Even when the French try to use flexibility to nudge the other side to compromise, cultural misunderstandings can make the process difficult. Araud told the story of the torturous negotiations with an American counterpart in 1999 over new strategic rules for NATO. Araud took the position that the text had to specify that any military intervention should be in accordance with the UN Charter; the American diplomat rejected that condition.
"What happens if you want to intervene and the Russians block it with a veto?" the American asked.
"I intervene," Araud replied.
"I don't understand," the American said. "You want us to say 'according to the UN Charter,' and you tell me that you're ready to violate the UN Charter?"
"Wait a minute," Araud said. "When you marry, you say that you'll be faithful to your wife. After that, they there is real life."
The American looked at him in horror.
"Obviously, we had a cultural misunderstanding," Araud later recalled. "I was trying to say that in life, you need principles. You do your best to stick to your principles, but it happens that you don't stick to your principles. But here, there was a cultural impasse. So I said to him, 'Okay, forget it! Forget it! Bad example!'"
The story had a happy ending. "The matter was resolved by the two presidents, Jacques Chirac and Bill Clinton," said Araud. "They both knew a lot about marital fidelity."
[From Elaine Sciolino's La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life.]