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PEOPLE - French Wit

France’s new Finance minister, Christine Lagarde, 51, charmed an audience of international executives at Paris Europlace, an annual financial summit, in early July by intermittently switching between French and fluent English, “for the FT types who cannot understand French,” she said.

France’s new Finance minister, Christine Lagarde, 51, charmed an audience of international executives at Paris Europlace, an annual financial summit, in early July by intermittently switching between French and fluent English, “for the FT types who cannot understand French,” she said. Later, mimicking the typical American’s view of the French work environment, Lagarde joked, “Who are these lazy people who cannot work 35 hours a week when we are working 70?”

In her speech she advocated for tax breaks to encourage longer hours, as well as more-flexible work contracts and the creation of a specialized committee that would simplify regulation and make Paris more competitive with London. She expressed hope that such policies could bring the “brain drain back.”

Lagarde’s ease with English comes from years of practice. She joined the Paris office of U.S. law firm Baker & McKenzie in 1981, then moved to Chicago to became chairwoman of its global executive committee in 1999. She returned to France in 2005 as minister of Trade under former prime minister Dominiquede Villepin.