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French budget minister's restaurant gaffe reveals expensive tastes

Etienne Laurent, Reuters | French President Emmanuel Macron and Gérald Darmanin, minister of public accounts, meet with locals in Lens on November 9, 2018.

In a speech urging compassion for the "yellow vests" protesting rising fuel costs and stagnating living standards, France's budget minister managed to appear out of touch by saying that a meal for one at a Paris restaurant costs €100 – without wine.

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There are few worse gaffes for a French politician than making a ill-judged remark about food.

French Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin might be about to learn the lesson, having apparently revealed his rather expensive taste in restaurants during a speech at the Sorbonne university in Paris on Thursday.

Darmanin, 36, was trying to urge his audience to show compassion for protesters across France who have been blocking roads since last weekend to protest rising fuel costs and low living standards.

The protests have been led by mostly rural or small-town voters wearing high-visibility "yellow vests" who are fed up with rising fuel prices and the policies of unpopular President Emmanuel Macron.

"If we don't want a domestic Brexit... we need to take on board and not only explain, but listen and understand, what it's like to live on 950 euros ($1,100) a month when the bill for a Parisian restaurant is around 200 euros when you invite someone out and you don't take wine," Darmanin said.

"Who can believe that we live in the same society?" he added, calling on politicians to "listen and hear the cultural and social distress, which is not just about purchasing power."

The remark about a meal for two without wine costing 200 euros -- more than double the cost of an average dinner in most Parisian brasseries -- immediately sparked online outrage.

"It's difficult to show more clearly his disconnect with the average French person, even a Parisian" said an article in the Marianne magazine.

'Raising hackles'

The price of 100 euros per person without wine would be typical in one of the Michelin-starred eateries favoured by high-rollers and top politicians in Paris, the magazine explained.

"In the middle of the struggle with the 'yellow vests', the comments risk raising hackles," said an article by the RTL radio station ahead of a fresh round of protests on Saturday.

Darmanin is generally considered one of the most skilled communicators in Macron's centrist government, which he joined last year from the right-wing Republicans party.

He is also one of few members of the cabinet to have solid working-class credentials as the son of a bar manager and cleaning lady from a small town in northern France.

The best-known food gaffe in French history remains the infamous comment from Marie-Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI, who is said to have advised her countryfolk to eat cake during chronic bread shortages at the end of the 18th century.

She and her husband were executed during the French Revolution.

More recently, the career of right-wing French presidential hopeful Jean-Francois Cope took a blow in 2016 when he admitted he had "no idea" about the price of a pain au chocolat, a breakfast pastry eaten by millions every morning.

He guessed it at 10 to 15 centimes -- it usually costs at least a euro -- but later laughed off his mistake, saying he didn't eat them because he tried to stay slim.

(AFP)

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