How do you say "I know you are, but what am I" in French?
When a Paris daily overheard French President Jacques Chirac making jokes about mad-cow disease and telling fellow leaders the British have some of the worst food in Europe, well, you can just imagine how that was viewed by the British media. Actually, you don't have to.
Never mind that British restaurants are now regarded as some of the best in Europe, and that some of its star chefs, like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay are foodie superstars on this side of the pond. Or that some French chefs have been losing their Michelin stars faster than you can say croque monseiur.
Suffice to say, The Sun, whose editors are foaming at the mouth on a good day, were not amused, bannering the front page with "Don't Talk Crepe" and calling Chirac a "plonker," a uniquely British way to call someone a fool or an idiot. Actually, The Sun may be on to something here.
It harped on Chirac's quote in reference to the Brits that “You can’t trust people who cook as badly as that. After Finland, it’s the country with the worst food.”
Which would be unremarkable were it not for the fact that, as The Sun noted, Finland has two votes on which city, including London and Paris, gets the 2012 Olympics. We'll see if the Finns have a sense of humor, although that's not one of their better-known attributes.
Sister paper The Times was a bit more restrained, at least by British standards with this lead:
President Jacques Chirac's ill-timed jokes about British cooking came back to bite him on the derriere today as he arrived in Singapore to press Paris's case to host the 2012 Olympics.
The Times did attempt some perspective in a sidebar, noting that the Finns may have already been leaning toward London in the Olympic voting, even though it relished the possibility that Chirac's food faux pas could cost Paris its status as favorite.
But who needs perspective, when you could instead have The Mirror, which helpfully offered "Ten Things You Need To Know About Jacques Chirac."
My favorite is number two, which noted that Chirac imbibed in a popular French pastime, cheating on his wife. "His nickname among female staff when he was Paris mayor was 'three minutes, shower included."
In contrasts, The Guardian weaseled out of the controversy, relegating it to five paragraphs to the bottom of its main Olympics story that instead featured a last-minute campaign by David Beckham to woo the IOC.
Somewhere in the middle stood The Independent, which took time from its usual Bush-bashing in advance of the G8 summit to attempt a little kindness toward Chirac, but reported Chirac should not have been caught by surprise as he knew microphones were nearby while he kibitzed with Vladimir Putin and Gerhard Schroeder during a weekend meeting in Kalingrad.
President Putin objected to M. Chirac's suggestion that British cuisine was the lowest of the low. "What about hamburgers?" he asked. "No, no," M. Chirac replied. "Hamburgers are nothing [by comparison]."
Now he's dissing hamburgers, too? Sacre bleu! Get me some Freedom Fries pronto!