For the two candidates, suddenly having to shift gears to global concerns in the midst of a domestic, pocketbook-centric campaign means lots of extra homework. It also means the gaffes risk multiplying like a southern European national debt.
From past experience stateside and our own twisted imagination here in Paris, here are five potential pitfalls for the Messrs Obama and Romney:
1) Prepare a good answer for the question: What is Africa?
A. a continent
B. a country
C. something Sarah Palin has "heard of"
2) You don't have to tell Americans that other languages are spoken around the world. They can understand Simon Cowell perfectly well, thank you very much. Still, on debate night, when everyone is watching, and several hundred are listening, Obama and Romney should not be tempted to sneak out a second language like they have in the past when (they thought) no one was looking.
3. Whatever you do, no matter the question... don't try to pronounce the name of this country:
4. Well Herman Cain was probably never destined for a presidency beyond the American Restaurant Association. But legend has it that Ronald Reagan himself was once asked about then French President Giscard d'Estaing... to which he responded: Where's that? But hey, we empathize with all these damn foreign names and foreign countries that keep popping up around the world. Did you know that the current French President has a Dutch name? The Belgian Prime Minister has an Italian name (and wears a bow tie)? And the new boss in Georgia has never even been to Atlanta (and has a French passport). Anyway, beware if the debate moderator asks about the conflict brewing between Burma and Myanmar, it's a trick question!
5. Iran and Iraq are both complicated countries that have now long been devoted to making life very unpleasant for Americans and American presidents. It's just a lot to keep track of. This, however, is not a solution to suggest in tonight's debate...