McDonald’s sues Florence for $20 mn after city blocks restaurant

Hard on the heels of stoking anger over plans to open a restaurant in the Vatican, McDonald's has filed a $20-million lawsuit against Florence for blocking a proposed outlet in the city's most revered square.

McDonald's sues Florence for $20 mn after city blocks restaurant
File photo of a McDonald's restaurant: Karen Bleier/AFP

The US fast-food chain told AFP Monday it was claiming 17.8 million euros ($19.65 million) in damages after the city rejected an application to open an outlet in the historic Piazza del Duomo, one of the most visited places in Europe.

McDonald's said the suit was being filed with the administrative court, which arbitrates in governance disputes in Italy. The firm gave no other details.

Florence's centre-left mayor, Dario Nardella, turned down McDonald's application in June, in a decision that was confirmed the following month by a technical panel in charge of preserving the city's ancient heart.

“McDonald's has the right to submit an application, because this is permitted under the law, but we also have the right to say no,” Nardella told the city council, saying he wanted to support “traditional business” in the area.

“We don't have any prejudice” against McDonald's, Nardella said, noting that the company had opened restaurants “in other parts of town.”

There are three other McDonald's restaurants in the city, just a short walk from the square – but opening in Piazza del Duomo itself, which is a Unesco World Heritage site, was a step too far for locals.

A Facebook campaign opposed to the restaurant received thousands of likes within hours, while residents also presented a petition to Nardella's office.

Campaigners shared images included an edited, overweight version of the famous statue of David by Michelangelo to highlight the effect a McDonald's restaurant would have on the city's cultural heritage.

According to several reports in the Italian media, McDonald's is particularly aggrieved in the case of Florence as it had promised to make major changes to its business model to fit in with local regulations.

Florence has taken the struggle to protect its culinary history particularly strongly. In March, the city passed a law aimed at ensuring that at least 70 percent of produce in all new eateries was locally sourced, amid worries that a growing number of cheap kebab shops and other fast food outlets aimed at tourists meant the city was at risk of losing its character.

Cardinals in a tizz

Worried about the proliferation of fast-food outlets catering to backpackers in the city of Michelangelo, Florence introduced new licensing regulations in January requiring restaurants in the historic heart to use “typical products” either of the city or from the Tuscany region.

The Piazza del Duomo – “Cathedral Square” – is a treasure of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Its buildings include the domed Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, the Giotto bell tower and the St. John Baptistery.

Last month, plans to open a McDonald's in a piazza next to Saint Peter's Square in Rome angered cardinals who live above the proposed site.

The scheme is “by no means respectful of the architectural traditions of one of the most characteristic squares which look onto the colonnade of Saint Peters,” it quoted Cardinal Elio Sgreccia as saying.

In their expansion into historic locations in Europe, McDonald's and other fast-food chains often encounter opposition on cultural or architectural grounds.

Many disputes, though, end in a compromise, in such areas as menu choice, litter control and the design of the business facade.

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Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.