France cancels dinner with French and Iranian presidents because Rouhani insisted it be wine-free

This article, from last Wednesday’s Independent, is a microcosm about why religion poisons everything: it’s okay if people keep their faith to themselves (not, to my mind, if they force it on their children), but the bad stuff happens when they try to force it on others, or make laws based on scripture or revelation. We’ve seen that this week in the Paris shootings, and I have no words for the horrors that unfolded there.

Today I report an incident, also in France, that is far more trivial but also symbolic. President Hollande was scheduled to have a state dinner with Iranian President Rouhani.  That didn’t come off, and it’s because Rouhani insisted not only on halal meat (meat prepared according to Muslim dictates) but, importantly, also insisted not just that he wasn’t to be served wine, but nobody was to be served wine. That’s unthinkable for a French state dinner. And why force your own religious dietary restrictions on anyone else?

The Religion News Service suggests that while the halal meat may have been an issue, the sticking point was (as I suspected) the wine:

But Tehran made the faux pas (in the French view) of insisting that President François Hollande’s chefs follow Muslim dietary rules and serve only halal meat and no alcohol. There must be no champagne or wine at the planned lunch on Tuesday, even for the non-Muslim hosts, they told French diplomats organizing the event.

. . . Halal meat has become a political issue in the regional polls campaign. Conservatives want state schools that offer it to Muslim pupils – as well as kosher meals to Jewish pupils – to take both off their cafeteria menus. Even vegetarian meals, the default alternative, should be scrapped in favor of meat dishes, including pork.

. . . When he retired in 2013 as Élysée Palace head chef after cooking for six presidents, Bernard Vaussion revealed that he had occasionally served halal and kosher meat when requested by Muslim and Jewish guests dining at the center of the secular republic.

He had even strictly separated meat and dairy items in his kitchen and had it inspected and approved by a rabbi before a meal for visiting Israelis, he said.

But wine is different. It is a centerpiece of French cuisine and tradition, as well as an important export product. Banning it would amount to telling the French not to be French.

A few years ago, neither the emir of Qatar nor the Saudi king, both Sunni Muslims, objected to wine being poured from opaque carafes to other guests at Élysée dinners in their honor. They could take mineral water, fruit juice or any other soft drink of their choice.

Why the fracas? Why can’t Rouhani just allow others to have their wine? Why can’t the French abjure it at dinner? I can understand the latter issue, but both decisions have political consequences. As RNS observes:

It might seem strange to clash over such details, especially when bigger issues are actually at stake. But there are domestic political costs for both leaders if wine is or is not on the menu. If he accepted it, Rouhani would give more fuel to Iranian conservatives who accuse him of being too accommodating to western powers.

What happened? The French offered a substitute: a breakfast meeting in which, presumably, wine wouldn’t be served. The Iranians rejected that as it was too “cheap” (the characterization reported by the Independent), so Hollande and Rouhani will now simply meet face to face: presumably with Perrier.

h/t: Gravelinspector


  1. Posted November 15, 2015 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    A clip In Tribute to Victims in Paris Terror Attack/En hommage aux victims de Paris by reza mohebbi an ex muslim who burned quran for farkhunda the afghan girl who was brutally killed 8 months ago in afghanistan kabul…

  2. ljbo
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    As a French, I can confirm that Halal and Kosher is not an issue among open-minded people. I have attended several banquets where Halal meat was served, only that kind or that kind and usual meat. In the latter case, for the cooks, it was no different than accommodating a fish and a meat dish to please every guest, which is a rather common tradition in France as well (I did that for my wedding for example).

    If a guest requests wine to be banned on the contrary, this would be considered as terribly rude. I have never been confronted so such a situation in France though.

  3. Posted November 15, 2015 at 9:15 am | Permalink


    Guests don’t get to dictate their rules upon their hosts. Period. If you’re a guest at somebody’s house, you’re free to decline to participate in anything you object to, but you have no right to demand that your host refrains.

    Your host is a smoker and you don’t smoke? Tough. Either politely decline the offer of the cigarette and keep your yap shut otherwise, or excuse yourself. And I write that as a non-smoker.

    There is some leeway when it comes to food. If there are things you can’t or won’t eat, a good host will provide an alternative. But it’s up to the host to decide what to eat…if you’re a vegetarian and the host invites you over for a barbecue, it’s perfectly reasonable to accept with the caveat that you don’t eat meat and is there an alternative or maybe you could bring some portobello mushrooms to toss on the grill? But it’s not even remotely appropriate to demand that nobody else eat meat, either — or even to suggest that as a condition of you accepting the invitation.

    And that this even needs to be explained at all…

    Rouhani is an uncouth barbarian and deserves no place at the table of a state dinner of a civilized nation.


    • Ken Phelps
      Posted November 15, 2015 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      “Guests don’t get to dictate their rules upon their hosts.”

