Say hello to Tangi Quemener, White House correspondent for Agence France-Presse. Quemener hails from Brest, France (that’s right, that’s the name of the north-western French town in Brittany where he grew up). He studied journalism in Paris. He has been working for Agence France-Presse since 1999 – he worked on the international desk in Paris, on the Middle East desk in Cyprus and as a West Coast correspondent in L.A.
Quemener was a delight to chat with by phone from Martha’s Vineyard Thursday afternoon, where he’s covering President Obama’s summer vacation. He does not appear to fall under any stereotypical French attributes. He’s self-deprecating and self-conscious about his English and respectful of his American colleagues in the White House Press Corps. “I’m the newcomer,” he says, explaining that the wire service assigned him to the White House beat in December. He told me, “My English is far from perfect, so please feel free to correct any spelling or grammar horror that might have gone undetected.”
He does not refer to French Fries as Freedom Fries. “The French Fries are not really French,” he says. “They are from Belgium.” But he isn’t taken aback by the ongoing jokes against the French. “The French are not easily offended,” he says. Oh, and the photograph? His choice. He wanted to be an international man of mystery, and I’m not one to argue with a Frenchman.
If you were a carbonated beverage which would you be? Full Sail beer from Hood River, Oregon. Or Diet Coke, the White House Correspondent’s drug of choice.
How often do you Google yourself? Once a month. But I confess that I check my byline on the AFP wire more often than that.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to an editor (or vice versa)? You just made me realize how lucky I’ve been so far. I really can’t remember any serious rift with my gentle and beloved brass. I’ve never fallen [in with] a prick editor. Blame it on the 35 hour workweek, the 61 day a year paid vacation or even our amazing health care system. That’s the French way but we work a lot. Every American worker is green with angry or red with rage.
Who is your favorite working journalist? Gail Collins makes my Metro ride a bliss. I have a great deal of respect for my AFP colleagues working in war or disaster zones. But my all time favorite journo is Frenchman Joseph Kessel (1898-1979), a real adventurer and a master wordsmith.
Do you have a favorite word? Two: Ice cream.
Who would you rather have dinner with – First Lady Michelle Obama or Bestselling Author and former V.P. candidate Sarah Palin? Sarah Palin would give me a hard time as I’m French, thus a cheese monkey girlie man cowardly palling around with communist treehuggers. But I’d rather have a charbroiled moose burger than sauteed broccoli. Decisions, decisions.
What’s the name of your cell phone ring? My cell is in vibrating mode only. Robert Gibbs doesn’t like interference when he’s briefing.
When did you last cry and why? I shed a tear this summer after receiving a pic of my young sons that my wife e-mailed from their long French vacation. Corny but true.
What word do you routinely misspell? This summer, its has been “flottille.” It’s flotilla in French.
What swear word do you use most often? “Bordel de merde.” Need a translation?
What word or phrase do you overuse? In English, “Basically.” Must be unnerving to others but can’t help it.
What TV show do you have to watch? BBC’s “Top Gear.” I’m a car freak.? Plus it’s hilarious and beautifully shot.
Where do you shop most often for your clothes? I usually go on a rampage every year in a shopping outlet like in Delaware or Virginia. You must know [NPR’s} Ari Shapiro. He’s always very well dressed. I’m not like that at all.
Who do you prefer for daytime talk, Dr. Phil, Ellen, Oprah, Tyra or the women of The View? I have to monitor cable news all day but I’d rather watch Ellen, who has a great sense of humor. The others actually scare me. I’m really scared of Oprah, the way she hands over gifts and cars, maybe she’s too powerful, and Dr. Phil is even worse.
Pick one: Leno, Letterman or Conan? None of the above, really. I’m more of a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert aficionado.
If you were trapped on a deserted island, which public official would you want to be trapped with and why? Thad Allen seems to have a few boats handy. And his mustache is has soothing powers.
Find out what Quemener’s first journalism teacher wrote about him after the jump…
Who is your mentor? My father, a journalist, spawned two journalists who both married journalists. He must have been influential, somehow.
What’s the best advice you ever received in the course of your career? “No aptitude whatsoever for wire reporting,” once wrote my first journalism teacher.
What and where was your first job in journalism? Xeroxing press cuttings for a monthly car magazine, in Paris.
What’s your most embarrassing career moment? Recently, I scored a reaction from a White House official but I mixed up “off the record” and “on background” with cringe-inducing consequences.
Which one interview of your career did you enjoy most? Fashion designer Christian Audigier is quite a character. Interviewing him was a highlight of my stint in L.A.
Which one interview of your career did you enjoy least? Can’t remember specifics, but athletes usually make pretty bad interviewees, especially soccer players.
What’s the biggest scoop youÂ’ve ever had? On the US scale, that would barely qualify as a scoop, but in the aftermath of Katrina, I got in touch with four French kids who got stranded in NOLA for a few days, and was the only reporter to write their moving story.
When and why did you last laugh so hard you had tears in your eyes? When Bill Maher, during a monologue, said that “More people get stoned in the Old Testament than in my Jacuzzi.”
When and why did you last lose your temper? I don’t easily lose it, but I got pretty upset when a cop pointed his rifle at me in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina.
Which movie title best describes your journalism career? “Heat”
Who would you want to play you in a movie? James Stewart.
Name some jobs you’ve had outside of journalism. (Can start as young as teenage years): Warehouse handler, tree planter, dish washer, salad bar technician [note: this means he replenished the ingredients in the salad bar, nothing technical], opinion poll worker, embassy employee, hired driver for a car magazine.