Kerry's Convivial Tone Laced With Boyhood Memories

Secretary of state's public remarks are a contrast to those of his predecessor.

Secretary of State John Kerry holds a diplomatic passport he had as a child while speaking to State Department employees in Washington, D.C., Feb. 4, 2013.

Secretary of State John Kerry holds a diplomatic passport he had as a child while speaking in Washington, D.C., Feb. 4, 2013.

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John Kerry's foreign service pedigree—quite literally in his case—has been at the forefront of almost all of his remarks on his inaugural overseas trip as secretary of state.

The diplomat's son has wasted no occasion to remind European audiences of his upbringing in post-war France, Germany, and Norway, and of charming moments during the continent's reconstruction that shaped his world view.

The convivial tone he has adopted in many of his overseas remarks is contrasted against the more serious and straightforward approach of his predecessor.

In his opening speech to State Department staffers at the Washington, D.C., headquarters, Kerry displayed his diplomatic passport from when he was an 11 year old en route to Berlin where his father was stationed. He has often repeated the story of wandering into Soviet-occupied East Berlin on his bicycle and the subsequent "grounding" from his parents.

[WATCH: Kerry Speaks French on European Tour]

"I'll tell you, as a 12-year-old kid, I really did notice the starkness, the desolation," he said in early February. "There were very few people. They were dressed in dark clothing. They kind of held their heads down. I noticed all this. There was no joy in those streets.

"And when I came back, I felt this remarkable sense of relief and a great lesson about the virtue of freedom and the virtue of the principles and ideals that we live by and that drive us. I was enthralled."

Kerry recounted during a press conference with his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary William Hague, the story of when he got lost in the London zoo as a young child.

"I want to thank somebody for finding me," he said. "And this day, I must say, was made much easier. It was impossible for me to get lost, Mr. Secretary. Thank you."

[READ: Kerry Shows Grace Praising George Bush in Farewell Address]

The secretary's trip through Europe this week, ultimately culminating in meetings with other foreign delegates to discuss the ongoing fighting in Syria, has frequently included these recollections.

Most recently, in a speech to the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Rome, Kerry recounted his personal relationship with Ambassador David Thorne. The two took a road trip as teenagers from the U.K. to Italy in a converted London taxi, including stops in France and in Pamplona to run with the bulls.

"Now we are older, I hope wiser," he said, met with laughter from the Rome staff. "But one thing I came to understand: My dad was in the Foreign Service for a number of years at that critical stage. And I see some kids here, and I'm glad you guys came out."

He then turned attention on the children in the audience, including a young girl named Virginia who recited Italian phrases at the behest of the secretary.

[OPINION: Will Kerry and Hagel Thrive at State and Defense? Not Likely.]

Kerry's speaking style differs from that of his predecessor Hillary Clinton, also a former senator. Both include the substantive rhetoric that accompanies the role of the U.S. chief diplomat. Clinton's opening remarks to State Department employees were almost exactly half as long as Kerry's, and immediately set the tone for her tenure as the most traveled secretary of state in history.

"The work of the Obama-Biden administration is committed to advancing America's national security, furthering America's interests, and respecting and exemplifying America's values around the world," she said in January 2009.

"There are three legs to the stool of American foreign policy: defense, diplomacy, and development. And we are responsible for two of the three legs. And we will make clear, as we go forward, that diplomacy and development are essential tools in achieving the long-term objectives of the United States."

On her first overseas visit to Japan, Clinton dispensed quickly with pleasantries of her personal relationship with Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, and delved immediately into a discussion of policy and threats to the United States and its allies.

The State Department website includes an archive of remarks from Clinton and Kerry.