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Pass The Cheese, Hold The Leader Appearance Jokes

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly had a row this week. It didn't prevent them from agreeing to convince private banks to reduce the debt they are owed by Greece by 50 percent to try to stop the euro from crashing.

But European newspapers say President Sarkozy mewed behind his hand to other European leaders how Chancellor Merkel "says she is on a diet and then helps herself to a second helping of cheese."

Chancellor Merkel was reportedly hurt by the remark.

President Sarkozy's cheesy crack follows the serious charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn and allegations of sexist, boorish behavior against other French male politicians. The jape seems to say that a woman like Angela Merkel can hold a doctorate in physics and become chancellor of Germany, yet still be dismissed for her looks.

But President Sarkozy is often belittled for his appearance, too. He is married to Carla Bruni, a famously tall, glamorous woman, and when sardonic French reporters and mocking comedians joke about President Sarkozy, it's rarely about his budgets or immigration proposals, but his height. At 5 foot 5 inches, the president may be an inch shorter than Napoleon — and he's rarely compared to Louis Jordan.

Yet summit-level fat jokes have a history. I don't know if Napoleon III ever told Otto von Bismarck, "I can see why they named a jelly donut after you." But President Clinton reportedly greeted Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Brussels in 1994 by saying, "I was thinking of you last night, Helmut, because I watched sumo wrestling."

President Clinton and Chancellor Kohl once shared an epochal meal at an Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C., which included antipasto, stuffed mushroom caps, calamari, marinara, zabaglione and ravioli stuffed (and I do mean stuffed) with veal, spinach and cheese.

Mars could have invaded Cleveland after a meal like that, and the two leaders might have only been able to use the red phone to call for a Tums. President Clinton now eats like a Hare Krishna.

President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel might be past whatever spat they had. The president and Carla Bruni just had a baby girl, and this week Chancellor Merkel gave the president a teddy bear for the little girl.

If the chancellor is dieting, she may simply be trying the so-called "French diet," which recommends cheese, red wine and, in fact, zabaglione in moderation. People around the world hear "cheese," "wine" and "moderation" in the French diet and figure if a little cheese and wine can be moderately good for me, won't twice as much be twice as good?

Cut the debt — and cut me another slice of Camembert.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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