Wednesday, June 12, 2013

McDonaldization in the Petrol Station

Yesterday I went to Abou-Hamour Petrol station to study the effect of McDonaldization in Qatar. I also looked on how aesthetic designs in food outlets affect the way people behave inside them. I start by showing the pictures that I took around the petrol station through a realistic everyday life scenario.

If you have a Mitsubishi car, like me, or if you have a Toyota or a Nissan you may want to send your car for routine service at the service centers in Abou-Hamour Petrol station. But maybe you need to empty your car from the laundry work so that the service center can work freely on your car. Hence, you can leave your laundry at Yahoo Laundry.

But you can also get some stationary items that you need to compile your final project paper from Wahi El-Kalam Stationary shop. Then get some Lebanese shawarma from Kanari El-Sham, Istanbul Sultan Dining Restaurant or Rawabi Lebanon.

If you live at the dorms you may want to buy some house keeping items and some vegetables from the Grocery store. Indeed, Grand Shopping Center has all of this for you.

Your car service is not over yet and you remembered that your roommates wanted some fast food. Don't worry! there are all the options of globalized food outlets including McDonald's, Burger King, Hardees, Subway, Pizza Hut, KFC, Papa Johns and Baskin Robbins.

Your car is over now, but it isn't washed from the outside, and you want to wash it. Very easy! just leave it for fifteen minutes in the car wash shop in the same petrol station.

While your car is being washed, you can spend the time at Al-Fanatir Saloon which is a barber shop to get a haircut in preparation for the presentation you will give the following day.

Indeed, you can't forget pharmacies, coffeeshops, textile shops, optics shops, car rentals, etc. all in one petrol station called Abou-Hamour.

According to George Ritzer, McDonaldization "is the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world." While the petrol station has many McDonaldized outlets including McDonalds itself, I study the petrol station as a whole being a McDonaldized organization. To understand the McDonaldization in the petrol station I examine the four dimensions of the theory.

First, efficiency meaning the optimum method of completing a task using the best modes of production. In efficiency individuality is not allowed. In the petrol station most of the restaurants had the bread and its content already made and prepared and all what they do to prepare a sandwich was that they put them together in five minutes. In another perspective the petrol station is efficient in the sense that it provides all what an individual may ever need for their home. Its not only about filling the car with gas, its also about completing household requirements as I mentioned in the scenario above. If these restaurants were scattered around in the same area but spaced away in such a regime that while you are entering one outlet you won't see the other outlets, none of the outlets would have been optimizing their sales. Therefore, the way the petrol station is built in a structure that is optimum at increasing sales of the petrol station as a whole by allowing people to buy from the different outlets by the process of impulse buying. Statistics show that 70% of fast food purchases are impulse buys. Its just like the candy displayed at the cash register in a super market but on a larger scale.

The second dimension is calculation, which is an assessment of outcomes based on quantifiable rather than subjective criteria. McDonaldized organizations tend to favor quantity over quality. In such a tight place with all these outlets in one petrol station you may wonder about the quality. Of course having all these shops in one small area increases the bottom-line value, which is the total accounting revenue. However, when it comes to the quality of service in the petrol station itself you cant help noticing the drawbacks. First with this huge number of shops the petrol station is not air-conditioned, but who would air-condition a petrol station anyways? The petrol station organization have created a structure that looks like a mall where you get around with your own air-conditioned car. Hence, they save themselves the cost of ventilating the hallways in front of the shops. The second drawback is the congestion that is persistent most of the day as many people like to stop by to get food, fill their fuel tanks or service their cars. The huge congestion is usually due to many people waiting in their air conditioned cars for their orders rather than wait outside during the hot afternoon or inside the tight shops.

Third the McDonaldized petrol station is predictable meaning that the production process is organized to guarantee uniformity of product and standardized outcomes. Anytime you got to Abou-Hamour petrol station you know you will find the same shops that sell the same items since the outlets inside the McDonaldized petrol station are McDonaldized themselves. Hence, you can easily predict the that the shops in the petrol station will still sell the same products and will still look, taste, smell and feel the same.

