To be more specific, the newly elected president of France was told to be prepared for the sometimes awkward and always aggressive handshakes of President Donald Trump. And it happened after Gerard Araud hosted a salon dinner Monday at the spectacular Washington, D.C., home he lives in as the French ambassador to the United States.
I was among the journalists, politicians, philanthropists and think tankers who gathered to participate in a conversation co-hosted by the Atlantic on the rise of populism in Western liberal democracies. A friend and I were talking during the pre-dinner cocktail hour about our summer plans when the affable and impish Araud approached.
As with all conversations in this town for the last 126 days (as of this writing), ours turned to Trump. The ambassador, whose previous post was as France's ambassador to the United Nations, allowed that he had just sent a memo to Macron advising him on how to handle the American president during their first meeting at the NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday. When I asked him what he told the new boss, Araud diplomatically told me to buzz off with a roll of the eye and a smirk. But the fact that he sent guidance back to Paris was not surprising since there have been reports about how European leaders were gearing up for meeting The Donald.
"Did you warn him about Trump's handshakes?" my philanthropist friend asked. A look of surprise popped on Araud's face as he inquired what exactly did that mean. Both of us told him about Trump's affinity for the alpha male, grab-and-pull power pump that always seemed to reduce the other person to a rag doll. Forewarned, Araud said he would alert Macron.
The Washington Post's Philip Rucker captured the intensity of that first handshake.
As President Trump met French President Emmanuel Macron for the first time, welcoming him to lunch Thursday at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, the two men shook hands for six long seconds. Their knuckles turned white, their jaws clenched and their faces tightened. Trump reached in first, but then he tried to release, twice, but Macron kept his grip until letting go.
There was even more arm wrestling upon Macron's arrival at the festivities at the NATO headquarters.
Macron strides along the blue carpet to the wall of world leaders walking toward him. As the president of the United States stretches out his arms in a "hey, buddy!" greeting of the newest member of the elite club, Macron veers to the right like a decoy Marine One from the South Lawn of the White House. Trump looks on as his French counterpart double kisses German Chancellor Angela Merkel and shakes hands with other leaders. When Macron does get around to greeting Trump, Trump goes for the grab-and-pull. But Macron immediately yanks back and employs his left hand to try to hold down The Donald's rising right arm as the insecure alpha tries to assert his dominance as cameras clicked.
Araud will retire from the French foreign service in a month or two. A masquerade reception at his residence Thursday evening was his chance to say thank you and farewell to a city he enlivened with his elan and good cheer. As my husband and I said our goodbyes to the openly gay career diplomat, I asked him if he'd seen the videos of the handshakes and if he indeed had a chance to warn Macron.
"Yes!" he said, eyes sparkling behind his black mask as he smiled and enthusiastically pantomimed the grab-and-pull.
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