SYDNEY (Reuters) - France’s President Emmanuel Macron may have had le vin rouge on his mind when he thanked Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his “delicious wife” for their warm welcome on his official visit.
But the linguistic misstep, probably caused by a subtle difference in the usage of the French word “delicieux” and its English counterpart “delicious”, has certainly done no harm to bilateral relations.
“Lucy was very flattered, she was very flattered,” Turnbull told journalists on Thursday.
“She’s asked me to say that she found the President’s compliment as charming as it was memorable.”
The light-hearted brouhaha lit up social media on Wednesday after Macron and Turnbull had navigated several sensitive diplomatic issues at a news conference in Sydney.
Macron thanked the Turnbulls for being good hosts and acknowledged the fine food and wine he had enjoyed, before exclaiming in English: “I want to thank you for your welcome, you and your delicious wife for the warm welcome.”
Discussion about the remark immediately overshadowed the leaders’ deliberations on more weighty issues, such as China’s growing influence in the region.
But what exactly did Macron try to say?
He may have had the word “delicieux” in mind, which, though sounding similar to “delicious,” would, in this instance, better translate as “lovely” or “delightful”.
While more often used to describe a pastry or a meal, the word “delicieux” can also describe a person, even if it is a somewhat old-fashioned usage.
“In French, it doesn’t mean you want to eat that person,” said Sydney-based translator Brigitte Carcenac de Torné, who attended the bilateral event.
“He used the word delicious as it is used in French. I’ve noticed he has a very rich vocabulary and he seems to be particularly fond of 18th-century literature and that usage appears in the writings of that time.”
Though Macron, who studied philosophy at university, speaks better English than several of his predecessors and often speaks the language when abroad, his only experience of living in an English-speaking country is six months in the French embassy in Nigeria.
It is not the first time a stray comment - in this case, unintentional - on a high-profile visit has overshadowed more official business.
Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump praised French first lady Brigitte Macron for being in “such good shape” on a state visit to France.
Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander and Michel Rose in Paris; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Clarence Fernandez