united in their love of McDonald’s, ever present in the form of Big Macs, Chicken Selects  (upmarket McNuggets) and French fries on silver plates. There were even McFlurries for dessert. “Burger King sponsored last time,” an older American man told me. “We lucked out.”

A press liaison from the French embassy was less enthusiastic. “You know,” he said, “in times of austerity, you have to get your sponsors where you can.”

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James McAuley
James McAuley is a Marshall scholar at the University of Oxford 

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