Finally, control is the substitution of less predictable human labor with more predictable non-human labor. For this aspect I looked into the service center of Mitsubishi and I couldn't help noticing how automated car services have gotten. The whole service center runs on one employee who takes the order and runs the cash register, and two workers who service the cars. Similarly in most of the food outlets all the cooked food that serves hundreds of people, passing by everyday, can be prepared by a maximum of five people in the whole shop due to new technologies.

In examining the aesthetic look, most of those outlets preferred customers who just pass by to buy and that's it. For example, I went to buy lamb shawarma from Chez Mazen and took some pictures.

Inside the shop I couldn't stand the heat of the shop as the kitchen and the cash register were in one location. While I order I was tortured by the hot grilling shawarma that I had to wait outside of the shop while my order gets ready.

Even if you are able to stand the heat, they still don't want you in their shop for too long either. They have exactly six awkwardly located chairs that face the kitchen and are extremely uncomfortable.

Aesthetics are the ways in which people communicate and express themselves through sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Many shops are designed in a way to attract certain customers, they also set the behavior that a consumer needs to follow inside their restaurant through aesthetics. In Chez Mazen the kitchen and the cash register were in the same location because of the high cost of an outlet there. However, it serves the restaurant in two ways: first customers see what happens in the kitchen and are convinced that workers are transparent in producing their food. Secondly, the heat coming out from the Shawerma grill plus the very uncomfortable chairs force the customers to buy and leave and not sit to eat and take up valuable space. The smell of shawarma being smelled from outside can make your stomach rumble and get you in to eat.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

McDonaldization in the Darwish Household

          Today in class, we discussed the theory of McDonalization, which is a process where society is increasingly run like a fast food restaurant. While the professor was explaining the four dimensions of this concept, I could not help but notice how the processes relate to my everyday life and family structure. The first dimension, efficiency, is the optimum method of completing a task. My family is heavily reliant on schedules, and everyone planning their week in advance. We like to know what everyone is doing for us to decide when is the best time for us to gather as a family and what is the best activity we can during that time span. With my schedule, I plan when I should complete my homework, extra curricular activities and miscellaneous errands without it interfering with my family activities.
          The second dimension is calculation. This is an assessment of outcomes based on quantifiable rather than subjective criteria. With my example, we “calculate” the best time for us to spend time as a family after everyone has informed our parents with our schedule for that week. We usually spend every dinner together during weekdays and dedicate our entire Friday to our family. This step is essential as it decides what time we should all gather together and how much time we have available. This will determine whether we’ll be staying at home, going out to a restaurant, or watching a movie at the cinema.
         The third dimension is predictability, which is the production process organized to guarantee uniformity of product and standardized outcomes. This relates to my family structure as every week, we are able predict that we will gather during dinner, as well a lunch on Friday. Also, when our schedule is complete, we can predict what to expect for that week and hopefully assume a certain outcome.
          The last dimension is control. This is the substitution of more predictable non-human labour for the human labour, either through automation or the de-skilling of the workforce. One of the main reasons my family and I are able to spend a lot of time with one another is because of our smartphones. We are able to send messages to our parents informing them with our schedule for that week and thus they are able to tell us immediately what activities they have planned.
          Personally, I prefer having a formula set up on how one should behave as it brings a certain standard of efficiency to one’s life. With this schedule, I am able to complete all of my tasks and spend a lot of time with my family and friends as well. Every day is productive and effectual.

Here are some photos of three past family activities that we have completed at home (All photos taken with my Iphone camera):
- Movie night
-Breakfast buffet

-Outdoor gathering when the weather is nice

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Authenticity Wars

Pokemon was one of the things that my life revolved around in my childhood. I remember the days when I watched Pokemon on television every day, collect Pokemon cards, and play every Pokemon video game. As a matter of a fact, my relatives and I used to gather at my grandfather’s house and start doing many Pokemon activities. Throughout the years, this tradition started to disappear and my relatives and friends moved on with their lives.

