French president mixes up Japan and China on overseas trip

By Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian
Friday, June 7, 2013 9:18 EDT
google plus icon
French President Francois Hollande by French ministry of foreign affairs via Flickr CC licensed
  • Print Friendly and PDF
  • Email this page

French president blames jet lag on trip for gaffe sending France’s condolences to the wrong people

Even if the jet-lag is horrendous and there are certain distractions such as economic crisis and street murder back home , the first rule of foreign state visits is generally to know what country you’re in. The French presidential entourage was left red-faced and journalists cringing on François Hollande’s first official visit to Japan when in a speech he called the Japanese people “the Chinese”.

In a press conference with the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, on Friday, Hollande spoke of the Algerian hostage crisis in January in which 10 Japanese hostages died, saying he had “expressed the condolences of the French people to the Chinese people”.

Hollande didn’t seem to notice the mistake and didn’t correct it, carrying on with his speech regardless. He was saved by the interpreter who was doing the simultaneous translation for journalists and into Abe’s earpiece, who instantly corrected the gaffe by referring to the “Japanese”. But at least one Japanese journalist who spoke French picked up on the blunder and the French media widely reported it.

“He is tired,” was the explanation from Elysée officials to French journalists on the trip.

The three-day trip, the first French presidential visit to Japan since Jacques Chirac in 1996, is geared towards economic ties and ideas for kickstarting growth.

Hollande was recently on the receiving end of a visiting head-of-state slip-up when the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meeting him in Paris, called him “François Mitterrand.”

© Guardian News and Media 2013

By commenting, you agree to our terms of service
and to abide by our commenting policy.