      Kind of goes to the heart of the problem, doesn’t it. Fundamentalists of any stripe don’t actually see themselves as guests. Ever. Anywhere.

      The fundamentalist mind views the entire world as its constituency. The sovereignty of others, whether political or personal, is a temporary inconvenience tolerated out of expedience, not conviction.

      • nicky
        Posted November 15, 2015 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        Yes Ken, that goes to the heart of the problem, particularly with the rise of fundamentalist Islam in Europe.
        This drive to impose their Islamic rules on a society that has just gotten rid of much of the Christian rules…

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 15, 2015 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Exactly my view Ben. Accommodating Rouhani’s religious dietary restrictions is just polite. Him expecting all guests to do the same is not only completely unreasonable, it’s just plain rude.

  4. Merilee
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink


  5. Randy Schenck
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Maybe Rouhani has been influenced by seeing too much American news and how the fundamentalist over here are having so much success with getting into everyone’s business and forcing their stuff on all of us. He thought…maybe I can do some of this as well.

    • pk
      Posted November 15, 2015 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Rouhani hardly needs lessons from the Americans. There are plenty of examples closer to home.

  6. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Good for Hollande that he cancels the meeting.

  7. JohnH
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    And what would the response be if the dinner was in Iran and the French requested wine be served with dinner? Refusal by religion once again trumps refusal by culture.

    • Downe-House
      Posted November 15, 2015 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      When eating as a guest in a Muslim house (regardless of which country one ish currently in) you go with the knowledge that you will NOT be offered alcohol. Same applies when we eat with a sort of adopted daughter who is Hindu and vegetarian.

      And I certainly would not take a bottle of wine, which would be my norm to most of our English friends.

      This is just good manners.

      Rouhani doesn’t have a leg to stand on. It would of course be perfectly OK to refuse any alcohol he was offered, and Hollande might even arrange that it would not be offered.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 15, 2015 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      I agree with Downe-House. If you go to a Muslim home, you don’t take wine, and you don’t expect to be offered it. That’s normal politeness.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 16, 2015 at 1:08 am | Permalink

      I’m sure that wouldn’t happen. The French are far too sophisticated and urbane to embarrass themselves by making a gaffe like that. As, I think, are most western diplomacies.


  8. h2ocean
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I guess cultural sensitivity and tolerance is a one-way street?

  9. Posted November 15, 2015 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Gosh, in Sweden that would be like a dinner without snaps!

    • Hempenstein
      Posted November 15, 2015 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      When I was a post-doc in Stockholm there was a story of a guy who had been there from some Arab country some years earlier. When he would be invited to dinner and the host asked somewhat hesitantly if he had any special dietary requirements, he was always quick to put them at ease, saying, “I can drink anything as long as there is alcohol in it, and I can eat anything as long as there is meat with it.”

  10. GBJames
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 9:52 am | Permalink


  11. Joseph Stans
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Further it should be noted taht the French and other civilized people who were invited insisted that Rouhani not wipe his ass with his left hand and further, provided certification that he did not do this for a period of time from 48 hours before to the 24 hours after the dinner.



  12. Barney
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    FWIW, the entire visit has now been postponed, because of the aftermath fo the Paris massacres:

    “Hassan Rouhani on Saturday postponed what would have been the first visit to Europe by an Iranian president in 10 years after attacks in Paris that he described as “crimes against humanity.”

    Rouhani had been due to hold talks in Rome on Saturday with Pope Francis as well as Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi before travelling on to the French capital.

    Rouhani sent a message of condolence to French counterpart Francois Hollande on the shootings and bombings in Paris that left more than 120 people dead, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported.

    “In the name of the Iranian people, who have themselves been victims of terrorism, I strongly condemn these crimes against humanity and offer my condolences to the grieving French people and government,” Rouhani said.

  13. Posted November 15, 2015 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    On a similar theme, Iran recently boycotted the Frankfurt Book Fair because it had invited Salman Rushdie.

    Good on the organisers for not rescinding the invitation to Rushdie.

  14. Kevin
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I have invited Muslims over for dinner. We don’t have wine that night, but they never asked that to be the case. I am pretty sure if we asked if they wanted a glass they would politely decline, but that would be only hypothetical as I would never ask a Muslim or a Baptist or whomever I thought would not want ethanol.

    Guests that demand they do not want wine or want wine or want the goat’s throat to be cut open or that some members of the human race to sit at the back of the bus are unwanted guests.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 15, 2015 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      On the other hand, I’ve helped pissed Muslims to aim their vomit into the gutter instead of down their shirt. Just because there’s a commandment printed in some holy toilet-paper collection doesn’t mean to say that adherents of that religion actually follow it.

