Who is Bilal Hassani and why is he carrying the hopes of France?

You may never of heard of him, but this weekend 19-year-old Bilal Hassani will be representing France on the world stage. Here is what you need to know.

Who is Bilal Hassani and why is he carrying the hopes of France?

Who is he?

The teenage singer and LGBTQI activist will be representing France at the Eurovision Song Contest this year. Born in Paris to French-Moroccan parents, he is already a huge star online, with 801,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel and 414,000 followers on Instagram.

He was picked to be the country's representative following a public vote on French TV. His song Roi (king) is about self-acceptance and being true to oneself. Hassani has said he is influenced by Eurovision 2014 winner Conchita Wurst.

A flamboyant personality, Hassani is well known for his selection of different coloured wigs, all of which have names.

Will he definitely be in the final?

Yes. As one of the 'big five' countries who largely finance the competition, France is always given a free pass directly into the final (along with Germany, Spain, Italy, the UK and the host country, which this year is Israel). The other countries all have to take part in semi finals (held on Tuesday and Thursday) which will whittle it down to 26 countries for the grand final on Saturday. 

What language will he be singing in?

How dare you even ask that question?! The majority of songs this weekend will be sung in English. Until 1999, Eurovision rules compelled artists to sing in one of the official languages of their country, but since the rules was relaxed English has become by far the most widely sung-in language.

A French language song has not won since 1988 when Celine Dion took the title for Switzerland with Ne partez pas sans moi.

Not that that cuts any ice with the guardians of the French language however, and France's entries are always sung in French. In fact in 2008 politician Francois-Michel Gonnot launched an official complaint in the French Parliament, as the country's entry Divine was partially sung in English.

French and English are the two official languages of the contest, hence the famous 'nul points' lowest score (generally awarded to the UK in recent years).

(Hassani has been tweeting in English in the run up to the competition, but don't tell the Académie Francaise).

Will he win?

France's recent record in the contest is not great. After a strong early showing with three wins in the first ten years, France's last victory was in 1977 with L'oiseau et l'enfant. The French language may be a stumbling block, but a recent run of poor entries (who could forget 2014's 'comedy' song Moustache?) has not helped. Having said that though, bookies have placed Hassani as third favourite to win the contest, behind the Netherlands and Sweden.

Twin Twin's Moustache song represented a low point for France in Eurovision history. Photo: AFP

When is the event?

The grand final is on Saturday, May 18th. The contest is screened live from Tel Aviv, in the UK it is on the BBC (hosted by Graham Norton) and in France it will be screened on France 2 from 9pm with commentary from Stéphane Bern.

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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?