La diplomatie

France has a longstanding diplomatic tradition. Sadly, the French language has lost ground to English in recent years as the official ‘lingua franca’ of diplomacy. While English is obviously more widely spoken, there is something about the phrasing of French that facilitates diplomacy: the indirect question, the polite probing rather than the direct yes or no question. But you have to be able to read between the lines – something which is challenging for a second-language learner.

I am not the most diplomatic of people, even in my native tongue. I tend to be blunt, often rushing in where angels fear to tread. Living in France has taught me to mind my p’s and q’s. Especially the q’s (which letter rhymes with ‘cul’ – a catch-all word for sex).

“Remember that time you told the doctor that our son ate shit off the floor?” husband likes to remind me. Just to even the stakes, mind you, as his English is so often the butt of family jokes. I reminded him that ‘connerie’ sounded almost the same as ‘cochonnerie’ and I was only trying to explain why our child might have picked up pinworms.

“Ha, ha…or when you first met my grandfather, and called him ‘pipi’ instead of Pépé.”

“A slip of the tongue, when I barely spoke French. And as if ‘fart-fart’ is any better!”

Our family’s sense of humour is often in the toilet bowl.

Thankfully over the years I have picked up a trick or two. And I am not the only one who makes bloopers and blunders across the cultural divide.

I remember once, shortly after we’d met, having dinner with my husband’s parents at a fancy French restaurant in Toronto. The service and food were classically French, but the wait staff were a little rough around the edges. One server, with an accent that rang of Québec, stepped up to the table with an open bottle of wine and asked my Belle-mère bluntly: “Tu veux du vin?” That lady may have choked before discreetly laughing into her napkin.

I didn’t get what was so funny.

Husband explained that not only had the server used the informal ‘tu’ form of address rather than ‘vous’, but he had effectively asked: “You want some wine?” Admittedly, “Would you care for some wine?” or even, “May I refill your glass?” would have been more appropriate.

This week’s official visit by the French presidential couple to the US bears all the signs of a well-orchestrated diplomatic coup. The bromance between Trump and Macron that began last July has been largely played up by the media. This paper’s version of events cracked me up.

I am convinced that our presidents’ mutual affection has been intentionally exaggerated by the two men. I can just imagine their conversation behind closed doors:

Trump: “You know the media say you’re gay, right?”

Macron (shrugging his shoulders): “Yes, but you know some of the things they say about you?”

Trump: “Fake news!”

Macron: “How could anyone believe such things? We both have such beautiful wives.”

Trump: “Yeah, about that…Brigitte is really in pretty good shape.”

Macron: “Thanks, Don. I’ll tell her that again. She really appreciated it last time.”

Trump: “But hey, Emmanuel, let’s give them what they came for.”

Macron: “I’m sorry, not sure I understand. Don?”

Trump: “Let’s really show the media some love. You know they eat that stuff up!”

Macron: “Ah, bonne idée, Don! It’ll take their minds off of all the little troubles we have brewing at home.”

Of course, we all know that none of this is ever decided by the leaders themselves. Such encounters are planned months in advance. Dozens of diplomats and their underlings negotiate details about who wears what, says what, eats what. The fact the both first ladies wore white at the official greeting surely involved a great deal of negotiating. Perhaps it was agreed that both should wear white as some sort of bridal symbol, or expression of hope. Certainly it would not have worked in Japan, where white is worn to funerals.

Fortunately, behind all those orchestrated outfits and overly cordial entente, French diplomacy can still pack a punch – or perhaps be the velvet hammer. Macron’s speech to congress yesterday took direct aim at America first, proving that even best friends can share some hard truths.

Perhaps Donald should read my post on how to charm the French.  He could sure use some of that French diplomacy.

What do you think?

26 thoughts on “La diplomatie

  1. I’m not sure Don Trompe be able to learn anything, even your celestial messages might fall on an arid ground with him .
    Speaking and reading between the lines is what I like in communication, heaven can be reached through intervals between thoughts and things .
    Pi-pi, po-po, pet-pet, even pu sounds like stink . Curious the only nice one seems to be Pa-pa .

