What Happened, What Happened!? He Spoke French!!


Apparently, the campaign to associate the name "John Kerry" with the phrase "haughty, French-looking" has exacted its cruel toll: the Dems' French-fluent First Family is starting to act defensively monolingual, according to this amusing little bit in The New Yorker. Excerpt:

Suddenly, Kerry appeared to develop linguistic amnesia. "During a press conference, I asked Kerry a question, on Iraq," de Chalvron recalled. "He didn?t answer. In front of the American journalists, he didn't want to take a question that was not in English." [?]

Family members have apparently been put on a leash as well. Kerry's wife, Berrou says, "speaks with us in French with no problem, and her press attach? has to pull her by the shirt to get her away from us."

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  1. *laugh*

  2. Voulez-vous cesser de me cracher dessus pendant que vous parlez?

  3. that’s just plain odd.

  4. Kerry ever the puss.

  5. A swing and a miss by the campaign managers. That is friggin hilarious …

  6. I think that George Bush (AKA Jorge Arbusto
    ) should only answer questions in Spanish. His Spanish can’t be any worse than his English and think of all the Hispanic support that he will pick up.

  7. Doesn’t it seem more likely that Kerry’s handlers want him to stick to English for the simple reason that the French will not be voting in the 2004 Presidential elections? Answering a question in French will just leave most people wondering “ok, now what was THAT all about?”.

    Answering a question about Iraq, in English, lets Kerry bash Bush and/or state that he has a better plan. Answering a question about Iraq in French shows Americans that Kerry speaks French. Now, which of these two ideas do you think the Kerry campaign feels is more important to communicate to a prospective Kerry voter:

    Idea #1: “Bush misled the nation, and got us into a mess in Iraq, and Kerry can get us out of it.”

    Idea #2: “Kerry speaks French.”

  8. Overlord
    He doesn`t speak Spanish , he speaks Tex-Mex. I don`t know what that other jibberish is he mumbles at times.

  9. Dan,
    Polish up those reading skills, old boy. The problem was that he didn’t answer the question, not that he didn’t answer it in french.

  10. Overlord–

    I imagine Mr. Bush’s Spanish to be on par with Peggy Hill’s.

    That is to say, hi-larious.

    I don’t know whether ignoring a question in French is a worthwhile political move or not, but it is definitely just plain rude.

  11. I think the issue isn’t that Kerry speaks French, but rather that almost no Americans speak French. French politicians may answer questions in English because a great many Frenchmen can understand the reply without translation, but for monolingual Americans, it’s the same as Bush answering in Swahili.

    The fact that a French reporter would even ask such a question at a public conference shows a drastic misreading of American culture and politics. In their fervor to portray Kerry back home as “their candidate” and show what a delightful change he would be to Fuhrer Bush, he hurt his own cause. Americans, even those sympathetic to the French position on Iraq, don’t want to see Kerry as being the French candidate.

  12. meep: My NH credit union’s ATM is bilingual, in French and English. The claim that “almost no Americans speak French” doesn’t look very plausible around here.

    Why are people assuming that because Kerry was asked a question in French, his only options were to answer it in French or to stare blankly? He could have restated the question in English and answered in English, or he could have asked the questioner to restate the question in English.

    But politicians ignore questions for any number of reasons, so the whole issue might be a red herring (or poisson rouge).

  13. garym: My Seattle bank’s ATM is bilingual in Chinese, but I still say that almost none of the 280 million Americans speak it 🙂

    I agree that the graceful thing to do would have been to restate and answer the question in English. But in line with my theory, Kerry is sharp enough to understand that even being seen to understand fluently would not be a net benefit to his campaign. A blurb that “Kerry speaks fluent French” reads rather differently in public opinion than “Kerry takes press questions from foreign nationals in French”.

