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Undiplomatic gesture

Selfie ruffles Swiss-French relations – for a moment

An employee of Bern’s city council has apologised for the vulgar gesture he made while snapping a selfie with French President François Hollande during his state visit to Switzerland.

The young man’s apology to Hollande, reported on Sunday by Swiss news media, comes a month after the moment was captured by a photographer for the Swiss agency Keystone, whose image spread quickly across social media.

The unidentified man, dressed in a white Adidas training jacket, is pictured beaming as he leans back with his braided hair pressing against Hollande’s right shoulder. In the man’s left hand is a smartphone. His right hand’s middle finger is extended.

Hollande, looking into the phone, smiles perfunctorily and appears to miss the gesture. News media reported the incident lasted barely three seconds, with a security guard taking note. French magazine Paris Match’s online edition asked: "Was that intentional – or was it an optical illusion?”

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga had welcomed Hollande to Bern for the two-day state visit, which marked the first visit by a French president to Switzerland since 1998. Among the key topics for discussion were European Union policy, cooperation on international issues and economic relations.

The selfie came on the same day that Hollande was received with military honours on the Münsterplatz in Bern by the entire cabinet of seven ministers, which includes Sommaruga. Hollande’s second day was spent in Zurich and Lausanne.

News media outlets criticised Hollande’s reception in Switzerland and made gentle fun of the president for smiling and seeming oblivious. But the matter did not end there for the council employee whose finger caused the minor diplomatic incident.

Rebuke and apologies

Staff regulations require employees to behave in a reputable and trustworthy manner both at work and outside working hours, and the selfie violated that requirement.

The young man who took the selfie quickly realised his mistake, apologised to his bosses and wrote a letter of apology to Hollande, expressing deep regret over his “thoughtless and ill-considered gesture”, which he said was not meant to make any sort of political statement.

A spokesman for the city, Walter Langenegger, said the young man’s bosses told him they “objected to the misconduct in no uncertain terms” and issued him a written complaint.

The city government also contacted the French foreign ministry to discuss the issue as a matter of protocol. Bern Mayor Alexander Tschäppät expressed his “deep regret” over the incident in a letter to France’s ambassador.

The French embassy told the city it had taken note of the incident.

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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