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Don’t get cross over croissants

By Brett Jones

Tesco have taken the decision to no longer sell croissants in their traditional shape. From now on all of the croissants they sell will be straight. In justification of this decision they have cited complaints from customers that the curved baked good is too difficult to spread butter and jam over.

Given that ‘croissant’ is French for ‘crescent’ it does seem like a fairly ludicrous idea. Should crème eggs be made square so that they can tessellate and more can be transported in one load? If the shape was changed wouldn’t Terry’s Chocolate Oranges become known as Terry’s Chocolate Cuboids?

Some people believe that the British treatment of the beloved croissant has been sacrilegious from long before this current atrocity. The famous chef Jean-Christophe Novelli has said that the French would “absolutely not” spread either butter or jam over this sacred pastry.

However there is one small problem with the French possessiveness over the croissant, namely that it actually comes from the Austrian pastry called the ‘Kipferl’.

Why this baked good should have come to be called a ‘croissant’ is not certain but many of the theories link the etymology to European celebrations of victories over Ottoman forces. The idea is that the shape is linked to the ‘star and crescent’ which emerged into popular usage when it was featured on the flag of the Ottoman Empire in 1844. Perhaps then Tesco could be hailed for its cultural sensitivity in abandoning the crescent shape of the croissant.

With a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU likely to dominate the news agenda for many months now immigration will be a key topic. When immigration is discussed usually integration and adaptation are raised quickly after.

Britain has long had an interesting take on adopting foreign cultures and then adapting them to make them uniquely British. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the curry dish Chicken Tikka Masala which was quite probably cooked up by the Glaswegian-Pakistani chef Ali Ahmed Aslam in 1971.

This dish has become so distinctly linked with Britain that in 2001 Robin Cook MP called it Britain’s national dish and in 2009 Mohammad Sarwar MP called for Glasgow to be given EU protected geographical status for Chicken Tikka Masala.

So perhaps Tesco’s decision isn’t as parochial as it first appears. Perhaps it is a symbol of the way in which Britain accepts and then acclimatises to foreign influences.

Probably it is just a vaguely silly, mid-management decision along the lines of the Co-op producing a line of ‘Ambient Sausage Rolls’ and then admitting that they didn’t really know why they’d called them ambient.

But as a metaphor it might be far more useful. Some sectors of society today may resent the effect of foreign influences on British culture but when Britain meets foreign influences it isn’t a matter of one triumphing over the other. Instead there is a synthesis of the two. In a time when polls have shown a growing antipathy in Britain towards migrants it is nice to have a small reminder that as often as Britain positively affects migrants, migrants positively affect Britain.

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