Sweet Snacks After School

To be a child in Paris is to be accompanied. Parents, aunts, uncles, paid guardians, or family friends nudge the youngest children along busy city streets, handing them off to teachers at the school door at 8 or 9 a.m., and returning to pick them up at 4 or 4:30 p.m. The traffic on the streets is far too aggressive for bicycles, and most hours are supervised.

Arnaud's mother still walks him to school most of the time, but, at 12, he is beginning to go occasionally with friends. His favorite time of day is lunch. After school? ``Homework,'' he says. ``It could be in reading, mathematics, history, or geography. The time it takes depends on how much I understand.''

Some of his friends take music lessons after school, join sporting clubs, or participate in activities organized by city hall. But places in city activities are limited, and private lessons cost a lot. After homework, Arnaud plays video games at home. He never watches TV programs, he says. His favorite video games are basketball, soccer, and tennis.

But what French children do immediately after school is eat. Pain au chocolat, a rich dough laced with slices of chocolate, sells out of bakeries in Arnaud's neighborhood about an hour after school lets out. But his favorite snack is a tartine. First, his mother splits a long narrow loaf of crunchy bread, taking care not to flatten the soft white bread inside. Then she spreads a thick layer of butter, then jam, making sure to get both all the way to the edge of the crust. An alternative filling is Nutella, a chocolate nut butter that has sustained generations of French children (and the adults who watch them) through to dinner.

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