However, now when I check Pokemon news and games, I feel that it had become unauthentic. I believe that this is what most people from my generation would think. As was explained by Grazian, authenticity is defined as an object that have qualities such as being real, true, original and pure by a group of people. When Pokemon first came out, everyone admired Ash, the main character of the TV show, for catching the Pokemon monsters and all. However, the TV series is still ongoing and it is still about Ash’s journey. Although the TV series reached around 642 episodes in 17 seasons, Ash is still this 10 years old kid who wants to be friends with Pokemons. In addition, the new Pokemon monster designs are ridiculous. Some of the new Pokemons are literally piles of garbage.

Naturally, people from my generation would consider the new Pokemon items unauthentic. This is because there is no sense of originality anymore. Each Pokemon season feels like a repetition of the previous season. In addition, the new Pokemon designs lack the creativity and genuinely that existed in the earlier designs. One interesting idea can be raised however, we can observe that the children of the present like to watch the current Pokemon seasons. Therefore, they might view Pokemon as authentic because the ideas that are present in Pokemon are new to them. Therefore, this is a situational authenticity case where we can generally see that adults view Pokemon as unauthentic whereas children have the opposite view. Digimon is a TV series that started before Pokemon and had similar elements. However, it is not as popular as Pokemon because people thought that it was a copy of Pokemon, therefore, unauthentic. Thus, issues of authenticity can play a role in deciding whether a show is going to be a global success or a destructive failure.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Authenticity of bread, yes bread.

What is authenticity? And what defines an object, or an action, or a person, or a place, as authentic? Grazian explains authenticity by, what is defined as real or true or pure by a group of people. But who determines which group of people? Or how they interpret that object of authenticity?

When I was younger, I had a Croatian neighbor. She lived right across the street. Everyday, she would come to my house to have some authentic “Arabic bread”, and then we would cross the street to her house to have some authentic “Western toast”. That way everyday we both have had something to eat from the other persons culture. As cheesy and factually incorrect as that is, we were very young, so I wouldn’t judge or laugh at me if I were you… but anyway, remembering that story now, makes me realize that even as children, we would classify objects with authenticity.

So I decided to go to a bakery and ask people their opinion on the authenticity of bread, and what they think is authentic “Arabic bread”, or authentic “Western bread”.

As I walked into the store I observed where each type of bread was displayed. The burger bun and hotdog bun were displayed right next to each other, and the thin, round Arabic bread was displayed on another side. Which already shows some kind of differentiation.

I found a Muslim, Arab women there, and decided to ask her opinion on the matter. I asked her what she defines as authentic Arabic bread, and why, and what she classifies the other types of bread as. She pointed to the thin round bread and said, this is our bread, this is what authentic Arabic bread is. Her reasoning behind that was the following exact quote: “This is what my mother used to bring home to us ever since I was a little girl, I grew up on this, so this is our traditions, the Arab tradition.”

Then she went on to talk about the other types of bread. She generally classified all the rest as “Western”. And said that just because a certain type of bread is classified under a certain culture, doesn’t mean that only that culture is expected to buy it. “I’m buying American bread right now” she said.

