President Obama held a much ballyhooed town hall in Strasbourg, France, on Friday, touted by the White House as an outreach to Europeans on the second leg of the president’s “listening” tour.
But the first person he called on was an American — and the third, too. By the end of the hourlong session, not a single French citizen got to ask the U.S. president a question.
In all, Obama took just five questions from the thousands of people packed into a sports arena after delivering a lengthy speech read from a teleprompter. And the query topics were on the light side; one asked about the expected acquisition of a family dog, another about whether “you regret to have run for presidency.”
The president had opened his remarks by saying he had come to “take some questions. You know, oftentimes during these foreign trips, you see everything from behind a window. And what we thought was important was for me to have an opportunity to not only speak with you, but also to hear from you, because that’s ultimately how we can learn about each other.”
But Obama seemed surprised when his first questioner turned out to be an American. “Oh, I called — now, I just want to say I did not call on the American on purpose,” he said with a smile before delivering a long answer to the American’s question about his legacy as president.
After his answer, Obama chastised his fellow countrymen. “Now, I know there are some other Americans in the crowd, but do me a favor, Americans: Wait till we get back home, and I’ll do a town hall there, because I I want to hear from my French and German and European friends.”
While his second question came from a student from Heidelberg, Germany, his third questioner also turned out to be an American. “Well, hello, Mr. President. I’m sorry. I’m from Chicago,” said a young woman, who said she was attending an international high school in Strasbourg.
When disgruntled moans broke out in the crowd, the girl declared defensively: “I’m French. I’m also French.”
“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Hold on,” he said, addressing the crowd. “She says she also French. … What do you think? Should we let her ask the question?” he asked. There were light cheers from the polite crowd. “OK, go ahead.”
“I was wondering if the dog was already in the White House or not,” the young woman asked in English, with no trace of a French accent.
“This is a very important question in the United States, what kind of dog and when we’re getting it,” he told the audience made up mostly of French and German students.
He then called on a young man for the fourth question, and while he did not identify where he was from, the man had a heavy German accent. His final question went to “that young woman in the red,” another student from Heidelberg who identified herself as “totally European” — but maybe hailed from Hungary.
“I wanted to tell you that your name in Hungarian means peach,” she said.
“Peach? Oh, OK. Well, how about that. I did not know that,” Obama said.
“Yes, now you know it,” the woman said.
E-mail Joseph Curl at firstname.lastname@example.org.