“Good Evening, Everyone. Bonsoir.
Please have a seat and pardon my French. Michelle and I are so honored to welcome you to the White House as we host President Hollande and his delegation for this, a historic state visit between our nations, the first in nearly 20 years.
I think we have a translator. Is that correct? No? You don’t want me to translate.
At our press conference today I quoted Alexis de Tocqueville, that son of France who in 1831 set out across our young country and founded our American democracy, amazed by how well he understood this nation of ours and captured the spirit as well as anybody ever has. Tonight I’d like to share some of his lesser known revelations about American dining. de Tocqueville wrote: ‘The absence of wine at our meals, at first, struck us as very disagreeable and we still can’t understand the multitude of things that Americans succeed in introducing into their stomachs.” Somethings do not change. When Francois came here years ago as a student to study our fast food, I suspect he said the same thing.
About the White House, de Tocqueville’s traveling companion wrote: ‘The President of the United States occupies a palace that in Paris would be called a fine private residence.’ And he wrote, and I very much can relate to this, ‘the power of the king of France would be nil if it were modeled after the power of the president.’ [laughter] And the king did not have to deal with a filibuster.
Now Americans took lessons from France, as well. One young American lawyer went to Paris and was deeply moved to see white and black students studying together. That young American was Charles Sumner, who was inspired by what he saw in France, became one of greatest abolitionists, helped to end slavery, and is one of the reasons all of us can be here together as full citizens, free and equal. Now, it is true that we Americans have grown to love all things French — the films, the food, the wine. Especially the wine. But most of all we love our French friends because we’ve stood together for our freedom for more than 200 years.
Tonight I again want to pay tribute to President Hollande for the principled leadership, personal friendship and courage that he has shown on the world stage. Thank you, Francois. We started this visit yesterday at Monticello and I’d like to end where we began. Thomas Jefferson wrote: ‘So ask the traveled inhabitant of any nation in what country on Earth would you rather live in? Certainly in my own, where my friends, my relations, and the earliest and sweetest affections of recollections of my life.’
But Jefferson added: ‘Which would be your second choice? France, of course.’
So I propose a toast [pause] to our friend and partner, President Hollande. To all of our friends from France who are here today. Vive la France. God Bless America. And long live the alliance between our great nations.
A votre sante. Cheers.”
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