It was very interesting to hear this woman’s opinion on authenticity, and how she decided to classify these types of bread and why. Which takes me back to the theory of socialization. She was socialized, her beliefs and authenticity classification, were socialized into her as she grew up, and still have not changed until now. She is 24 years old.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Outback in Qatar

I recently found out that an Outback Steakhouse opened up here in Qatar. My parents decided to take us there, having been there during the opening and trying out the food. When I asked, dubiously, if it was any good compared to the franchise in Canada, the first answer I got was "It's in Lagoona!" As if that answered my question, but to them it did. Having recently learned about authenticity and what it means to different people of different social groups and classes, we also learned through Grazian's research that authenticity is linked to location. The next answer I got was "They have the same menu and everything, the food isn't AS good as the one in Canada but almost." So by replying that "It's in Lagoona," and relating it to the experience in Canada in a positive way, it implied that because of the location and the atmosphere it was going to be as authentic an experience as it could get outside of Canada. Grazian's readings also emphasize situational authenticity, which comes when an outsider makes a claim to realness that emphasizes certain characteristics while under-emphasizing others. In this case, the owners of the Middle Eastern franchise have made the claim by blurring certain distinctions, such as the fact that rather than being in North America, where the steakhouse experience is somehow more "authentic," it is in Lagoona, which, being surrounded by the Pearl, Grand Hyatt, the Diplomatic Club, and other hubs of Western cultural activity, represents a chunk of the West transplanted into and shaped by the local experience and context. In addition, although the Steakhouse is American, it is Australian-themed, and in addition to attempting to emulate the authentic "Australian" experience, it is owned by a company called Bloomin' Brands (the word "bloomin'" and its spelling is colloquial Australian), which is also American. However, the company attempts to downplay the fact that it is American by employing colloquial Australian in their language and offering Austrlian food and steaks imported from, you guessed it, Australia.

When Car Showrooms Persist on Displaying Social Class Divisions

To get a clearer understanding of the class system and its effect on cultural consumption, I visited the Nissan car showroom and took some pictures to show the distinction between different class categories in Qatar.

In the Nissan showroom there were the smallest forms of family cars like the Nissan Tida.

Then bigger cars like the Nissan Sunny and Nissan Altima.

Then there were race cars like the 350Z and the Nissan Maxima.

Then there were varying sizes of CUVs starting from the small Nissan Juke and including Nissan Qashqai up until the Nissan Xtrail and Nissan Murano.

Finally, the biggest forms of SUVs ranged from the Nissan Xterra and Nissan Armada up until the Nissan Patrol, being the biggest and most expensive SUV.

All the different cars I mentioned had their own divisions like X, S, SE and ES that range in the available options and price as well. However, these cars are not the whole collection of Nissan yet, there is on the other side of the showroom another brand owned by Nissan called Infiniti.

Infiniti is the Luxury brand of Nissan. In the Infiniti showroom there were also cars that vary in size. Almost all the Infiniti cars are based on one of Nissan’s cars platforms and redesigned to attain luxury. For example, the Nissan Patrol has its Infiniti equivalent the QX56.

The Nissan Murano has its Infiniti equivalent the JX.

Looking at the whole spectrum of all cars from the Nissan Tida up until the most expensive Infiniti QX56, I began to understand class systems. In a class system people are stratified according to characteristics such as income, occupation and educational degree. The class system is made up of different social classes who are a group of people who share a similar position in society based on wealth, education, and occupational prestige. The social class of an individual determines their occupation in the society in terms of family relations, politics, physical health and mental health. However, what this blog is interested in is how can social class determine a person’s consumption of culture? Cultural consumption is the reception, interpretation and experience of various types of culture. Differences in cultural consumption are socially constructed so that they can help maintain socio-economic class boundaries.

Buying a Nissan Tida is always associated with new expatriates who join Doha, just starting their journey with low income. Then the Nissan Altima is associated with older expats especially young men who like a sporty looking car but can only afford a big salon. Then Nissan Patrol is associated with an average Qatari family household since its good in the desert and can carry the big family on one vehicle. The inside of the Patrol has a fancy interior with expensive leather seats and mind dizzying features on its dashboard. However for upper class Qataris, an expensive fancy-looking Patrol with a huge spectrum of features may not be enough. Hence, Infinities with their especially-made luxurious designs and endless features appeal to upper-class men in power.

