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Not My Job: We Quiz The IMF's Christine Lagarde On NYC's Fiorello La Guardia

BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. Check out these fireworks. Ooh. Ah. Bill.


KURTIS: I'm Bill Kurtis.


KURTIS: And here is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Bill. Thanks, everybody.


SAGAL: This is the time of year when we celebrate Santa Claus bringing the Declaration of Independence to the happy children of Philadelphia...


SAGAL: ...Back in the olden times of the 1920s.


SAGAL: So while you're putting presents under the independence bush, we thought we'd share some favorite segments from our recent shows.

KURTIS: Sometimes actual important people appear on our show, probably because they made the mistake of thinking we're normal NPR...


KURTIS: ...For example, last year, Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Peter began with a question of protocol.


SAGAL: I should say, to begin with, we've never spoken to the head of an important international alliance before. So how should you be addressed - as director Lagarde, Madame Lagarde? We don't know.

CHRISTINE LAGARDE: Oh, you get - the easiest is that you call me Christine. Most people at the IMF call me MD. That stands for managing director, and I quite like it because it reminds me of this very nice lady in the "James Bond" films.

SAGAL: Oh, yes.


LAGARDE: But I'm not...

SAGAL: Oh, that's very cool. Yes. One of the first things we're kind of curious about is what you do. And now we assume that you have people killed. Is that...


LAGARDE: No, no, no, no, no.


SAGAL: No, no, no, no, no, no, of course not. That was not a guilty laugh at all. So seriously...


SAGAL: Could you - I know this is a complicated question, but nonetheless, as I understand it, you spend all day having people call you up and asking you to lend them money.

LAGARDE: Well, in tough times, yes. At the time of the financial crisis, everybody was knocking at the door asking for that. Then it improved over time. At the moment, it's sort of stable.

SAGAL: Right.

LAGARDE: But we're getting a little bit worried because of all sorts of issues like monetary tightening, like financial costs rising and capital flows coming out of the big emerging market economies around the world that are running into troubles.

SAGAL: Have I mentioned that we're all humanities majors here, and...


PAULA POUNDSTONE: Christine, it's Paula Poundstone here. Do they pay interest on this loan?

LAGARDE: It depends whether you're a rich country or you're a developing country. If you're a developing country, we'll lend you money at 0% interest rates because clearly, you're in trouble. Your per capita GDP is low. And it would be totally abusive and unfair to lend at expensive interest rates.

POUNDSTONE: What's the definition...

SAGAL: Of, like, between...

POUNDSTONE: ...Of a rich country or a developing country?

LAGARDE: It's defined with reference to the amount of dollars per person and per year.

SAGAL: Right.

LAGARDE: If you are below $4,000 per person, then you're a low-income country.

SAGAL: Right.


ADAM BURKE: I just discovered I'm a developing country...

SAGAL: Yeah. You are.

BURKE: ...Which is terrible.


SAGAL: Speaking of pools, we researched your background. In addition to the - you know, the extraordinary, important education and various posts, we discovered that you, at one point, were a competitive synchronized swimmer.

LAGARDE: Correct.

SAGAL: All right.


FAITH SALIE: So how do you feel about men in Speedos?



LAGARDE: Well, I'm more interested in, actually, the issue of shaving or not shaving...

SAGAL: Really?

LAGARDE: ...Because I'll tell you something.


LAGARDE: When you're a synchronized swimmer...


LAGARDE: ...It's critically important that you have at least a little bit of hairs on your legs because that is actually a sensor of how high and how vertical you are in the water.

SAGAL: So it is - I've never heard anything like this.

POUNDSTONE: Me neither.

SAGAL: So you're saying that synchronized swimmers need to have a little bit of hair on their legs. They can't be completely smooth. Why is that?

LAGARDE: It's very weird because when you're a synchronized swimmer, if you shave your legs completely, you lose sense of where you are and how well you're doing.

SAGAL: Oh, my God. So it's like you're Samson. And you...

SALIE: Amazing.


SAGAL: So what you're telling me is, like, when you see synchronized swimming, as you once were, and these women are in the pool, and their legs are straight up in the air, they can only tell that their legs are straight up in the air or wherever they're supposed to be because of the sensory feeling from the hairs on their legs.

LAGARDE: Exactly right. Perfect.

