Friday, May 4, 2018

I Think It Got Lost in Translation

Following a brilliantly successful trip to the United States in which the President of France dazzled everyone with his charm and command of English, a slip of the linguistic tongue during his recent trip to Australia raised more than a few eyebrows on several continents.  I’ll get back to that. 

White House balcony Photograph by Jim Bourg Reuters

The visit of French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte to Washington could not have been more perfect.  Watching Melania Trump and Brigitte Macron together, each with her signature look, was a lesson in knowing what works for you and how to put it all together – in short, mastering the elements of style and making it all look natural and effortless. 

State Dinner Photograph UPI  Barcroft Images
To my delight, both ladies wore dresses by French designers to the official State dinner – Melania in a silver stunner by Chanel and Brigitte in an embellished white gown by Louis Vuitton, for which the First Lady of France has a real fashion penchant.  The above-the-waist embellishments were bold but sparing and the slits on the side added height to the diminutive First Lady by breaking up the expanse of skirt and visually moving your eye upward.   The slits also gave us a peak at her gorgeous gold shoes.  She is known for wearing the most interesting shoes.  At 65, she can still rock a pair of great stilettos.  Brava!

Baise-Main Photograph  by Andrew Harnik AP
Oddly enough, Melania Trump’s hat, which I loved, came in for some criticism as her husband appeared to have an awkward moment trying to negotiate it while giving his lovely wife a kiss.  Mme Macron slipped effortlessly under the hat to give Melania the traditional French bises on both cheeks while her husband avoided any “foreign entanglements” by giving Mrs. Trump a perfectly continental and perfectly executed baise-main. 

White House Photograph  by Carlos Barria Reuters
I confess I was glued to my television during their visit and shed more than a few tears of joy while watching the representatives of my two countries in such close, as the French would say, “complicity.”  They truly seemed to enjoy each other’s company and when Macron characterized himself and President Trump as political “mavericks,” I smiled not only at the reference but at his very apt use of the English word. 

May I also compliment President Macron on his English pronunciation?  I have no doubt he practiced long and hard on that.  The English language is a minefield of erratic syllabic emphases that, by and large, do not exist in French.  I can still remember my methodical engineer, French father trying desperately to determine if there were any logical rules that would help him figure out where to place the emphasis in a word.  Of course, my brother and I never failed to laugh hysterically when he got it wrong.  Bilingual kids can be so cruel!  And then there was the dreaded “th” sound, which doesn’t exist in French.  Inevitably, the number “three” would always come out as “tree” or “sree” to our raucous laughter.  Generally speaking, President Macron is pretty impressive on that score, as well.  Of course, in his speech to Congress, the word “multilateral,” which he used several times, came out more like the French pronunciation with the acute “u”, but then my ears are attuned to picking up such things.  I wonder if anyone else noticed?

But, we Americans shouldn’t be too quick to laugh.  After all, the French words that surround us in our every day American lives are frequently mispronounced and would be unrecognizable if said to a Frenchman. 

For example:


So, what was President Macron’s linguistic faux pas in Australia? 

Mrs. Turnbull, Wife of Australian Prime Minister
Well, in thanking Prime Minister Turnbull of Australia and Mrs. Turnbull for their warm welcome he said "I want to thank you for your welcome, thank you and your delicious wife for your warm welcome."  The international community reacted with a mixture of shock, scorn and derision over his use of the word “delicious” to describe Mrs. Turnbull.  As the child of a French father who was constantly feeling his way around the English language, not always with complete success, I found it hilarious.  I don’t know for sure, but I bet he was headed for “delightful” and got derailed to “delicious.”  I’m still laughing over it.  Guess I’m still a cruel bilingual kid at heart. 


  1. I love that he called Lucy 'delicious'. I would enjoy being described that way. I think it lovely that Melania paid the French President the compliment of wearing a French designer. I adore Brigitte's gown and shoes, so elegant.

    1. Wouldn't we all love to be described as "delicious" by a charming Frenchman? I really admire both First Ladies for their style and grace. Both have had to put up with mean-spirited, very personal attacks from the international press and they have held their heads high in response. Grace under pressure to the max.

      I do believe I read somewhere that Mrs. Turnbull was not the least bit upset by President Macron's comment. I gather she found it "delightful" even "delicious." Lovely!

