By Calvin Trillin, January 16, 2012
When Mitt Romney introduces himself to voters, he has a peculiar habit of guessing their age or nationality, often incorrectly. (A regular query: “Are you French Canadian?”)
When making small talk with locals, he peppers the conversation with curious details. . . . Mr. Romney has developed an unlikely penchant for trying to puzzle out everything from voters’ personal relationships to their ancestral homelands. . . . Mr. Romney likes to congratulate people. For what, exactly, is not always clear.
—The Times, December 28, 2011.
he moment President Romney entered the room where the opening reception of his first G-8 summit was being held, he was approached by a small man who shook his hand and said, “Je suis Nicolas Sarkozy.”
“Are you of French-Canadian origin?” President Romney said, smiling broadly.
“I am French,” Sarkozy replied, looking somewhat puzzled. “I am, in fact, the President of France.”
“Congratulations,” President Romney said. “Lipstick contains a substance made from fish scales.”
Before Sarkozy could reply—in fact, before he could think of anything to say on the subject of lipstick manufacturing—they were approached by Angela Merkel, of Germany, who looked eager to greet the newest leader in the G-8. President Romney peered at her briefly and then said to Sarkozy, “Your aunt? Your mother?”
“This is Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany,” Sarkozy said.
Chancellor Merkel looked somewhat taken aback at being mistaken for Sarkozy’s aunt. When she’d regained her composure, she said to President Romney, “I know you will have much to add on the question of the debt crisis in the euro zone, Mr. President.”
President Romney looked at the German Chancellor carefully, up and down. “I’d say you’d go about one-forty, give or take five pounds,” he said. “Am I in the ballpark?”
Chancellor Merkel, hoping she might have misunderstood the President, said, “I believe the future of the euro will dominate our discussions in the coming days.”
“The city that has more bridges than any other city in the world is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” President Romney said. “Congratulations.”
“Congratulations to Pittsburgh?” Chancellor Merkel asked.
President Romney thought for a moment. “No,” he said. “Just congratulations.”
Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, joined the group and introduced himself to President Romney.
“Are you of French-Canadian origin?” President Romney said.
“No, I’m not,” the Prime Minister replied. “But I am Canadian.”
“The state stone of Michigan is the Petoskey stone,” the President said. Then, spotting a gentleman standing a few feet away, he asked, “Are you of French-Canadian origin?”
“No, I am David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom,” the man said.
President Romney looked at Cameron and then at Harper and then at Cameron again. “Brothers?” he said. “Cousins? Uncle and aunt?”
“No,” Cameron said.
At that point, the group was joined by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, of Japan. He and President Romney were introduced. “What are you—around fifty-five or sixty?” the President asked. “Am I close?”
“I am fifty-six years of age,” the Japanese Prime Minister said, rather formally.
“Yoshihiko sounds French-Canadian,” the President said. “I don’t suppose you’re of French-Canadian origin, are you?”
“No, I am not,” the Prime Minister said.
“Congratulations,” the President replied. “Saul Rogovin, of the Detroit Tigers, hit a grand-slam home run in 1950, and it wasn’t until 2008 that another Jewish pitcher hit a grand-slam home run.”
“Congratulations,” Chancellor Merkel said.
“Yes,” the others murmured. “Congratulations.”