What could American Secretary of State John Kerry do before he had said a word to French President François Hollande? How could he convey, on his trip to Paris, his solidarity with the French people after the horrifying terrorist attacks there, while also—well—apologizing.
While other world leaders had congregated and linked arms in Paris last weekend, nobody of similarly august stature was present from the U.S. No Obama. No Kerry. Hence the latter’s trip to Paris on Friday, which surreally also included James Taylor singing—to underscore Kerry’s message to France—“You’ve Got a Friend.” (Personally, we would have preferred sending Betty White to sing, “Thank You For Being a Friend.”)
State Department officials insisted Kerry had not apologized for the American no-show, French officials said Kerry had apologized in private.
Kerry had said he wanted to “hug” France’s pain away. “My visit to France is basically to share a big hug for Paris and express the affection of the American people for France and for our friends there who have been through a terrible time,” he said before the trip.
So it was a little bit difficile when the two men met, and before they had said a word, Kerry, cast in the role of a guy apologizing and trying to make up lost ground to a partner they have seriously pissed off, went in for the most awkward portmanteau handshake/hug/kiss/embrace we have seen in quite some time. In what happened in a few brief seconds was writ large the confusion, present today, of how straight men should greet each other.
The occasion might demand more than a handshake, so how about a hug? How deep should it be, how long? Maybe just clasping on shoulders, but that brings faces to near cheeks, so how about a gruff peck? Or how about a delicious messy collision of all of those? Step forward Casanova Kerry.
The diplomatic horn dog began with a wipe of the hand across the mouth, steeling himself for the intimacy onslaught he was about to inflict on Hollande. Then up go his two arms.
Hollande reasonably thinks this is going to be a hug, but no, Kerry wants to clasp his hands, but—oh no—it looks like they are frozen in a big ol’ gay waltz, and so then he does go in for the man-hug.
Hollande at this point clearly doesn’t know where this love-in is going to end, and his role in it. But at the point of the hug, with Kerry body-checking his left side, he tries to take European control and mirror Kerry’s hug (dammit straight French men can outdo Americans for expressive, but subtle body contact), but John “Man-Love” Kerry now wants to kiss Hollande’s cheek.
All the way through this Hollande clearly just wants it to be handshakes, then inside for statesmanlike condolences, and yet he must give himself over to being ravished.
He wasn’t expecting the kiss, and so returns it, but doesn’t even so much as brush Kerry’s cheek and kisses air.
His French humiliation is complete. Not only didn’t Kerry turn up to the power-rally, now the American has comprehensively man-on-man out-intimacy’ed him.
And Kerry is not letting go. Post-kiss, he starts talking at the alarmed-looking French president (“Sorry, like, totally mon chère, I wanted to be there, I truly did, but Barack gets so controlling about stuff. I played golf thinking about you all the time”).
Besides whatever he is burbling, Kerry does not want to let go of his boy-toy. He clasps Hollande’s hands emphatically. That frozen waltz pose again. The clasped hands go up and down: insistent, apologetic, “I’m here now, one man with one man, joined, you and me bro’, never gonna give you up, you’re the one for me, we’ll always be together, you have to believe that. Cameron means nothing, he doesn’t compare to what we have.”
Still, Hollande wants to get out of this unfolding horror, away from the clicking cameras. He knows he has just become Kerry’s hug-bitch.
Hollande tries to extricate himself, but Kerry now wants to butch up into a two-hand salute of international fraternity for the cameras, his right hand in Hollande’s left.
But poor, worked-over Hollande is not matching him palm on palm, and Kerry ends up raising the stump of Hollande’s thumb as the French president desperately tries to manoeuver them inside.
But no. Kerry now extricates his hand into a side-on-bro shoulder embrace, which he doesn’t disassemble as one of the men necessarily has to go in front of the other. And off the two men go, bodies finally separated, perhaps like many a non-sexually linked male couple before them thinking, “Hmm, what the hell happened there?”
And so poor Hollande and Kerry were left flailing in front of the world’s media for the correct hetero-male modern greeting. What can be formal, yet informal? What can be done with feeling, but not too much feeling? How long do you hold? What do you hold? How should you kiss? When do you let go? And maybe: “Goddamn, he smells great. I wonder if I can ask him what his aftershave is?”