Obama went out of his way to welcome Hollande at the White House
on Tuesday, saying a few words in passable French, teasing the
Frenchman for his formality and toying with the notion that U.S.
ties with France are as close as they are with old ally Britain.
"It is always a pleasure to host Francois," Obama said at a joint
news conference after wishing reporters good afternoon in French.
At a G8 summit at Camp David two years ago, Obama noted with a
smile, "I was trying to make the summit casual, and Francois in true
French style showed up in a necktie. We tried to get him to take it
Hollande was equally effusive, referring to "Mr. President, dear
The chumminess was not unexpected coming from two leaders who tend
to see issues from the same leftward view. Obama went so far as to
say that the U.S.-French alliance dating back more than two
centuries "has never been stronger."
Still, it was a noted difference from a decade ago when the Iraq war
strained relations between the two countries, a time when "freedom
fries" replaced French fries as a popular side dish in some American
"Let's just say that we've come a long way from 'freedom fries,'"
said a senior Obama administration official.
Indeed, the menu for the state dinner featuring 350 guests in a
heated tent on the White House South Lawn later on Tuesday included
dry-aged rib eye beef and American wines.
During his toast before the meal, Hollande joked about the two
countries' affection for each other.
"We love Americans, although we don't always say so. And you love
the French, but you're sometimes too shy to say so," he quipped.
Obama lavished some praise on a favorite French import.
"Now, it is true that we Americans have grown to love all things
French — the films, the food, the wine. Especially the wine," he
said in his toast.
ALL ALONE AND VEEP MEETS VEEP
That Hollande showed up "tout seul," or all alone, was not talked
Hollande, 59, split with long-time partner Valerie Trierweiler last
month after he was photographed on a motor scooter outside the Paris
apartment of actress Julie Gayet, 41.
Hollande's personal drama briefly caused some confusion at the White
House. Would he bring Gayet to the Tuesday night state dinner? But
all this was quickly moot when the French delegation list sent to
the White House showed that Hollande would be stag.
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His singleness seemed to affect Michelle Obama more than anyone
else. Before the dinner the U.S. first lady, wearing a flowing blue
dress, came down the grand staircase at the White House by herself,
behind her husband and the French president, who walked together.
Business leaders, administration officials, and Hollywood stars were
among the guests at the event, which was held in a lavish tent on
the White House grounds.
Vice President Joe Biden was seated next to actress Julia
Louis-Dreyfus, who plays a U.S. vice president in the HBO television
The real veep was overheard telling the TV show veep that he had
requested that they be seated next to each other.
"Look who I'm sitting next to," Louis-Dreyfus told nearby reporters.
"That's my favorite part of the dinner right there."
The fact that Hollande was granted the privilege of making the first
state visit to the White House of Obama's second term was not lost
on French reporters, who asked at the press conference whether this
was a sign that France was supplanting traditional U.S. ally
Obama's answer represented a delicate diplomatic dance.
"I have two daughters," he said. "And they are both gorgeous and
wonderful. And I would never choose between them. And that's how I
feel about my outstanding European partners. All of them are
wonderful in their own ways."
Hollande could not resist the urge to join this line of conversation
when it was his turn to speak.
"Well, "I have four children," he said. "So that makes it even more
difficult for me to make any choice at all. But we're not trying to
be anyone's favorite."
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton;
editing by Eric Walsh)
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