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This is what a snuff competition looks like

A contestant in the snuff championships

This is what a snuff competition looks like

With typical Bavarian pomp and ceremony including a thundering nine-gun salvo, solemn speeches, and a parade with flag-waving and bands packed with tubas and clarinets, the Schnupffreunde Knodorf-Irsching opened the Snuff World Championship and the club’s twentieth birthday.

The 170-member association for nasal-sport enthusiasts from two central-Bavarian villages in southern Germany, with a total population of only one thousand, was duly proud to host this biennial international competition earlier this summer.

Jackie Guigui-Stolberg
A club bannerJackie Guigui-Stolberg

The event was no less glorious for the fact that the contestants on this year’s roster were expected from only a handful of countries: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the United States. In fact, the Americans didn’t show up after all and, of the forty-two teams, thirty-six were from Germany. But never mind, it was a brilliant summer day, the sunshine was hot, the beer cold, sausages and pork cutlets were sizzling on the griddle, and the competition tent was packed as the audience bore witness to prodigious feats of snuffing skill.

The object of a snuff championship is to neatly stuff one’s nose with as much fine, aromatic snuff tobacco as possible within one minute. For each round, about ten contestants are seated at tables facing the audience. Judges fasten long, flat bibs around the snuffers’ necks to catch misdirected bits of snuff, then stay close by to monitor the proceedings. On the table in front of each contestant is an identical wooden box filled with exactly five grams of snuff – about the amount in three tea bags. Over a microphone, an announcer alerts contestants in German that the round is about to begin. "Snuffers prepare yourselves. Open your boxes. Ready - Steady - Go!”

Jackie Guigui-Stolberg
The competition gets underwayJackie Guigui-Stolberg

Spectators soon get a sense of what winning technique looks like. A highly experienced snuffer shows calm and concentration. Their eyes never look up, their nose hovers low and close or disappears almost completely behind the lid of the box. Their index fingernail propels steady charges of snuff, or their thumb and index finger swiftly pinch and thrust. Movements are smooth and minimal. Unused fingers of their working hand are often elegantly spread, out of the way. Once firmly packed into a receiving nostril, the snuff sticks there, often aided by a coating of Vaseline legally applied in advance. Only one or both nostrils are blackened with snuff, while cheeks and upper lip should remain clean.

When the compère declares: “Aus!” one minute has passed, and the time is up. Looking tense, somewhat breathless and almost pained, contestants lean back so that no snuff falls out of their noses and onto their bibs. Not a trace of a smile threatens to wrinkle a nose and dislodge its load. The men and women stretch out their hands so that judges can brush every stray speck of snuff back into the box for weighing.

Jackie Guigui-Stolberg
A nose full of snuffJackie Guigui-Stolberg

The judges circle the tables and keenly eye the contestants, awarding points for neatly-packed nostrils or subtracting for smeared cheeks, lips, and fingers. The snuff-sniffers retire to the nose-washing station behind the tent, while the judges brush up the last tobacco bits lying on each bib. They too will be returned to the contestants’ snuff boxes before a final weighing determines just how much of each original five-gram portion was carried away in the respective nose. Each contender earns points towards their individual score and for their team. This year, a large number of snuffers earned an almost perfect score, and Bavarian teams, as usual, prevailed.

Jackie Guigui-Stolberg
The judges brush up any leftoversJackie Guigui-Stolberg

Many snuff -club members from any country will reluctantly admit that bringing a substance that resembles fine top soil into contact with their nasal mucosa is not really a pleasurable experience. It often stings. Like on cigarette packs, labels on snuff packaging warn of adverse health effects and addiction. Still, snuff can be a smokeless tobacco alternative to cigarettes, pipes, and cigars, it comes in dozens of different consistencies and aromas, and is relatively cheap too. Most of all, sniffing snuff is a good excuse for people to get together and have a good time, something that club-loving Bavarians excel at. Some snuff groups gather to practice only shortly before competitions. Others meet weekly for training but also for members to eat and drink together, play cards, or plan club excursions or charity events.

Jackie Guigui-Stolberg
The snuff championsJackie Guigui-Stolberg

The 21st Snuff World Championships took place on Saturday June 30,