'Fixin' to Sit Down,' Bush and Sarkozy Do

French? "I can barely speak English," says Bush, as he meets France's president.

January 08, 2009, 1:10 AM

Aug. 11, 2007 — -- The Bush family did not exactly roll out the red carpet, but they did fly the French flag.

The French tricolor flag waved all day long above Walker's Point, the Bush family retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine -- a tip of the hat to their new friend, the French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

As President Bush waited on the driveway beside his parents, he seemed as proud as a senior about to meet his prom date.

"We're at my mom and dad's house, fixin' to sit down with the president of an ally," he said -- all smiles.

When Sarkozy finally arrived, six years of chilly relations evaporated in an instant. Our president kept patting theirs on the back. Theirs kept calling ours "Georges."

"You look great," cooed Bush.

Sarkozy, tanned from his holiday in New Hampshire, wore jeans and a navy blazer, and patted Bush warmly on the arm.

The menu was nothing fancy -- hamburgers and hot dogs, corn on the cob and blueberry pie.

"Maine blueberries are something special," said Bush.

"Maine corn is wonderful this time of year," the first lady chimed in.

Even so, it was hard to imagine that anyone would fly all the way from Paris for such a lunch. Although Sarkozy had been vacationing just 60 miles away in New Hampshire, he flew back to France late this week to attend the funeral of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.

He flew back to New England just for the barbecue. But his wife and children sent their regrets.

"You must be tired!" the president's father, Bush 41, said sympathetically.

"Non, non, non," Sarkozy insisted.

There was also more serious fare on the table. For one, the two men shared a private talk about key issues where closer cooperation might make a difference. President Bush mentioned Lebanon and Sudan.

But the two men seemed to be steering well clear of sticking points like Iraq.

"Just 'cause you've had disagreements doesn't mean you can't be friends," said Bush.

"Do we agree on everything? No." said Sarkozy through an interpreter. "But even families can have their disagreements."

Sarkozy's holiday hasn't played well in France. The French loathe President Bush. And many there are miffed that their new president -- just three months on the job -- has chosen to spend his August holiday in the United States of all places.

The French mock him as "Sarko l'Americain" -- Sarko, the American. They call him an American with a French passport. He jogs in public. He pushes his country to work harder. All a bit too American for French tastes.

The cost of his holiday, too, has been an issue -- at least $30,000 a week, even before the frequent flyer miles. Many of his constituents wondered why he didn't choose to spend his time off in one of the many summer holiday spots in France.

Paparazzi dogged his stay at Lake Winnipesaukee. Sarkozy even went after them at one point this week as they tried to snap a picture of him dressed in swim trunks and sunglasses. His wife interceded, translating for the photographers.

On Saturday, a contingent of French reporters swept through the White House press corps filing room. Smoking cigarettes and looking far more stylish than their dowdy American counterparts, there was an instant clash of cultures.

Sweeping aside the bad blood of the Chirac years, Sarkozy spoke Saturday of his admiration for Lafayette, the French general who was a hero of the American Revolution. He also spoke of the crosses of Normandy, noting with gratitude that American soldiers memorialized there died for France.

"For 250 years, our countries have been friends and allies," the French President said. "That's more important than Sarkozy and Bush."

Perhaps swept up in the spirit of the occasion, President Bush would not rule out someday spending his summer vacation in France -- so long as he can find a place to mountain bike.

Not that he can speak French.

"No I can't," Bush admitted. "I can barely speak English."

But evidently the language barrier need be no obstacle to friendship.

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