Secretary Kerry knows just what to say to woo the Norwegians — in their own language

Al Kamen
Columnist November 18, 2013

It’s an international mystery: What did Secretary of State John Kerry say in Norwegian during an appearance last week with Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende?

After introducing Brende at a State Department event on Friday and saying lots of nice things about Norway (the country is “a huge global citizen” and a “terrific partner,” yada yada), Kerry got a little more personal. He lived in Norway for a few years when his diplomat-father was stationed there, he said, “so I have a special affinity for Norway and Norwegians.”

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Oh yeah?

“Say something in Norwegian!” one of the reporters covering the event called out. (Bet Kerry wishes all questions from the media were so easy.)

Kerry obliged, offering a few lines in the language of his visitor. But here’s where the mystery comes in — the official transcript of the event didn’t reflect what he said. “(In Norwegian.)” was how it appeared.

What did he say? Whatever it was, the crowd seemed tickled. His comment got laughs.

We were intrigued.

So we checked with the Norwegian Embassy for a proper translation. Kerry’s message was as nice as his one in English. He said “tusen takk,” which means “thank you,” we’re told. And then he said, “jeg elsker deg,” which translates to “I love you.”

Kine Hartz, the embassy’s cultural and information officer, who was there to hear the performance in person, gave his pronunciation high marks.

“It was good,” she tells us. “He had that singsong-y Norwegian sound — we were very impressed.”

The Rouse report

Every so often, White House observers hear that Pete Rouse President Obama’s trusted counselor and former interim chief of staff — is leaving.

This would leave a significant hole in the White House operation and is one of the reasons Obama is said to always push back hard to stop him from going. Rouse, who was Obama’s first Senate chief of staff in 2005, is the president’s longest-serving senior aide.

After he clinched the Democratic nomination in June 2008, Obama told our colleague Karen Tumulty (then at Time magazine) what he thought of Rouse. Rouse was “as well connected and well known and as popular and as smart and savvy a person as there is on Capitol Hill. But is completely ego-free. And that just makes for a good team,” Obama said. That’s about the highest compliment you’ll hear anyone get in this town.

So when we heard the rumors percolating up of late — “it may be true this time,” one source said — we thought it worthwhile to make a few calls. Best we can figure is that Rouse, who’s 67, is once more edging toward the door, hoping to leave soon, but no date has been set and nothing’s “imminent.” Of course “imminent” is a somewhat squishy term.

Bibi gets an F

As the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu presumably has some pretty competent folks working for him.

But he might want to rethink his graphics department.

Netanyahu last week tweeted a PR-style infographic opposing the deal that the United States and other countries are negotiating to lift some sanctions on Iran. He called it an “important message” and urged his 188,000 or so followers to share it. The graphics were a tad cartoonish.

We assumed that one illustration was meant to be a mushroom cloud, but it looked a lot like a tree. And another one was . . . a missile, right?

Still, it seemed an improvement over the poster depicting a bomb that he paraded last year in front of the U.N. General Assembly. “Netanyahu’s bomb cartoon is the Middle East equivalent of Clint Eastwood’s chair,” columnist Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted at the time.

We decided to check our amateur critique against a professional’s. So we asked Alberto Cairo , an expert on graphic design and a University of Miami journalism professor, to analyze Netanyahu’s presentations.

The professor indicated that if they had been the works of one of his students, they would have received failing grades.

First, he says, the initial problem is content: Such visuals are often used in the PR and marketing world, and they are a far cry from “real” infographics, which are journalistic products that he calls a “visual representation of evidence.”

And then there are the aesthetics. Netanyahu’s are “just ugly and badly designed,” Cairo said.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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