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What the ‘great Nutella riots’ of 2018 tell us about the French

What do the viral images of shoppers in France battling to get their hands on pots of Nutella tell us? Not only that the French are nuts for the spread but also that they can still surprise us...and even themselves.

What the 'great Nutella riots' of 2018 tell us about the French
Photo: AFP
France's love affair with the Italian chocolate hazelnut spread Nutella is well-known and if anyone was in any doubt the so-called “riots”, as described by some French newspapers, seen at supermarkets across the country on Thursday proved it. 
 
And even though in reality it was more like a feeding frenzy than a riot, France's passion is in no doubt. 
 
In fact, according to some figures 26 percent of the world consumption of Nutella is done by the French even though the brand is Italian.
 
This means that around a whopping 75,000 tonnes of Nutella are consumed every year in France.
 
France's long love affair with the chocolate spread starts, for many, at childhood when it is the sweet and some say sickly breakfast of choice for many French school children.
 
And according to Paris food writer and author of the blog Chocolate & Zucchini Clotilde Dusoulier it could be this childhood link which is partly behind the France's love for Nutella. 
 

 
“French people eat it by the spoonful. I had it on toast for breakfast as a child,” Dusoulier told The Local. “And like with candy, grownups continue to eat it to connect with their inner child.”
 
The food writer also explained that the French have a tendency to turn to sweets in times of uncertainty. 
 
“Things are a bit better in France now but there's still a huge enthusiasm for pastry chefs” and “giving away this sweet childhood memory nearly for free is likely to bring up memories of sharing it with school friends, treats and other positive links,” she said.
 
Whatever the reason, the scenes at Intermarche supermarkets in France on Thursday were reminiscent of Black Friday bonanzas in the US with customers jostling, scuffling and battling each other to get their hands on the chocolate.
 
“They are like animals. A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, another had a bloody hand. It was horrible,” one customer at the Rive-de-Gier supermarket in central France told Le Progres newspaper. 
 
And many people took to Twitter to show surprise about where this frenzy was happening. 
 
Indeed one Twitter user dubbed it “Brown Thursday” (see below). 
 
 
Sophie Chevalier, a French anthropologist and specialist in customer behaviour, said the scenes were out of the ordinary.
 
“These are unusual in France, except when there’s a particularly exceptional sale, and more what we see in developing countries or where there’s a regular shortage of essential products,” Chevalier told Le Parisien.
 
“Would there be the same reaction to jars of pickles? Certainly not. It’s a question of the kind of product that explains this. Nutella is pure pleasure for children and to offer it at a bargain price obviously attracts lots of customers.”
 
Still, although it may seem bizarre to many, it's nice to know the French can still surprise us from time to time. 
 
Let's leave the final word with French President Emmanuel Macron:
 
 

CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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