Sunday 17 July 2011

Language of diplomacy

On the eve of the Polish EU presidency, a friend of mine is astonished to watch on France cable television a debate in which the Polish Finance Minister speaks in native-level French.

Selwyn Lloyd the future British Foreign Secretary when offered the position of Minister of State for Foreign Affairs by Winston Churchill at first wanted to decline because he spoke no foreign languages and had never, except for his war service, been abroad. Something not uncommon among upper middle class Englishmen in 1951. 'These are two excellent qualifications for the job,' said Churchill. 

Mr. Blair spoke very good French, to the annoyance of Foreign Secretary Robin Cook who did not. Mr. Heath spoke French too with an accent much ridiculed at least in the U.K. (the French were said to have thought it charming).

I think I remember that Margaret Thatcher spoke fair schoolgirl French. Did she? The Queen and Prince of Wales naturally speak French perfectly. Eden carried around a volume of Ronsard in his pocket. Macmillan spoke good French too. John Major and James Callaghan who left school young did not. Mr. Brown's French is execrable. Does David Cameron speak French?

Churchill is said to have begun a speech to the French National Assembly, wanting to say 'When I look back over my past', with the words 

Quand je regarde mon derriere, je vois qu'il est divise en deux parties egales”.

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