The French are scandalized by a president's affair? How American!
6:00 AM PST, January 15, 2014
It’s a sad day in France when the unmarried president spends the night with a woman who is not his girlfriend and sparks a national furor.
Last week — as you have undoubtedly heard — a salacious news story broke in the French press: The president cheated on his girlfriend!
The French celebrity magazine, Closer, which broke the story, devoted seven pages to the scandal.
Closer reported that Socialist President Francois Hollande, 59, was seen arriving at the apartment of French actress Julie Gayet, 41, by scooter late one evening. The next morning, he was photographed leaving, after his security detail delivered croissants.
The sheer fact that this story is big news tells you something weird is going on in Gaul.
Haven’t Americans been led to believe that we are hopelessly Puritanical because, unlike the French, we frown on extracurricular dalliances? Isn’t a certain tolerance for infidelity what the French have given the Western world, along with great wine, excellent cheese, chewy baguettes and existentialism?
Or is that stereotype just so much pucky de cheval — like the notions that French women don’t get fat, all French waiters are rude and every outfit looks better with a scarf?
I maintain, after having lived in France for two years, that Hollande's sex scandal is just more evidence that France’s long march to Americanization, which began at the end of World War II, is nearly complete.
Proof? French people don’t even look French anymore. They look as if they’ve been dressed by the Gap. Fast food outlets are no longer novelties in France, but are ubiquitous. Anti-immigrant sentiment and racism are the country’s double political plagues.
And now, mon dieu, the president’s affair has scandalized the nation? How very Americain.
The late French President Francois Mitterrand, whose longtime mistress and out-of-wedlock daughter stood with his wife at his funeral, would be spinning in his grave.
Strictly speaking, I suppose, Hollande isn’t even really having an affair. He is not married to his 48-year-old journalist girlfriend, Valerie Trierweiler. He wasn’t even married to the mother of his four children, his partner of 23 years, Segolene Royal, a prominent Socialist who ran for president against Sarkozy in 2007.
Nevertheless, when news of Hollande’s illicit sleepover broke, it was as if he had cheated on his wife. Trierweiler was so stunned that she took herself off to a hospital, her friends told journalists, with “un gros cas de blues.” (“A severe case of blues?” They’re even stealing our words.)
What kind of Frenchwoman takes ill at the notion that her man is having an affair?
On Tuesday, I ventured the idea to my handsome French eye doctor that Hollande was a rat.
“No.” he said, exasperated. “He’s French.”
Also, he reminded me, Trierweiler is not exactly an avatar of loyalty.
In 2012, when Hollande’s ex ran for a seat in the National Assembly, he naturally endorsed her. But just before the election, Trierweiler caused a scandal by tweeting words of support to her opponent.
Meow. Or, as French cats say, miaou.
On Tuesday, after a speech on economic policy, Hollande was asked by reporters to comment on the affair allegations. He said, in effect, he did not believe his private life was up for discussion, and added that, at any rate, it was “neither the time, nor the place” for such a conversation.
And then came the most tremendous part of this captivating domestic drama. Hollande was asked to clarify who the first lady of France is. (Trierweiler’s Wikipedia entry describes her as France’s “quasi first lady.”)
The president did not say, “Don’t be silly. It’s my longtime girlfriend, the quasi first lady, Mme. Trierweiler!”
No, according to news reports, he said that information would be revealed before his state visit to the U.S. on Feb. 11.
If I were Valerie Trierweiler, I vwould start packing my valises. But not for a trip to Washington.