      As always, Melissa, thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      Cheers, M-T

  2. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    Haha, just like you I have been watching this with pride. Anyone having studied fashion must admit the two 1st Ladies understood how to dress elegantly and as you also mentioned, naturally. Underlining your own natural features and not over killing with glitter and glam.
    Yes, Macron's English sounds almost impeccable and FAR, really FAR better than the average American ever will manage to speak French. We have a Dutch booklet from one of the Heineken CEO's who compiled it from International visits and using all the English. One went like: 'Great dinner and I thank you from the bottom of my heart and also my wife's bottom...!' Bloopers are easily made when speaking bilingual or multi-lingual. It lets us laugh and still, as Pieter often said in the classroom to his students: 'My English maybe is not perfect but it no doubt is far better than your Dutch!' It made everyone laugh and they maybe realized the constant challenge one faces for speaking in another tongue.
    Have a lovely Sunday evening. I granted myself some time reading blogs after having mastered now 25% of the scanning of our old letters/cards. Still a lot to go but by June 12 it all will be done. Pieter is enjoying reading them before we toss them out. His late Mother's letters and his two brothers and so many loved ones that are no longer there. I have lots of letters written by my Mom, will scan those later as well and share with my siblings. Those are the perks of being an immigrant!
    Looking forward to retiring my crutch come June 12!

    1. Ma chère Mariette,

      Your anecdote from the Dutch booklet had me in absolute hysterics. What a hoot!! Loved it. I'm sure there are many more from which you could quote to the same effect.

      Your Pieter clearly has the same wonderful sense of humor. It's what keeps him young and vital despite his years.

      Can't wait for you to throw away that crutch, too. June 12th is right around the corner. I'll be thinking of you on that day.

      Gros bisous,


  3. Comment from my friend Anna:

    "I was sorry for Macron using the delicious word. Since my first language is not English I can really understand making a mistake like that. I have done it many times."


    1. Linguistic pitfalls are everywhere and even native speakers fall into them. Frankly, Anna, I don't think I have ever heard you make a "faux pas" in English.

      Cheers, M-T

  4. It only takes one small error to make the front page and override successes, doesn't it, Marie-Thérèse?

    France's President Macron may be young, but seems to be quite a diplomat. It's good for everybody that he and Germany's Angela Merkel take a leadership roles in world affairs, especially as we don't know what our own president will do from one day to another.

    I think Ms. Trump has a beautiful body, but I can't get past the scowl on her face -- eyes and mouth even when smiling, which has become her trademark. Her perfectly proportioned body is the envy of many women, and she has wonderful taste in designer clothes, so is always a fashion plate. Both First Ladies wore dazzling attire, indeed. Ms Macron was a lesson in classic French flare, in case the world needed a refresher course.

    1. No question our President is a polarizing figure. Definitely a bull in a china shop, but, sometimes, things do need to get broken. Very pleased that Germany and France are stepping up their game, too. President Macron is not really a political neophyte. He has political connections and was a member of the French Socialist Party (PS) before forming his own party "En Marche" to run for office.

      My husband has the same reaction as you regarding Melania Trump's face. She always looks a bit severe. But then he had a big problem with Michelle Obama's prominent under bite. That always bothered him.

      Brigitte Macron always looks warm and welcoming and has a really dazzling smile. She has an approachable warmth about her which is very appealing. If you watch her walk, she see a slightly awkward gait (maybe it's the high heels), but it only adds to her childlike charm, in my opinion. I'm a fan. Also, we are close in age (she's a year younger than I) and I love her style. A real Gallic Gamine.

      Cheers, M-T

  5. I think it is absolutely charming that he called her delicious. What woman wouldn't want to be called that?! Both First Ladies looked beautiful. I do feel sorry for Melania; I think I would be in tears most of the time if I had to deal with such a vicious press.

    1. You can call me delicious any time. I'm with you. I think you are absolute correct when you say that Melania has been the target of especially vicious press. I prefer not to get political on my Blog, but I must say that I think the hatred of President Trump has spilled over onto his wife, which is shameful.

      Having grown up surrounded by people with accents (French, American English, British English, German) I really get my back up when her accent is mocked. So petty.

      Thanks for stopping by, Deborah. Always appreciate your perspective.

      Cheers, M-T

  6. I could not resist commenting. Perfectly written!

  7. An enjoyable post, and I agree with the other commentators, that all the mentioned First Ladies are very elegant in their own styles. I am sure our Australian Mrs Turnbull was not in the least offended at being called 'Delicious'. She is an experienced and charming public personality, and was previously a Lord Mayor of Sydney. I enjoy the fashions worn by Melania very much, and also think that she is treated very badly by the press, and that she behaves impeccably at all times. She must feel disappointed from time to time, I know I would. Absolutely loved her beautiful lemon dress worn to the banquet in England. I do not see much of the French First Lady but she always looks wonderful when a photo appears, and yes, she has a lovely engaging smile.

    1. She is, indeed, treated so shabbily by the press both here and abroad. I think it is quite shameful. I did not know of Mrs. Turnbull's impressive political pedigree. Thank you for sharing that w/my readers.

      Melania is truly a stunning lady w/impeccable style, and that lemon yellow dress was absolutely "to die for!!" It draped like a dream. Gorgeous!

      Brigitte Macron is just adorable. There is something so endearing about her. I can quite see how he fell in love w/her, despite the difference in their ages. That is a timeless quality.

      So glad we finally connected, Patricia.

      Cheers, M-T


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