France’s Nutella riots aren’t funny

They are the symbol of the deep divide between Macron’s ideal vision for an energetic, business-oriented France - and the French workers suffering from it.

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You may have seen the videos: in French supermarkets Intermarché, customers are rushing towards shelves of Nutella jars. They’re running, shouting, fighting, rummaging to grab a jar of the chocolate flavoured paste (best tasted on crêpes, but tartines also work). “Give this back! I was here first!” cries a woman, furious. Someone exclaims: “No, that’s not normal”. People open boxes, stock their bags with one, two, three jars of Nutella.

“So, in Roubaix [northern France] a woman threw a Nutella jar at someones head, just for a Nutella jar on sale at €1,40”

This mess happened simultaneously in various French supermarkets when grocery chain Intermarché advertised a massive sale on 1kg Nutella jars, priced at €1,41 instead of the usual €4,50.

How French, you might have thought - fighting for Nutella, the most French of all crêpe fillings (even if it is made in italy)!  How funny! It, of course, went viral.

I'm French, and I love Nutella, but I don’t find this news funny, not even remotely.

People are fighting over food, in France, in 2018. Sure, it’s Nutella, not bread or pasta; it is not an item of “first necessity”. But it is telling of a France that is more and more divided, and it’s not the one president Macron will tell you about in his speeches.

The advertised price is a 70 per cent reduction from an amount of money (€4,50) many people would consider high, making Nutella some kind of luxury. French workers on minimum wage are paid €9,88 per hour, which is €1,498.47 monthly. For them, €4,50 for a Nutella jar is almost half an hour of work. A jar of Nutella at a third of its price is a very good deal for them, and for many others, too. No wonder people rushed to snap it up.

The massive response to this sale shines light not on the French's love for Nutella (probably infinite), but on the precarious position in which many French workers, and shoppers, find themselves. Prices are rising and people’s wages aren’t keeping step.

And it’s not going to get any better for them. Macron’s looming labour reform is already eroding French workers’ rights and making redundancies easier for companies. Carmaker PSA, supermarket chain Carrefour, bank Société Gérérale and clothing chain Pimkie have all announced lay-offs in the past weeks.

President Macron has had harsh words for poor people in the past, calling them “illiterate”, “people who are nothing” (as opposed to “successful people”). Last summer, he cut down housing aid by €5, which isn’t much for the many who don’t see the difference, but is a big deal for those who do. His class problem isn’t new.

But the president’s actions speak volumes, too. He campaigned on a very liberal programme and has called for private companies to move and invest in France. This week, he invited the CEOs of 140 of the world’s biggest business at his own “mini-Davos” in Versailles, where he secured €3.5 billion in investments. His fiscal reforms and economic policies have been been proven to help the rich.

Macron’s great vision for France increasingly looks like a country where only the rich and “successful” will be able to afford Nutella - and those who “are nothing” will be left to fight for sale prices. So again, ask me why I'm not laughing?

Pauline Bock is a New Statesman contributing writer based in Brussels. She writes about Brexit, the EU, France and the Macron presidency.