Any proud French citizen would know the approximate cost of a pain au chocolat, that delicate and delicious pastry that we in America sometimes ungracefully call a chocolate croissant. So voters there were beside themselves on Monday when former budget minister Jean-François Copé, one of seven candidates trying to become the nominee of the center-right Les Républicains party in next year’s presidential election, wildly underestimated how much money you’d need to buy one of the flaky treats. In response to a listener’s question about the price on the radio station Europe 1, Copé said, “I have no idea but… I think it must be around 10 or 15 cents.” In fact, the Guardian reports, a pain au chocolat tends to go for somewhere between £1.15 and £2.10 (that's between $1.50 and $2.50). As Rick Perry might say, “Oops.”
Copé’s response immediately provoked an “Ohhhh laaaaa” from the show’s host, who knew the politician was way off the mark. Asked to explain his horribly inaccurate estimate, Copé tried to wiggle out of it by claiming that he doesn’t buy the pastries much to keep his weight down. “I admit I don’t buy them very often because… you have to be a little careful because of the calories,” he said.
Voters, however, weren’t buying it, and immediately seized on the moment as an indication that Copé was out of touch with the average croissant-eating French person. Some have compared the gaffe to Queen Marie-Antoinette’s famous—and made-up—quip that her impoverished subjects, who had no bread to eat, should instead simply eat cake (or brioche, in French). Reflecting on that sentiment, according to the Guardian, YouTube comedian Rémi Gaillard said, “You’d be better confessing that you don’t give a damn about the real lives of French people.”
Translation: When you learn that #Copé estimates that a pain au chocolat costs between 10 and 15 cents then you realize that he was Minister of the budget.
Copé turned to Twitter to try to take control of the situation, posting a photo of fruits and vegetables with the message, “I confess to being very careful about my figure... so to tell you the truth I haven’t eaten ‘chocolatines’ for a long time!” But the damage, it seems, is done. Food preferences, as Americans know well, are an important part of politics often tied to class identification. One wrong bite, and you’re an out-of-touch elitist. Remember when Barack Obama put some “fancy” dijon mustard on his hamburger and Sean Hannity freaked out?
The charge didn’t do enough to harm Obama in the long term, and it’s not clear how great an impact this episode will have on Copé’s presidential campaign. But, undoubtedly, the story has struck a nerve. According to Google Trends, searches for “pain au chocolat” in France spiked 1,328 percent in France on Monday.