The French Onion: ‘Killed’ for a Chocolatine?

Reports of an abandoned family ‘trapped’ for three days on a broken-down Montparnasse moving pavement, or the Toulouse ‘shooting’ of a confused pain au chocolat Parisian over a chocolatine, have catapulted a French ‘news network’ into an online humour hit in a few short months.

Satrical French news site sows confusion — to the delight of its editors

Le Gorafi a satirical site — which a dyslexic reader might momentarily mistake for Le Figaro —  is a publishing venture a-la-Onion. Its success has generated much mirth on French social networks, some concerns in the ‘serious’ press and – -inevitably — ‘racism’ angst among the more po-faced (… pastiche remember!).

Launched reportedly in 1826  in Paris — but in reality as a Twitter feed during the 2012 presidential election campaign and as a full blown website in May of the same year —  Le Gorafi has, according to publisher and editor Jean-René Buissière, “become a reference for millions of French readers who attest to the quality and rigour of its journalistic watchword: toute l’Information selon des sources contradictoires — all the news fit to print from conflicting sources.

One of it more riotous and contentious scoops was a close-to-the-knuckle report about a Toulouse boulanger “shooting” a 26-year-old Parisian tourist – “Benjamin Malot” — “brutally pumping 46 bullets from a 9mm semi-automatic weapon into his chest”.  Malot’s ‘crime’? Inadvertently asking his baker assailant for pain au chocolat rather than a chocolatine, the name by which the ubiquitous pastry goes across the southwest.

The report developed the crime scoop in full tabloid style including “eye-witness” accounts and a quote from one of the baker’s colleagues: “When in Rome do as the Romans do. After all any visitor ought to know about local custom before coming here. It’s a bit like me trying to visit Mecca wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of Mahommed, isn’t it?”.

It was this latter quote, coming in a story published soon after the anniversary of the horrific Mohamed Merah affair — a series of three gun attacks by a 23-year-old French-Algerian Islamist terrorist in Toulouse and Montauban which killed French soldiers and Jewish civilians in March 2012– that stirred some “serious” media concerns and a series of reports on the state of French journalism.

The French Onion – gnashing of teeth and weeping with laughter according to the French McDo’s in-house journal.

These include a report on the 20 minutes website by Annabelle Laurent. She asked whether satirical news sites like Gorafi might not sow more confusion than light among internet readers with difficulties distinguishing between reality and pastiche. “Imitating to perfection the presentation and reporting codes of the ‘serious media’, might these wacky and exuberant sites not sow confusion among Internet users,” she wrote. By way of response the publishers of the website pointed out that the FAQ page made very clear that the site is satirical and none of its reports true. 

Nevertheless the bakery shooting story attracted 965 reactions — one of the highest number of reader responses to any report on the site. 

Among these was this one from Modeste: “Total solidarite with this baker! These Parisians think they rule the world! Is it that difficult to pronounce the word chocolatine! But a word of warning to you dear editor, using the words “Toulouse’” and “Bordeaux” in the same article is a step too far, you might find yourself in hot water.” GargamelLeNoir noted that far worse fates awaited any visitor to Dijon intrepid enough to make the same linguistic mistake: “We stick their heads on spikes in front of the Ducal Palace”. Emilie Louis sprang to the defence of all ‘provincials’: “Before we call them barbarians let me remind you that last November a consultant from Limoges was lynched in Paris for using the term ‘décalage horaire‘ instead of ‘jet lag’ “. Grudu was far blunter: “Serve him right no one who is honest spends their holidays in the south-west!” Jul suggested that chocolatine-style violence was now rife around the country, citing a report of a couple in Lille ‘torn to shreds’ for confusing a ‘poche‘ with a ‘sac‘. We in the south-west say ‘poche‘ while the barbarians north of the Loire say ‘sac‘ or ‘sachet‘ “. Seisei warned readers headed for Brittany “to consult Guide Michelin for fear of causing offence. To avoid a Toulouse-type reaction remember to ask for a billig, as the crepe is known in Breton.” Less sanguine was Berkk, who without panache played the race card: “For those of us, that is those who live in the North CHOCOLATINE is a Black man and if you visit this part of the world we’ll give you pains for your chocolat, that’s for sure.” 

However the clincher came from LeBusMagique who noted solemnly that in matters chocolat the French had spoken through the ballot box or at least via an online poll. This showed conclusively who the victors were in this gourmandise debate. The poll pictured below was set up by Adrien Van Hamme, a géomaticien and web developer in Potiers.

Overwhelming – rugby playing chocolatines suffer defeat at the hands of the  pain au chocolat footie brigade

Based on 38, 687 votes from the four corners of the country the poll showed the majority —  58.67% — favoured pain au chocolat over chocolatine, 41.32%.

The researcher then proceeded to break out the results by department on an interactive map found here 

Les Bleus go down fighting in the chocolatine war

In what turns out to be an amusing and well documented piece of internet research fully explained here Adrien Van Hamme says: “Our town, Poitiers, is the geographical and lexical boundary between the chocolatine of the south and the pain au chocolat of the north. This website emerges from a long and passionate debate with a colleague about the use of the word and at my suggestion we designed and set up this poll. On the site, you are asked to vote for one or the other term, specifying the city or town where you come from. To reflect the distribution I have turned the results into cartographic rendering.”

His site contains full details of how he arrived at the results, the tools used and all the plots required. His research prompted dozens of comments from others keen to report linguistic differences around the country.

One suggested a similar poll on the use of “escargot “ vs “pain aux raisins”. Another reader noted the division in usage shown on the map roughly coincided with the split in France between those playing rugby and those for whom football is God.  Another hastened to note that regional differences were further subdivided “in the North and in Pas-de-Calais it is neither pain au chocolat nor chocolatine, it is  PETIT PAIN“, a term others noted is also used in Alsace and Belfort. 

Last word on these hotly-contested cultural differences goes to the unidentified 26-year old squash-playing Bordelaise (left) who runs the black-chocolatines website. For according to her Bordeaux bakeries have the answer (see picture below): Northerners who want their pain au chocolat just have to pay more than the locals for their chocolatine.

In Bordeaux you pay your money and take your pick

Brief history: According to French media historian Christian Delporte quoted by 20 Minutes in the report mentioned earlier: “…In France, the tradition of journalistic pastiche is that of literary pastiche. It begins in the 19th century and was later resuscitated by Pierre Dac. But it really bounced back with newspapers such as Actuel, in the 1980s. This is the time of pastiches published by Jalons, such as l’Aberration, a send-up of Libération, Le Figagaro mocking Le Figaro, Le Monstre a pastiche of Le Monde, or Pourri-Moche satirising Paris-Match …”

  • PS: For those passionate about the sac vs poche debate here is a website where you can vote by town for the term most used in each area. Results shown in real time.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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2 Responses to The French Onion: ‘Killed’ for a Chocolatine?

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