Actors Bradley Cooper and Suki Waterhouse arrive for the State Dinner held for French President Francois Hollande at the WhiteHouse in Washington February 11, 2014. Joshua Roberts/Reuters Actors Bradley Cooper and Suki Waterhouse arrive for the State Dinner. Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Making it past Beginner’s French isn’t a prerequisite in politics.

At Tuesday night’s state dinner honoring French President Francois Hollande at the White House, several guests, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, said they spoke “petite francaise,” which means “a small Frenchman,” not “a little French.”  The correct phrase, according to a French journalist we stood close to, would be “un peu francais.”

Other Francophiles included Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who said his wife, former D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee had taught him “un peu francais” in the car ride over.  “I’m ready to bust them out,” added Johnson. He then proudly displayed his new language skills: “Bonsoir” and “Bon appetit.”

Civil Rights activist Al Sharpton told reporters that he’d been practicing his French, too. When quizzed he offered these three simple words: “Oui oui oui.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he took Spanish in high school and United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said her second language is German.

The Hollywood set fared only slightly better in our impromptu French quiz. Singer Mary J. Blige, the night’s entertainment, said her last name is French. “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams lived in France for a year in college and could “Merci beaucoup!” with the best of them. Mock newscaster Stephen Colbert had his “bonsoir” at the ready. Sadly actor Bradley Cooper, who is actually fluent in French, said nothing, perhaps because doing so would make women around the world swoon.


More on the state dinner:
Michelle Obama chooses Carolina Herrera for state dinner dress

Guest list for the state dinner

On state dinner menu, American wines by French natives

Watch: Eight things to know about state dinners