French Ambassador to the United States Jean-David Levitte spoke to the Magazine’s Carolyn Kriss about political frustrations, freedom fries and the seductive powers of Condoleezza Rice.
Mr. Ambassador, you’ve had to answer a lot of questions about “freedom fries” and “freedom toast.” If you could rename American cheese, what would you call it?
Well, the so-called french fries are in fact a recipe from Belgium. And now that we have the french fries back on our plates in America, we should express gratitude to our friends from Belgium because they’re really the ones who invented them. But I would not change the name of your delicious cheese. I think that’s not the best way to express frustration on political issues.
One French fashion writer described Condoleezza Rice as “impeccably groomed and seductive.” Do you agree with this description?
Yeah, I fully agree with that description. Last week I was at the dinner of the Gridiron Club, which is a club for journalists in Washington, and everybody applauded when Condi Rice went into the room. She was really spectacular in a red silk gown with, how do you say, a shawl. She’s always very elegant, and frankly I don’t know how she has enough time beyond her enormous days of work to maintain her wardrobe because she always looks fantastic. She’s obviously a very clever lady and a great diplomat, but she’s also projecting for the world an image of American elegance.
In your speech, you quoted a discussion between you and Colin Powell in which Mr. Powell described the long history of foreign relations between France and America as 200 years of marriage counseling. You optimistically replied, “But the marriage is still strong!” Oftentimes strong marriages are built on prenuptial agreements. What do you think the terms of the prenuptial agreement were for France and the United States?
Well, I’m not sure we negotiated anything before, let’s say, Yorktown. We decided to support the fight of the colonists, and we didn’t ask for anything from Americans in return. We simply considered that this was what we should do. And frankly, we don’t regret our intervention because, in return, America saved us twice. But I don’t think America asked anything from us for coming to our rescue in difficult times. So, France and America are from the same family; they are husband and wife. And when you are a married couple, you don’t need always to have a lawyer with you or to have a piece of paper before you start the honeymoon.
Do you have any opinion as to which country would be the husband and which would be the wife?
No. No, no. And, frankly, I think that if you were to ask the American people, they would say, probably, “Well, we are the husband.” And if you were to ask the French people, probably, you would have the same answer. I don’t say that to be disagreeable to the wife. But when I heard Colin Powell making the husband/wife analogy for the first time, I was asked this very question, and I had no good answer then.
When Condoleezza Rice returned to the United States after her trip, you told her that she had “hit a home run” while she was in Paris. If foreign relations between America and France had a batting average, what batting average would it be?
On a scale of 10?
Um, I think batting .300 is regarded as pretty good.
.300 is pretty good? Well, then .300.