PARIS – French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he shouldn't have lost his cool and used an expletive to berate a man who insulted him — an exchange caught on camera that became an Internet sensation.
"It would have been better if I didn't respond to him," Le Parisien newspaper's Tuesday edition quoted Sarkozy as saying in a panel interview with its readers.
Sarkozy was shaking hands at an agriculture fair Saturday when a man in the crowd asked Sarkozy not to touch him because it would get him "dirty."
Video of the episode showed Sarkozy telling the man to get lost and using an expletive. "Casse-toi alors, pauvre con, va," he said, a phrase whose mildest possible translation is: "Get out of here, you poor jerk."
On the Internet, the video has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
Le Parisien quoted Sarkozy as telling its reader panel: "It is difficult even when you're the president not to respond to an insult. ... Just because you're president, that does not mean people can use you as a doormat."
It was unclear whether those were Sarkozy's exact words: The newspaper said the presidential office had "amended and corrected" the interview before the newspaper published it. That practice is not uncommon in France.
Rival politicians have roundly criticized Sarkozy's outburst at the agricultural fair as unpresidential.
The president's poll numbers have slid dramatically in the past few months. A survey by the IFOP agency published Sunday in Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper said Sarkozy's approval rating is at 38 percent, down 9 points in a month.
Some voters have been put off by Sarkozy's flaunting of his romance over the last few months with former model Carla Bruni, whom he wed Feb. 2, at a time when many French are more worried about pocketbook issues and France's economy.