April 3, 2009 / 4:40 PM / 10 years ago

Sarkozy schools Obama in the little French kiss

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - A French student who gave a kiss to Barack Obama when he greeted an enraptured crowd on Friday said the initially reluctant U.S. president had to be encouraged to accept the gesture by his host Nicolas Sarkozy.

Cecilia Dervogne, a student at the University of Strasbourg, was among a noisy crowd of well-wishers who greeted Obama and his wife Michelle when they arrived in the eastern French city for a summit of NATO leaders.

As they approached the crowd to shake hands, Dervogne called out and asked for a kiss, but Obama had to be encouraged by the French President before submitting.

“I said in slightly hesitating English... ‘A kiss for me?’” Dervogne told i-tele television. “He showed me his bodyguards, who were surveying everything. I think there was a security gap we were supposed to keep to,” she said.

“And there was Sarkozy who re-insisted and said: ‘What, you’re not going to give her a kiss?’ so he offered his cheek timidly and I gave him a kiss.”

Obama is wildly popular in France, in contrast to his predecessor George W. Bush, but he appeared slightly at sea with the complicated customs regarding the “bise,” the kiss on the cheeks often given as a greeting even between relative strangers.

Just before his encounter with Dervogne, Obama did not offer the “bise” to Sarkozy’s wife Carla, preferring to shake hands formally. The French president exchanged the traditional kiss on each cheek with Michelle Obama.

Writing by James Mackenzie, editing by Paul Casciato

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