SAGAL: And I didn't...


SAGAL: Wait a minute. This is wonderful because I did not know that I would have anything I could talk to you about.


SAGAL: I wanted to ask if your career - were you a competitive synchronized swimmer? Did you actually go to competitions and...

LAGARDE: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. No. I was on the French national team for a couple of years.

SAGAL: You were on the French national synchronized swimming team.

SALIE: Oh, my gosh.


POUNDSTONE: Do you use anything that you learned there in deciding who to loan money to?


POUNDSTONE: If there's somebody who comes from a country that's clearly not going to be good for the money, do the little hairs on your legs kind of tingle?


SAGAL: Well, Christine Lagarde, we are delighted to talk to you. It is a pleasure to get to know you. But we have, in fact, invited you here to play a game that, this time, we're calling...

KURTIS: Lagarde, Meet La Guardia.

SAGAL: So...


SAGAL: We thought we'd ask you about America's greatest mayor, Fiorello La Guardia of New York City - a man much better than the airport they named after him.


SAGAL: Answer 2 out of 3 questions about the Little Flower, as he was known, and you will win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of anyone from our show they choose on their voicemail - boo, boo. Sorry. Bill, who is Christine Lagarde playing for?


KURTIS: Carl Hegg of Princeton, N.J.


SAGAL: Are you ready to play?


SAGAL: All right. Here we go. Your first question. Now, Fiorello La Guardia was an immensely popular figure in his day. He received what tribute from President Franklin Roosevelt? A, Roosevelt said, he's just 5 feet tall, but it's all vim; B, upon meeting Winston Churchill, Roosevelt said, quote, "he's like an English La Guardia," or C, Roosevelt said, quote, "the only thing we have to fear is Fiorello La Guardia"?


LAGARDE: I'd say B.

SAGAL: You're right. That's what he said.



SAGAL: Which is the highest praise Roosevelt had. Next question. La Guardia went on a campaign in New York City against crime and vice. He once declared that the sale and possession of what would be illegal in his town? Was it A, violin cases; B, slingshots; or C, artichokes?

LAGARDE: What was B? I didn't hear what...

SAGAL: B was slingshots.

LAGARDE: OK. I'll say B because I have no idea what you're talking about.

SAGAL: Yeah.


SAGAL: I just want you to know, now you know how I felt talking to you about international finance.


SAGAL: No. In fact, it was artichokes.


SAGAL: It really was. Artichokes - Mayor La Guardia said the Mafia was controlling the artichoke market, and thus, he banned their sale until prices came down.

All right. Now this is exciting. If you get one - get this last question correct, you win our prize. The mayor died in 1947, but his influence lives on. What other important feature of modern life has been credited to Mayor La Guardia? Was it A, the 10 Items or Less express lane in the supermarket, which he demanded after having to wait in line for 20 minutes to buy a single tomato; B, thong underwear...


SAGAL: ...Which strippers in New York invented to get around La Guardia's anti-nudity laws; or C, the website BuzzFeed, which was named after the mayor's practice of public feedings of his dog, Buzz.


LAGARDE: I'll say C.

SAGAL: You're going to go for C. You're going to say that the website BuzzFeed...


POUNDSTONE: You know, the crowd is moaning. That means that you have the chance to change your answer.


BURKE: Christine, are the hairs on your legs telling you anything about where you might be?

LAGARDE: All right, B.



SAGAL: And the answer is B. Yes.


SAGAL: Congratulations to everyone.


SAGAL: What happened was, as I said, he went on a campaign against vice in the city. The strippers were told they had to put on underwear to perform. But they wanted to expose as much of themselves as possible, so they invented thong underwear.


SAGAL: Isn't that amazing?


POUNDSTONE: That is amazing.

SAGAL: It also allowed them to be more sensitive to the environment because the hairs exposed to the air.




SAGAL: Bill, how did Christine - how did the Director of the International Monetary Fund...


SAGAL: ...Do on our show?

KURTIS: You know, she did marvelously.

SAGAL: Congratulations.

KURTIS: Two out of 3 - you're a winner, Christine.


SAGAL: Christine Lagarde is the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. Ms. Lagarde, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.


POUNDSTONE: That was fun. Thank you.

SAGAL: Thank you so much.