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Chirac's "Bad British Food," And The Diner's Guide To Diplomatic Gaffes



In his new book Running My Life, Sebastian Coe, the former track star who led Britain’s move to secure the 2012 Olympics for London, recounts the final sprint to see who would host the Summer Games. Coe says Paris was the favorite of the Olympic committee until Jacques Chirac, then president of France, made a tasteless joke about British food.

The Times of London writes that it was during a meeting of the G8 earlier in 2005 that Chirac was overheard saying to Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that “you can’t trust a people that cooks as badly as that.” (He also, just for the record, said Finnish food was even worse.)

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Former Prime Minister Tony Blair with Jacques Chirac

Later in 2005, Cherie Blair, wife of then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, accompanied Coe and the British delegation to Singapore, where the final vote for the site of the 2012 summer Olympics would be held. At a reception for all the delegates, where Chirac had come to charm the delegates and make a last plea to seal the Games for Paris, the French President was confronted by Madame Blair, who began to harangue him over the remarks about British cuisine.

Britain's Telegraph quotes Coe: "She was at him like a banshee and he couldn't get out of the building fast enough.” So Chirac skipped the last-minute lobbying, the book recalls, while the British delegation made impassioned speeches in favor of London. The next day, the committee voted 54-50 in a surprise decision for the British capital.

A brief history of geopolitical food fights:

Culinary caprices, it seems, have been the source of political squabbles since Athens was tossing grapes at Attica. Here are a few memorables gourmet gaffes from more recent days:

1. Jacques Chirac is not the only one to have turned up his nose at Finnish food. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, famed for his political gaffes, was outraged that the European Commission was considering Helsinki as the HQ for the European Food Safety Authority. "The Finns don't even know what Parma ham is," he said.

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If, like me, you are slightly ignorant as to what a typical Finnish dish looks like.

2. Back in 1992, at a banquet hosted by the then Prime Minister of Japan Kiichi Miyazawa, U.S. President George H. W. Bush caused a stir when he vomited and fainted during the evening gala. Brushing off any fishy rumors, he stated that it was due to a 24-hour flu bug.

3. During a luncheon organized by former Mexican President José López Portillo in 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter launched into a story about his first visit to the Mexican capital and its spicy offerings: "I first acquired my habit of running here in Mexico City," he told the audience. "My first running course was from the Palace of Fine Arts to the Majestic Hotel, where me and my family were staying. In the midst of the Folklorico performance, I discovered that I was afflicted with Montezuma's Revenge." López Portillo was reportedly not amused.

4. Cherie Blair's "banshee" wails were a tad rich considering the United Kingdom is home to one of the most gaffe-prone, politically incorrect people of the past half-century: Sir Prince Philip, the Queen's husband who is noted to be a connoisseur of the finer things in life. In 2002, after stuffing his noble ribs with bacon, eggs, smoked salmon, kedgeree, croissants and pain au chocolat, all prepared by accclaimed French chef Regis Crépy, the Philip proclaimed: "The French don't know how to cook breakfast."

5. A second helping from the Elisabeth's beau: In 1986, during a World Wildlife Fund meeting, Prince Philip declared: "If it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it."

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Prince Philip speaking with diplomat Colin Evans in 2010

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