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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Makes Sarkozy at Home in Maine

APBush and Sarkozy riding in Fidelity III as former U.S. President George Bush pilots the craft near Kennebunkport.
KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- During Nicolas Sarkozy's visit Saturday, there was no fishing trip like the one President Vladimir Putin enjoyed last month. Not even a game of horseshoes, a family tradition on Walker's Point.

But for the newly inaugurated French president, being welcomed at the summer home of former U.S. President George Bush for a private lunch -- a rare off-the-cuff encounter involving none of the usual diplomatic formalities -- marked a new era in U.S.-French relations. Far from being served "freedom fries," Sarkozy, a conservative who made the startling decision to take his August holiday in the United States, was greeted with a warmth usually reserved for the British, whose "special relationship" with the United States once set it apart from other European countries.

U.S. President George W. Bush, famously chilly toward the French in the past, practically beamed as he ushered Sarkozy into his parents' home. This, it seemed, was his kind of Frenchman: a vibrant, confident fellow unafraid enough of French public opinion to vacation in America (he has been staying in New Hampshire, about 50 miles from the Bush compound).

Sarkozy preemptively defended his choice of vacation spot -- something Bush, who spends most of his summer break in the sweltering brush of central Texas, has been known to do.

"I came to visit the United States on holiday, on vacation, like 900,000 French do every year. It's a great country," Sarkozy said. "I'm very happy to be here. The United States is a close friend of France, and I'm very glad to be able to meet with the president of the United States here today."

The Bush grandchildren -- it was not clear exactly which ones -- had made banners welcoming Sarkozy, and a proud grandmother showed them off.

"Did you see the signs the grandchildren made?" former first lady Barbara Bush asked reporters.

"Le signe," her husband said playfully in something approaching French.

That caught the current president's attention. "What language are you speaking?" asked Bush, who has been known to mock people for speaking in foreign tongues.

Then came a question about the state of U.S.-French relations, evoking a long and eloquent response from Sarkozy.

"The U.S. is a large, big democracy. It's a country of freedom, and it's a country that we've always admired because it's the country that brought a constitution and freedom to the world. And France is friends with democracies, not with dictatorships," said Sarkozy.

"Do we agree on everything? No," Sarkozy continued. "Because maybe even within a family there are disagreements, but we are still a family. And we may be friends and not agree on everything, but we are friends, nevertheless. That's the truth."

Bush tried to match the thought. "Beautiful. Thank you. We've got to go eat a hamburger."

Bush, for his part, said he would consider vacationing abroad in France, if Sarkozy were to invite him. In the meantime, he said he was looking forward to heading to Crawford, where his ranch vacation will begin Monday.

Might the president at least speak a few words of French, as a gesture toward the new U.S.-French thaw?

"No, I can't," Bush said. "I can barely speak English."