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.)

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.

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."

Prince Philip speaking with diplomat Colin Evans in 2010

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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