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"Not today. I got to refresh myself on that," Kerry said at his first press conference when a Canadian reporter asked him to reply to a question with "a little bit of French, please."
Kerry, who spent part of his childhood at a Swiss boarding school, is known to speak the language well, and he obviously had no hesitation in understanding the question posed in French.
He was speaking after meeting Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird at the State Department -- the first foreign leader to be welcomed by Kerry since he took up office as the secretary of state late last week.
During his 2004 presidential campaign, Kerry came under attack from opponents because of his knowledge of French at a time when US-French ties had soured over the war in Iraq.
Since then Kerry has kept a low profile over his French connections, which included summers as a boy spent on the estate belonging to his mother's side of the family in Brittany.