In the suburbs of Paris, where hundreds of thousands of Muslim immigrants cluster amid decaying housing projects, Obama's speech conjured up memories of an America before Sept. 11, 2001.
And to some of those who devoted their lunch hour to watching the speech, Obama's views even seemed progressive next to France's treatment of Muslims.
"Here in France, they have laws against wearing a head scarf" in public institutions, said Vafi Seylla, 24. Compared with Obama's comments on religious freedoms, "we're pretty closed-minded toward Islam," he said.
Not everyone at Francesca's, a fast-food restaurant, was convinced that Americans share Obama's views. After the American president opened with an Arabic greeting, a few in the restaurant shouted out, "That's it for him!"
Yet many smiled when they heard Obama speak their language.
"What he said was courageous," because he spoke about taboos such as women's rights, said Stanislas Cassagne, 25, standing outside a popular cafe. "We know his speech won't change things right away, but it's important to say it."
Cassagne wore a silver "Sox" baseball cap backward, baggy jeans and a T-shirt. His friends mocked him for his American look. But Cassagne said his style was a sign of his reconfirmed fondness for the United States.
"I thank America for Coca-Cola, for rap, for their clothes, for Tupac. And I thank them for Obama," he said with a laugh.
-- Devorah Lauter