- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 15, 2010


“Nobody is happy to leave this country.”

Those were the words of a Frenchman preparing to say farewell to the United States. They could have been the words of Alexis de Toqueville, the great 19th-century French statesman who traveled widely in the young United States of the 1830s and wrote admiringly of its fledgling democracy.

However, those words were spoken by a 21st French diplomat, Emmanuel Napoleon Jean Lenain, who, like de Toqueville, traveled the highways and byways of America every chance he got during three years as the press spokesman at the French Embassy in Washington.

Unlike many foreign diplomats who drive imports, Mr. Lenain proudly cruised in an American classic, a 1969 Chevy Camaro.

In the fall, Mr. Lenain will depart Washington for his new assignment as consul-general in Shanghai; but he already has started his farewell parties.

At a reception last week at the elegant residence of French Ambassador Pierre Vimont, Mr. Lenain referred to a quip by President John F. Kennedy, who famously said that Washington is a town of “Southern efficiency and Northern charm.”

“I don’t agree with that,” said Mr. Lenain, who just finished a summer tour of the South, where his stops included Memphis, Tenn., the home of Southern blues and barbecue, and Oxford, Miss., the home of the renowned Southern writer, William Faulkner.

Mr. Lenain noted that among his favorite adventures in America were his trips to the Democratic and Republican presidential conventions in 2008. He was amazed at the pageantry of the Democratic convention in Denver and pleased to meet some of “my personal idols like Henry Kissinger” at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn.

“When I first arrived here, I knew nothing about the press,” Mr. Lenain said of his duty as embassy spokesman. “Like any good diplomat, I tried to avoid journalists.”

Mr. Vimont recalled that Mr. Lenain spent three years at the French mission to the United Nations before coming to Washington.

“We all know that New York is not America. It is something different,” the ambassador said. “We can say that this is your first American adventure.”

“You did a tremendous job,” he added.

Mr. Vimont had one question for Mr. Lenain.

“What are you going to do with your car?”

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