French President Francois Hollande put his foot in his mouth during a news conference in Tokyo with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, when his confused China with Japan.
In a reference to a hostage situation in Algeria in January of this year, in which 10 Japanese people were killed, Hollande expressed “the condolences of the French people to the Chinese people.”
The mistake was not corrected, and it could not have made his Japanese hosts happy to be mistaken for their most bitter rivals.
Of course, any public figure, especially a high-profile politician, whose job requires an endless and wearying array of public appearances, is bound to make some embarrassing gaffes over the years.
Hollande, whose personality has been described as dull and dour, does not even have a colorful history of such verbal missteps.
But some of his more illustrious colleagues and peers on the European continent have a long record of making effortlessly stupid, insulting or shocking statements.
Of course, we should make a distinction between an honest, harmless mistake (which is what Hollande appeared to have committed in Tokyo) and other types of inflammatory statements made on purpose with intent to hurt.
Here are some of the best (worst?) gaffes made by European and British public figures in recent decades:
The former, multiple-serving prime minister of Italy, and media billionaire, is one of the most gaffe-prone politicians in human history. It is unclear if Berlusconi is simply oblivious to his arrogance and obnoxiousness, or if he purposely likes to insult people (perhaps a combination of the two).
*Speaking to the New York Stock Exchange in 2003 about investing in Italy: “Italy is now a great country to invest in. ... today we have fewer Communists and those who are still there deny having been one. Another reason to invest in Italy is that we have beautiful secretaries ... superb girls.”
*Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York: “The West will continue to conquer peoples, even if it means a confrontation with another civilization, Islam, firmly entrenched where it was 1,400 years ago.”
*Defending Benito Mussolini in a 2003 magazine interview: “[Mussolini] had been a benign dictator who did not murder opponents but sent them ‘on holiday’.”
*On female Italian politicians, 2008: “[Right-wing female politicians are] more beautiful [and] the left has no taste, even when it comes to women.”
*On Barack Obama’s complexion, 2009: “I'm paler [than Obama], because it's been so long since I went sunbathing. He's more handsome, younger and taller.”
*On the possibility of having soldiers patrol Italy’s streets to prevent of rape of Italian women, 2009: “We could not field a big enough force [of soldiers] to avoid this risk [of rape]. We would need as many soldiers as beautiful women and I don't think that would be possible, because our women are so beautiful.”
*On gays, to a Milan crowd in 2010: “I am a man who works hard all day long and if sometimes I use to look at some good-looking girl, it's better to be fond of pretty girls than to be gay.”
*On Italy, during tapped telephone call, July 2011: “The only thing they can say about me is that I screw around. Now they're spying on me, [monitoring] my phone calls. I don't give a f_ck. In a few months, I'll be leaving this shit country [Italy] that makes me sick.”
*On denying he ever uses prostitutes, 2009: “I've never paid a woman. I never understood where the satisfaction is when you're missing the pleasure of conquest.”
*On the earthquake survivors in Abruzzo, 2009: “Of course, their current lodgings are a bit temporary. But they should see it like a weekend of camping.”
*On the criticism he has endured from press, 2006: ''I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I sacrifice myself for everyone.''
*On denying he’s a promiscuous playboy, 2006: ”I am pretty often faithful.”
*On his baldness, 2001: “I have little hair because my brain is so big it pushes the hair out.”
*On his short stature, 2008: “They keep calling me a dwarf, but I'm taller than [Nicolas] Sarkozy and [Vladimir] Putin.''
*To Gerhard Schroeder, the former German Chancellor, who had been married four times: “Let's talk about football and women ... Gerhard, why don't you start?
*Advice to women on how to attain financial stability, 2010: “Look for a wealthy boyfriend. This suggestion is not unrealistic.”
*On left-wing Italian voters, 2006: “I trust the intelligence of the Italian people too much to think that there are so many pr_cks around who would vote against their own best interests.”
*On his work ethic, to a German newspaper: “In Italy I am almost seen as German for my workaholism. Also I am from Milan, the city where people work the hardest. Work, work, work -- I am almost German.”
*On the Italian media and court system: “Eighty-five per cent of the Italian press is left-wing and among the judges it is even worse.”
*On his own skills, talents and leadership: “[I am] the best political leader in Europe and in the world. There is no one on the world stage [that] can compete with me.”
*On Finnish food: “The Finns don't even know what prosciutto is. I cannot accept this. … I've been to Finland and I had to endure the Finnish diet.”
*On German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s looks and figure, 2011 (reportedly during taped phone call with reporter): “[She is] an unf*ckable fat-a_s.”
*On female political rival Mercedes Bresso’s looks, 2010: “You know why Bresso is always in a bad mood? Because in the morning, when she gets up, she looks at herself in the mirror to put her makeup on -- and sees herself. And so her day is already ruined.”
Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, and husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, could fill up an entire book with his many gaffes over the years. Here are some of the best:
*To a group of British students studying in China, in 1986: "If you stay here much longer, you'll be all slitty-eyed!"
*To a driving instructor in Scotland: "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?"
*To an Australian Aborigine in 2002: "[Are you people] still throwing spears?"
*On his views on gun bans following the massacre of schoolchildren in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996: "If a cricketer, for instance, suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat, which he could do very easily, I mean, are you going to ban cricket bats?"
*To a native woman in Kenya, in 1984: "You are a woman, aren't you?"
*To a Briton in Budapest, Hungary in 1993: "You can't have been here long, you haven't got a pot belly!"
Hollande's predecessor at Elysée Palace., Nicolas Sarkozy, who served as president from 2007 to 2013, also made a large number or verbal gaffes (some of which he apologized for).
*About Barack Obama: “[He’s not] Not always up to standard on decision-making and efficiency.”
*On Spain’s former Prime Minister José Rodriguez Zapatero: “Perhaps he's not very intelligent”.
*On Britain’s former Prime Minister Gordon Brown: “You are Scottish, we have nothing in common and you are an economist. But somehow, Gordon, I love you” (adding his feelings were “not sexual”).
*On German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s figure: “Merkel claims to be on a diet, she helps herself to a second helping of cheese!”
*On Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I cannot stand him, he’s a liar.”
*In 2011, Sarkozy appeared before farmers in France’s Alsace region and claimed he was in Germany.
*To French reporters who were questioning him about illegal political financing in the 1990s: “You, I have nothing against you, but it seems that you are a pedophile. I am personally convinced of that fact. I have spoken to the security services [about it] but I won't tell you which ones. … See you tomorrow, my pedophile friends."