    1. Funny the ‘pu’ sound also works in English. When I was a kid we used to say: “P-U, you pugh!’ As for reading between the lines, I am beginning to enjoy it now that French has reduced my blind spot. 😌

  2. Interestingly, when touching glasses in the first photo, the difference in cultures is immediately obvious. Macron is looking into the eyes of Trump, just as french culture expects, a sign of respect and integrity, whilst Trump has an averted gaze, a sign of avoidance and low self esteem. That picture sums it up for me. Either Trump hasn’t been advised of what is expected in French culture, or as ever he’s unable to follow protocol!

    1. Yes, I liked that photo as it seems they were not playing for the camera but revealing more of their true selves. Interesting about the eye contact. I had heard that about toasting but perhaps it goes even further. The evasive gaze in general is something I struggle with; I can’t not ‘see’ people even when it’s inconvenient, but political animals like Trump (in every sense, lol) must be able to do this at will.

  3. Ye4s, President Macron’s speech before Congress was a much better response to Trump than all the kissy-kissy, touchy-touchy crap. I personally feel Macron was playing to Trump’s need to be sucked up to, that he – Macron – probably wins, thereby assuring the world wins because his worldview is in the 21st Century, unlike Trump’s 19th Century worldview. Next, Chancellor Merkel! I doubt there will be a lot of kissy-kissy, touchy-touchy crap when she comes to Washington!

    1. I’m sure Trump is terrified of the Chancellor. Like a little boy who misbehaves at the back of the class, she will allow no tomfoolery! Macron’s speech was a win in my view, but he had to play to the cameras first. Thanks for weighing in!

      1. I agree on both leaders. I don’t think President Macron missed a single idiot position of his bromance partner. He even looked like he was have fun gaming Trump. As for Chancellor Merkel, I can’t wait for her visit! Woo hoo!

  4. What do I think? That Macron “won” this encounter. Some Americans would say manners and diplomacy are overrated — but if you refuse to play by at least some of the rules, eventually no one will want to play with you. Smart Mr. Macron (and others like him) will be waiting in the wings to seize the opportunities as long-term trade partners and allies abandon the U.S. because of its leader’s bellicosity and “my way or the highway” approach to international relations.

    On a less serious note, your gaffe at the pediatrician made me literally laugh out loud. You’d better check your kiddo’s chart to make sure “eats shit off the floor” isn’t part of his permanent record. HAHA!

      1. “The mother speaks English.” I can’t imagine a more derisive comment, coming from a French speaker. 🙂 xx

  5. My favourite of your images is the one of Macron kissing his wife’s hand and Melania and the Donald standing aloof from each other behind as if he’s going – well, hell, what is that all about? Shall I kiss you? And she’s saying, not on your life, mate, keep your distance.
    Who would we all rather be? Ha, Macron or his missus – any day!

  6. Ha, bromance, you have given me a right old chuckle Mel. It’s the strangest of photos, it really does has the feeling of a staged high school musical. If only it was and not real life…..

  7. if we come from adam n eve we are all cousins , if we come from apes we are all cousins , so treat all ok do not leave any in poverty do not let any be greedy = share what is available in the world

  8. should be 1st 2nd 3rd degree for all laws n driving n pedal bikes too n less fine for pedal bikes =they do way less damage when hit a car or property . criminals get 1st 2nd 3rd degree n kids at home get minor medium serious punishment depending on how bad they broke the house rule, heavy fines no matter what like it is for most laws is abusive destructive n stealing cause most only brake the minor or medium version yet get serious version heavy fine, even speed limit fine should be less if st is about empty n no one close

  9. the politicians n bad cops-military tortured n killed jesus n many christians n they are still doing way to many negatives to way too many people in usa n around the world , n they never put in decent min wage that gos up with cost of living but they let the rich=greedy take more n more n lots of it too often

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