It’s hard to say goodbye — particularly when you have to do it in two languages. Such was the case for Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States since 2014, who bid farewell to Washington on Wednesday night at a party at the ambassador’s residence that was the affectionate equivalent of a triple-cheek kiss.
Araud addressed his “dear friends” with a speech in which he professed his fondness for the United States, where he has lived for 14 years, and the importance of the relationship between his host nation and his native one. “Although I remain so French, I’m at least slightly tainted by your country,” he said, poking fun at the attitude of hauteur often adopted by his countrymen. “And I love it. I have extensively traveled throughout the United States and everywhere, I have been moved by how warm and nice are the Americans.”
Those raising flutes of champagne included French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian; Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.); British Ambassador Kim Darroch; International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde; and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
For a wonkish career diplomat, Araud was known for his subtle wit — and for throwing fabulous fetes full of avant-garde decor (a masquerade ball last year featured a tableau of stuffed animals seated as if attending an opulent dinner party; holiday decorations included upside-down trees and mannequins with animal heads in punk-rocker costume). Credit for those puckish touches goes to Araud’s longtime partner, artist Pascal Blondeau.
Chatter at the party turned to Araud’s replacement (still unclear), the couple’s planned move to New York and the fate of their myriad stuffed animals that have frequently made appearances at functions in the grand residence (including the tiger perched casually atop the intricately carved antique piano on Wednesday). “I hear they’re the property of the French government,” one guest whispered. “The ambassador’s going to have to leave them behind.”