John Kerry finally gets to let his Europhilia loose
By Paul Richter and David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2013
WASHINGTON—When John F. Kerry’s political foes complained in 2004 that he “looked French” and ordered Swiss cheese on his Philadelphia cheese steaks, the Democratic presidential nominee began keeping his affinities for Europe bien caché—well hidden.
But now that he is America’s chief diplomat, snail eating comes with the job and Kerry’s Europhilia is back with a vengeance.
In his first trip to Europe as secretary of State, Kerry this week spoke in French, German and Italian, warmed to discussions of European cuisines and lifestyles, and recited a Thomas Jefferson epigram in French.
While U.S. diplomats are “proud Americans, we are also citizens of the world,” Kerry explained in London, exposing an unashamed new internationalism.
The son of an American foreign service officer, Kerry attended a Swiss boarding school and lived in Paris, Oslo and Berlin as a youth. In the new job, his long ties to a world of refinement and sophistication are an asset, and he’s not holding back.
Though Kerry declined a request to speak French last month when he appeared with Canada’s foreign minister in Washington, he plunged into the language of Flaubert with no prompting Wednesday when he met in Paris with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
“Je suis tres content d’etre ici,” Kerry declared, “I’m delighted to be here.”
Le Monde pronounced him “a great Francophile” and “the most French” of American officials. His French won praise, even if his American accent was strong, and was judged better than that of Mitt Romney, who spoke the language a bit when he headed the 2002 Winter Olympics (and not again, as far as is known, when he ran for president in 2008 and 2012).
In Rome, Kerry went the extra mile by referring to Christopher Columbus as Cristoforo Colombo. In Berlin, his easy German outdid President John F. Kennedy’s, whose bold 1963 declaration, “Ich bin ein Berliner” after the Berlin Wall divided the city, was well received despite his thick accent.
Europeans have been delighted with Kerry’s shtick, but it has not gone down as well with American conservatives, some of whom still consider it unpatriotic and vaguely unmanly.
“Finally, something Jean Kerri understands: French lunches et le vin,” groused a commentator identified as D Togo on the conservative Free Republic website, using the French word for wine.
“He is becoming a self-parody,” sniffed another, identified as Publius.
To be sure, Kerry’s fluency with Europe doesn’t extend around the globe. Last week, in a speech at the University of Virginia, he conflated the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and came out with Kyrzakhstan.