In sociology, buying normal Nissan cars can be called lowbrow cultural consumption, which is the mass culture stereotypically associated with lower and working classes. However, buying an Infiniti is highbrow cultural consumption of fine arts that are only consumed by the affluent classes.

What is considered highbrow versus what is considered lowbrow changes from a community to a community. For example, in Egypt where I come from, owning a Nissan SUV is considered highbrow culture consumption. Maybe in Nigeria, owning a car in the first place, regardless of its make, can be highbrow culture consumption. However, in Qatar owning a Nissan is lowbrow to many affluent classes. Even Infiniti can be considered lowbrow for elite Bentley owners.

The distinction between lowbrow and highbrow also changes with time. For Example, a Qatari friend told me that buying a Japanese car was considered lowbrow for all Qataris twenty years ago, even if it was a Land Cruiser. It was seen like buying a Kia today in Qatar. However, with time, Japanese cars, especially the luxurious brands, turned into highbrow.

The idea of choosing a car to buy explains the concept of conspicuous consumption. Conspicuous consumption is an attempt to display class and status through the purchase or consumption of high culture and luxury goods or services. Indeed a Nissan Tida has luxurious options when compared to cars you would see in a poor developing country: it has air condition, an entertainment system, ample space to seat five people, some built in safety, and low fuel consumption. However, rich people would buy an Infiniti just for the sole idea to be distinct and be recognizable by their social class wherever they go. I can easily claim that most Infiniti owners know less about its features, than what they know about the looks and the social status associated with them.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Behind the Scenes

When we look at Qatar, there are so many narratives that are a part of the everyday life in the small emirate. One can describe the glamor and sheer flamboyance engulfing the small yet wealthy state. It is an attention-grabbing, hopeful story that would easily blend into the general scene of international cinema. However, a group of Northwestern University-Qatar students are making a short film about the other side of the coin.

This young bunch is channeling their creative energy in a completely different direction. It is talking about the dream for a better tomorrow which is what most of the expats enter Qatar with. Only this dream is shattered to pieces. Jaser Al-Agha, the director of the film under the production of Menna Kamel are telling us the story of a young man from Syria with that dream of a better tomorrow. The main character leaves Syria in hope to provide for his family by opening a garage in Qatar in order to make more money. It takes us through the touching story of separation from the homeland and his family and the disappointment in Qatar. His life is nothing like he imagined; his dream of a better tomorrow turned into a nightmare of the present. I will not unveil too many details of the story as I recommend you to see this great film named Mitl El Aarous or Good as New .

In my humble opinion, the crew is creating an outstanding authentic narrative which represents a more realistic picture of Qatar. It is authentic on various different levels; I will view the levels of authenticity through the definition of Richard Peterson. Firstly, this idea is a true-to-life reproduction; besides the top tier employees in the myriad of companies in Qatar there is a great number of expats who do not necessarily live on a high leg. They work hard for their money and encounter various difficulties that are unimaginable to us. Also, this is an original idea as I have not seen any films that portray the life of the common man in Qatar; documentaries, shows or any coverage of Qatar shows us the metropolitan skyscrapers and supercars as opposed to men in overhauls working from dawn to dusk. The story is also very current, it describes the hardship of the lower class worker today and puts it into perspective. The enthusiasm and zest that these young people have for this project is refreshing and makes me as an Education City student proud. Their intentions are pure and sincere as I see them working on this project without regard for time or energy.

It depends, however, who is watching this movie. The interpretive community or the people who interpret or define some aspect of culture will have differing views about the authenticity of this film. If it is screened to an exclusively Qatari audience, the reaction will be quite different than the one of a group of workers in the industrial area. Also, there may be different takes on the film depending on whether one has ever lived in Qatar or not. Non-Qatari residents may interpret it in one way and Qatari residents regardless of nationality will interpret it in another. In sum, authenticity is a socially constructed concept that defines something as real,true or pure; as an objective viewer I think this story fits the definition and it is something worth thinking about.