PARIS (Reuters) - President Nicolas Sarkozy awarded U.S. actor and director Clint Eastwood one of France's top honors on Friday, hailing him as a cinema legend and a symbol of the type of America that the French adored.
It is unusual for a foreigner to be elevated to the rank of commander of the French Legion of Honor but Eastwood, who went from playing tough guy roles like Dirty Harry to directing highly praised films, said he saw France as his second home.
"My wife chastised me saying if that was true why don't I speak French," he told friends and officials gathered at the Elysee Palace for the ceremony, promising to take lessons.
He jokingly referred to Sarkozy as "my president" after receiving the red-ribboned medal, and said he planned to go out and show off his award.
"As a commander of the arts and letters, I think I will go out on the streets of France today and throw my weight around," said Eastwood, 79, who recently finished making a supernatural thriller in France, "Hereafter."
Sarkozy said French admiration for U.S. cinema helped transcend any problems the two countries might have had in the past -- a veiled reference to France's fierce opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"When one loves the cinema of a people, one loves the people," the president said.
He called Eastwood, whose line "Go ahead, make my day" became a global catchphrase, "a myth, a giant, an example of the admiration we have for American culture."
He added that problems between the two countries had only arisen "when America was not as big as we would have liked in our dreams.
"You, you have never let us down," he added.
Reporting by Gerard Bon, writing by Crispian Balmer, editing by Michael Roddy