‘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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Unrest in France prompts postponement of King Charles III visit

Violent pension reform protests in France led to the postponement Friday of King Charles III's trip to the country, highlighting the growing security and political problems faced by President Emmanuel Macron.

Unrest in France prompts postponement of King Charles III visit

The French president condemned the latest burst of violence overnight, while a human rights watchdog criticised the “excessive use of force” by police during recent demonstrations.

King Charles’ first foreign trip as monarch had been intended to highlight warming Franco-British relations. Instead, it has underlined the severity of demonstrations engulfing Britain’s neighbour just 10 months into Macron’s second term.

Uproar over legislation to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 was enflamed when Macron exercised a controversial executive power to push the plan through parliament without a vote last week.

With fresh strikes expected next Tuesday on what would have been the second day of the king’s tour, Macron asked for the postponement of the royal visit, a UK government spokesperson said.

The decision was made “to welcome His Majesty King Charles III in conditions which reflect our friendly relations”, Macron’s office said.

Police arrested more than 450 people on Thursday, according to interior ministry figures.

In addition, 441 members of the security forces were injured on the most violent day of protests since the start of the year. More than 900 fires were lit around Paris, with anarchist groups blamed for setting uncollected rubbish ablaze and smashing shop windows, leading to frequent clashes with riot police.

But rights groups, magistrates and left-wing politicians have also denounced alleged police brutality in recent days. The Council of Europe — the continent’s leading human rights watchdog —
warned that sporadic acts of violence “cannot justify excessive use of force by agents of the state” or “deprive peaceful protesters of their right to freedom of assembly”.

Over a million

More than a million people marched in France on Thursday, according to official estimates, as the protest movement was reinvigorated by Macron’s refusal to back down over the past week.

In the northeast city of Rennes, regional officials denied claims by union leaders that police had deliberately targeted them with tear gas and a water cannon during Thursday’s protests.

In Bordeaux, protesters set fire to the ancient wooden entrance to the city hall on Thursday. King Charles had been set to visit the southwestern city on Tuesday, after a day in Paris.

With protesters threatening to disrupt the royal visit and the streets of the capital strewn with rubbish because of a strike by waste collectors, some feel the trip’s postponement will avoid further embarrassment for France.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to Brussels on Friday, Macron said discussions over rescheduling the visit could take place in the coming months. “We have proposed that at the beginning of the summer, depending on our respective agendas, we can arrange a new state visit,” he said. He also insisted that Paris “would not give in to the violence”

“I condemn the violence and offer my full support to the security forces who worked in an exemplary manner.”

Way out?

It remains unclear how the government will defuse a crisis that comes just four years after the “Yellow Vest” demonstrations rocked the country.

“Everything depends on one man who is a prisoner of the political situation,” political scientist Bastien Francois from the Sorbonne University in Paris told AFP.

The leader of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger, said Friday he had spoken to an aide to the president and suggested a pause on implementing the pensions law for six months while opening a channel for negotiations.

“It’s the moment to say ‘listen, let’s put things on pause, let’s wait six months’,” Berger told RTL radio. “It would calm things down.”

While France’s Constitutional Court still needs to give the final word on the reform, Macron said in a televised interview Wednesday that the changes needed to “come into force by the end of the year”.

Blockades of oil refineries by striking workers continued on Friday, but the energy transition ministry said it had requisitioned enough workers to restart production at one of these and resume fuel supply to the capital.

About 15 percent of gas stations were still out of at least one fuel by Friday morning, according to an analysis of public data by AFP.

Some flights have been cancelled until at least Wednesday at airports around the country due to a strike by air traffic controllers.

Police and protesters will face off again Saturday, and not just at demonstrations over the pension reform.

At Saint Solines, central France, thousands of people are expected at a protest against the deployment of new water-storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation, despite an official ban on the gathering.