‘A friend of France’: Who is the fluent French-speaker representing the United States on the world stage?

As Joe Biden prepares to be inaugurated as US president, one member of his new team has stirred particular interest in France - Antony Blinken.

'A friend of France': Who is the fluent French-speaker representing the United States on the world stage?
US Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken. Photo: AFP

The new Secretary of State – the US equivalent of a Foreign Minister – has deep ties to France and is a fluent French-speaker.

He spent part of his childhood in France, moving to Paris with his mother when she remarried and attending the bilingual École Jeannine Manuel.

His half-sister Leah lives in France where she runs a non-profit organisation dedicated to multicultural understanding, while his stepfather Samuel Pisar, a lawyer and Holocaust survivor, was friends with former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

Former French ambassador to the US Gerard Araud described Blinken as a “friend of France”.

A former classmate of Blinken, Robert Malley, told the Financial Times: “Tony was an American in Paris – both terms are important.

“He was very conscious of being American and he believed in American values. But he also understood how foreign policy could affect the rest of the world, because he lived abroad and saw how others looked at the United States. At the time [during the Vietnam War], the country was not particularly popular in Europe, especially in France. Tony sailed between these two worlds.”

Blinken has also spoken in the past on the importance of the EU as a partner to America.

As you would expect from someone who spent part of his childhood here, his French is fluent and he is happy to not only give speeches in French but take part in interviews and Q&A sessions in French.


And this skill is sufficiently unusual among American politicians to have earned Blinken plenty of positive headlines in the French press.


While several members of the French government speak English to a high standard – including Emmanuel Macron who is happy to make speeches in English – it's far more unusual for US politicians to speak French (and indeed the outgoing incumbent of the White House seems to struggle with English).




The recent exception to this has been John Kerry, who spoke good French that he learned as a child while at school in Switzerland, and during holidays at his grandparents' home in Brittany.


Member comments

  1. In response to the comment “indeed the current incumbent of the White House seems to struggle with English”, our President fully know the words. He just doesn’t know what they mean. And if he knew what they meant, he wouldn’t use them. I hope this clarifies his purported struggle.

  2. I should add that while Mr. Trump knows the words, he is fortunate to have consecutive translation provided by his trusted legal advisor, Rudolf Giuliani, who both provides comic relief in deflecting attention from Trump’s “struggles” and serves as Trump’s canary in the coal mine. I suspect that after Mr. Trump’s ejection from office, Mr. Giuliani will be available to perform stand-up comedy. Engagements can be secured through Four Seasons Landscaping.

  3. ” (and indeed the outgoing incumbent of the White House seems to struggle with English).” Trump needed an interpreter for English speakers.

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French PM announces ‘crackdown’ on teen school violence

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal on Thursday announced measures to crack down on teenage violence in and around schools, as the government seeks to reclaim ground on security from the far-right two months ahead of European elections.

French PM announces 'crackdown' on teen school violence

France has in recent weeks been shaken by a series of attacks on schoolchildren by their peers, in particularly the fatal beating earlier this month of Shemseddine, 15, outside Paris.

The far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party has accused Attal of not doing enough on security as the anti-immigration party soars ahead of the government coalition in polls for the June 9th election.

READ ALSO Is violence really increasing in French schools?

Speaking in Viry-Chatillon, the town where Shemseddine was killed, Attal condemned the “addiction of some of our adolescents to violence”, calling for “a real surge of authority… to curb violence”.

“There are twice as many adolescents involved in assault cases, four times more in drug trafficking, and seven times more in armed robberies than in the general population,” he said.

Measures will include expanding compulsory school attendance to all the days of the week from 8am to 6pm for children of collège age (11 to 15).

“In the day the place to be is at school, to work and to learn,” said Attal, who was also marking 100 days in office since being appointed in January by President Emmanuel Macron to turn round the government’s fortunes.

Parents needed to take more responsibility, said Attal, warning that particularly disruptive children would have sanctions marked on their final grades.

OPINION: No, France is not suffering an unprecedented wave of violence

Promoting an old-fashioned back-to-basics approach to school authority, he said “You break something – you repair it. You make a mess – you clear it up. And if you disobey – we teach you respect.”

Attal also floated the possibility of children in exceptional cases being denied the right to special treatment on account of their minority in legal cases.

Thus 16-year-olds could be forced to immediately appear in court after violations “like adults”, he said. In France, the age of majority is 18, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Macron and Attal face an uphill struggle to reverse the tide ahead of the European elections. Current polls point to the risk of a major debacle that would overshadow the rest of the president’s second mandate up to 2027.

A poll this week by Ifop-Fiducial showed the RN on 32.5 percent with the government coalition way behind on 18 percent.