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KATY CLARK: Our next story also has to do with language â€“ not learning one, like those Americans in Mexico. This story is about the French concerned about their own President's use of the national tongue. President Nicolas Sarkozy is known for using colloquial language, even slang. Last year, while visiting an agricultural fair, Sarkozy notoriously insulted a man who refused to shake his hand. There we hear a man was heard saying, â€œDon't touch me. You are soiling me,â€ and President Sarkozy replied, â€œGet lost, you idiotâ€ â€“ or at least that's all we can say of it on air. That video circulated everywhere and created a scandal. Agnes Poirier reports for French and British publications from London. And Agnes, just tell us what your thoughts were on that clip we just heard?
AGNES POIRIER: Well, when it happened, I mean we were all shocked, because Nicolas Sarkozy is, you know, the President of the French Republic. And we've had extremely cultivated, refined people before him, and suddenly we have this very uncouth man who is supposedly representing us and who should set an example for the rest of the country. So we weren't impressed nor amused.
CLARK: So President Sarkozy's use of sort of colloquialisms and things like that was highlighted recently with the annual week of French language. What are some other examples of the language that he used that has raised some eyebrows in France?
POIRIER: It's how he actually uses the language every day. I mean, you know, it's not an exception here and there. For instance, he uses contractions; he's not using the correct negative ne pas, so he's going to say [J'en pas] instead of Je nais pas. It's little details, of course, and you wouldn't take any notice if you were just in a cafe. But he's the President of France, and therefore, how he speaks is very important.
CLARK: It's been said that President Sarkozy is aware of this language style of his. He does it perhaps because it makes him look more chummy, more down to earth. Why do you think he does it?
POIRIER: I think it is that, that's for sure. He wants to appeal to a large public. I think it was one of his strengths, in a way, because when he was a candidate campaigning for the presidential elections, people took that mediocrity of language as it were for straightforwardness. You know, he speaks like us. So therefore, he's perhaps more honest than the people who came before him. But basically, he's had a very good education, he's a professional lawyer, and he pretends in order to appeal to a broader public to not use the language properly. But unlike all his predecessors, he's actually not a cultivated man. He doesn't read, and it doesn't make much mystery out of it.
CLARK: Do you think it compares with our former president, George Bush, who spent his entire presidency being criticized for using rather creative English when he spoke? I mean, I'm wondering how similar do you think the situations are?
POIRIER: Well, I wish Nicolas Sarkozy was creative with the French language. He's not even creative. I couldn't compare him to George Bush who appeared more clumsy than anything else, whereas Nicolas Sarkozy I think often does it on purpose.
CLARK: Well, President Sarkozy is well known for wanting to control his image to the point where he even puts pressure on the press. Some journalists are now being sued, I understand, because they showed a clip of Sarkozy on national TV last June, where just before a televised interview, he didn't know that the cameras and microphone were on, and he was heard addressing production staff rather rudely. What do you know about that?
POIRIER: Well, it is true that Nicolas Sarkozy has started legal action not only against journalists, but members of the public, for having lacked â€“ how would you say â€“ deference? And apparently you can do this in French courts. I'm not sure these legal actions are going to go anywhere, but it is very revealing that in just 18 months in power, he's sued six people for either insulting him or in effect having lacked the usual deference to somebody in his position.
CLARK: Well, so how do you think this could affect him when it comes time for re-election?
POIRIER: Well, it is affecting him very badly, and it's, you know, nothing to do with the recession actually. The discontent of the French people started almost the day after his election. Nicolas Sarkozy is extremely unpopular in France, and it's not going to go better for him, I don't think.
CLARK: Where does his popularity rating stand right now? Do you know?
POIRIER: It is in the mid-30s. Only a third of the French people are happy with his work, which is extremely low.
CLARK: Agnes Poirier freelances for French and British publications from London. Thank you.