      • sornord
        Posted November 15, 2015 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        Me too. I was assigned to the Middle East in the ’80’s. On Gulf Air, Athens to Muscat, Oman, I got bumped up to first class. A drunk-as-a-skunk Bahraini man, in typical all white traditional clothes sat beside me. He went back to coach just before landing and got his toddler daughter (his wife and kids were all back in coach), straddled her over the Johnny Walker Red that was in his pocket, winked at me, and said “To get through customs!” In Muscat, I saw a sign that said “Diplomatic Club” in a swank hotel. Being the holder of a diplomatic passport, I thought it was for foreign embassy personnel and went in. Whoops, full of traditionally dressed locals swilling whiskey! In the local Safeway store, yes a SAFEWAY, liquor was sold openly but buyers had to produce a doctor-signed card saying the buyer was an alcoholic. Guess what the #1 disease in Muscat was! Anyone connected, or with enough money, could get an “alcoholic’s card.” Piety usually masks hypocrisy!

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 15, 2015 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          Surely you did not for one second expect the woman to be allowed up front like the man? You haven’t internalized this “women are second class citizens” thing, have you?
          you’re not the first. There are more than a few cases through the “Patch”(oilfield) of someone taking up a position in the Gulf and moving out there with the family … and the wife and kids start off thinking the two maids and driver makes living lovely. Then the other stuff starts to get to them … they leave for home … the guy stays (because he’s got to run two homes now and needs the cash) … and divorce. Old, old tale.

          Piety usually masks hypocrisy!

          Oh yeah.

      • een
        Posted November 15, 2015 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        I recall going to a party some years ago where there were a number of young cosmopolitan Muslims. One chap was drinking from a glass of wine when some little pizza-type nibbles were circulated. He went to take one, when he saw there was salami on the topping. “I’d better not have that” he said – “there might be pork in the salami”.

        “That’s interesting” I said. “I thought that observant Muslims weren’t supposed to drink alcohol, either.”

        “True” he said. “True.”

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 15, 2015 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

          … and tucked into the pork ?
          Incidentally, I’m going to have to have words with Dad. I’m on my 4th Jamesons, because there’s nothing in the cabinet with alcohol but poorer quality!
          OK. 5th soon!

  15. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    In the Bela Lugosi film, Dracula WAS willing to serve wine to Jonathan Harker, although he would not drink it himself as this film clip attests.

  16. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    unsurprisingly, i had a bit of a rant of “Religion poisons absolutely everything it touches last night.
    Somehow, I suspect that Hitch wouldn’t have been too upset if told that that phrase could be the thing he would be best remembered for in a century.
    How much is it poisoning things? I was contemplating last night whether there might be something in the depths of Porton Down (Britain’s metaphorical nerve and chemical warfare research office, just west of London) which might have better effects than the anaesthetic gas the Russians tried using in the Moscow opera siege a few years ago. The natural corollary is that one might have to accept that 30 or 40% civilian mortality might become the price chosen to be paid in future hostage situations.

  17. grasshopper
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    What a shame that Hollande did not comply with Rouhani’s request. On Hollande’s reciprocal visit to Teheran he could have demanded that alcohol be served during meals … on an add hock basis.
    As for breakfast, I always start the day with a sparkling breakfast sherry.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted November 17, 2015 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      “…add hock basis.” 😀

  18. Diane G.
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Way to go, France. Somehow I fear the US might have caved.

    • Posted November 15, 2015 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      I think they absolutely would have caved.

    • carole
      Posted November 16, 2015 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      I am also absolutely certain our country would go along with this type request. That doesn’t make us better, just rather quaint and Quakerish still.

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 16, 2015 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        Sometimes I think that despite all our size & power, we’re still like the new kid on the block.

        Or maybe it’s just about being an amalgam of so many different cultural traditions.

  19. Randy Schenck
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Just the other day, Saudi customs discovered a shipment of around 18,000 cans of Pepsi, however when they pealed off the outer covering on each can, it was Heineken.

    Most of us would be cheering that smuggled attempt.

  20. markus koebler
    Posted November 15, 2015 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Vive la France! My head of state (Merkel) would have carved in. A votre sante mes chers amis et a vos valeurs!

  21. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted November 16, 2015 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    Good on the French! And I think my one-time tenants, refugee Bosnian Muslims who were quite proud of their homemade wine, would agree.


  22. PA
    Posted November 16, 2015 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    Most people commenting here seem to be ignorant of the internal politics of Iran. Rouhani has no choice here as it is the hardliners who dictate these rules. Sitting at a table where wine is served is going to cost him dearly when he goes back to Iran.

    Personally, I doubt he himself would have any problem sitting at a table where wine is served.

  23. Posted November 16, 2015 at 10:48 am | Permalink


  24. Posted November 16, 2015 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been told and read several times that prior to the 1979 revolution Iran itself was known for wine.

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