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French and American Presidential Friendships: The Best and Worst

November 12, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden spoke to Macron for the first time earlier this week. While we can’t be sure how their relationship will turn out, we’re feeling pretty good about it! So, to celebrate their budding friendship, we’ve put together a list of the most famous French-American presidential duos. Did you ever wonder whether De Gaulle and Kennedy got along? Or how the most dissimilar presidents on earth (Mitterand and Reagan) found anything to talk about? Now’s the perfect time to learn about these overlapping presidencies! 

By Sophia Millman


Just Meh: Charles de Gaulle and John F. Kennedy

JFK was a French history buff and admired Charles de Gaulle, but the two didn’t hit it off when they finally met in Paris. De Gaulle remained a faithful ally of the United States during the Cold War, but JFK found his old-fashioned and superior manner off-putting. In an interview about her 1961 trip to Paris with her husband, Jackie Kennedy said, “De Gaulle was my hero when I married Jack.” However, that changed when she met him in person: Jackie called him an “egomaniac” and a “spiteful man.” (De Gaulle might not have been the kindest person, but we think Jackie was a bit too hard on him. She spoke fluent French, and said in the same interview, “I loathe the French. They are not very nice, they are all for themselves.” Harsh!) 


BFFs: François Mitterrand and Ronald Reagan

If you were to guess, you’d probably think that republican Ronald Reagan and socialist François Mitterrand wouldn’t exactly become best friends. But in fact, the retired Hollywood actor and literary French president got along swimmingly! Their lifelong friendship and pacte de confiance began during the Farewell Affair in 1981, when the two presidents met privately at the Ottawa Summit. Mitterand clued Reagan into the existence of a secret dossier of Russian documents and the documents were ultimately handed over to the CIA. Practice your French and learn more about the affair here


A Rocky Friendship: Jacques Chirac and George W. Bush 

Despite some disagreements, Chirac and Bush Jr. developed a warm relationship during the early years of Bush’s presidency. They agreed about foreign policy strategies in Kosovo and Bosnia, and, after 9/11, Chirac paid a special visit to New York which Bush appreciated. (Interesting fact: Chirac was the first foreign president to visit the US and offer his condolences after the 2001 attacks.) But their relationship quickly deteriorated in 2002, when Chirac opposed the American intervention in Iraq. 


Failed bromance: Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama

When Obama was elected in 2008, Nicolas Sarkozy said, “Obama, c’est mon copain” (Obama’s my friend), but he spoke a little too soon. While Franco-American relations were excellent during Obama’s presidency, Obama wasn’t a huge fan of Sarkozy. In fact, when you look back at their relationship, Sarkozy seems a little desperate to be part of the cool club. In 2011, Sarkozy and his wife gave Obama’s family 32,000 euros worth of gifts, including a Hermès golf bag, Dior bathrobes, and super expensive crystal lamps. Overkill? We think so. Check out this Atlantic article if you want to read about Obama throwing shade at “Sarko.” 


Just… Weird?: Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump

This relationship is frankly pretty confusing. Remember when Donald Trump told Macron’s wife Brigitte that she was “in such good shape”? That moment pretty much encapsulates the bizarre nature of Trump’s interactions with the Macrons. The French media’s reaction was, in a nutshell, “Yeah, Trump is trying to be nice, but his attitude is just awkward, condescending, and ultimately inappropriate.” But what exactly went down with Macron and Trump? Well, the relationship started out as a bromance (with cheek kisses, a military parade and dinner at the Eiffel Tower!) according to the New York Times. However, like many of the others on this list, it took a turn for the worst. Read about how it unfolded here


Most Promising: Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden

Emmanuel Macron and President-elect Joe Biden spoke on November 10th for the first time. While their ten-minute talk was brief, it bodes well for the future of France’s relationship with the US. Macron recently announced that he hopes to collaborate with Biden on major international issues including “the climate crisis, the health crisis, the fight against terrorism and the defense of fundamental rights.” 


Pour aller plus loin :

  • Want to learn more about French-American relationships throughout the 20th and 21st centuries? Check out this cool French page that’s full of clips of different French presidents visiting the US! 
  • You can also practice your French by reading this interesting article about why François Hollande was disappointed by Barack Obama. 
  • Finally, watch this video of Bill Clinton speaking about his friendship with Jacques Chirac at Chirac’s funeral. 


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