At his very first press conference less than three weeks ago, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked to answer a Canadian reporter’s question in French. “Uh, not today, I gotta refresh myself on that,” he told her, despite his well-known fluency in the language. The refusal “surprised some in the francophone world,” according to the BBC, but it turns out that Kerry doesn’t have a problem with speaking French, per se, because he did it today during a press conference with the French foreign minister:
“Thank you very much, Minister. Thank you for your warm hospitality. Thank you very much for welcoming us here today. It’s a great pleasure for me to be here with Foreign Minister Fabius. We just finished one of those wonderful French lunches that have been drawing Americans to Paris for centuries. Of course, it’s a privilege to share any meal with Laurent. He is a trusted friend, a steadfast ally, and a valued partner. And I would like to thank him for all of these. France, as you know, is the oldest ally of the United States, so we would like to thank you also for that. And now I will speak in English, because otherwise I would not be allowed to return back home.”
That last line — “And now I will speak in English, because otherwise I would not be allowed to return back home” — may be more than a joke. It may be the key to explaining Kerry’s fluctuating willingness to talk in French.
In Paris today, Kerry chose to speak in French unprompted, but the press conference in which he refused a direct request to speak in French took place in Washington. Kerry was famously mocked for his Francophilia during the 2004 presidential race, and perhaps, in his mind, speaking French in the Treaty Room of the White House — the very seat of American power — would open him up to the same kind of right-wing derision more so than would speaking French in France, which is really just good manners. It’s a theory based on a small sample size, admittedly.
The other possibility is that Kerry, justifiably, just hates Canada.