  14. Great Steve Martin allusion Matt.

  15. Thank you, Warren. Now if I can only work in “Mamoo dock-face in the banana patch” …

  16. Dan,

    Polish up those reading skills, old boy. The problem was that he didn’t answer the question, not that he didn’t answer it in french.


    I thought it went without saying that answering a question that few of the other people listening actually understood isn’t an effective way to communicate ideas, either. I apologize for overestimating your intelligence.

  17. As I recall, approximately ten million Americans speak French as a first or second language.

  18. “Doesn’t it seem more likely that Kerry’s handlers want him to stick to English for the simple reason that the French will not be voting in the 2004 Presidential elections? ”


  19. Language is a product of economic realities. A business environment with a single common language is more efficient than an environment with multiple languages. Ask the EU. For better or worse, the international language of business is English. I suspect the vast majority of Americans have little incentive to learn another language. I also suspect that speakers of minor languages (like Aramaic) may have a greater incentive to learn a second language.

    Kerry refusing to answer a question posed to him in French is election year sillyness. It is like Kerry wearing a hard hat or flannel shirt… two items of apparel I rather doubt appear in his closet. Perhaps it gives the readers of “People” magazine a way to participate in the electoral process….

  20. He could use French down in cajun country. Deep South, where he’ll need all the votes he can get.

  21. “Perhaps it gives the readers of “People” magazine a way to participate in the electoral process …”

    Looking down our noses at the plebians who read People magazine, are we ?

  22. Speaking French is the last thing (well may be not THE last) Kerry should be worried about. When asked in French, if he responds in French I can’t see any negative connotation there.

    Kerry’s problems are not the superficial – they go much deeper than that. Like what he says (in English or French)

  23. Kerry’s handlers are right to downplay his level of culture, intelligence, and sophistication.

    Which is really fucking depressing.

    Jean Bart, do politicians have to act all “down home-y” in Europe?

  24. Brian,

    What’s wrong with Peggy Hill’s Spanish?

  25. They should say that Kerry doesn’t really speak French, it’s just a pseudo-French which he started talking in occasionally after getting a head injury while snowboarding.

    Or they could claim that it’s not French, he’s speaking in tongues.

  26. “As I recall, approximately ten million Americans speak French as a first or second language.” Nah, that stat includes about 9.8 million people who had to take French to get out of high school. It’s on our resumes, sure, but we had extra room on the page, and not enough extra-curricular activities.

    Hell, you may as well take Krakatoan, or Sanskrit, or even PL-1, as useless as French will be for ya.

    And Henri, no, I will not go to bed with you …

  27. “His Spanish can’t be any worse than his English…”

    You all don’t know what I know. Having worked in Houston for five years as a secretary in the oil business and the commercial real estate business, I’ve come to see that there is a certain class of well-heeled good-old-boys here that actually considers the learning of the local peasant language quite beneath them.

    As if that wasn’t bad enough, they deliberately mangle what Spanish they’re forced to speak. If I hear one more gilded cowboy call the street I live on (San Felipe) “Sen Flippy,” I will just freak out.

  28. Because all non-native English speakers take such excruciating pains to pronounce English properly and make themselves perfectly understandable, I will have to agree with you.

  29. I have heard Bush speak Spanish, he has a thick accent but speaks it quite well. I have heard him respond to questions in Spanish, and he aswered the first one in Spanish and the on a following questions, he apologised to have to answer in English. He handled himself quite well.

    On another note, it seems to me that all Kerry has to do to get elected is stay off the radar screens of most Americans, and just give non specific criticisms. I wonder will a major news story about a come out about different people with books against Bush every week until the election?

    I think if the attention is put on Kerry, that he doesn’t have a prayer of winning. But he doesn’t seem to have that problem.

  30. Another good story on John Kerry’s undefinable character is P.J. O’Rourke’s account of John Boy in Manila as an election observer:


  31. Summary of Weakly Standard story: rookie Senator Kerry follows orders from president, acts neutral, rude to press. Gee, let’s fucking shoot him.

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