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How come the French don’t care about their President's messy love life?
When the tabloid "Closer" revealed to the world that the French President was having an affair with Julie Gayet, almost everyone thought (at least secretly for the most polite of us): how can HE (a President whose sex appeal is surely not his main attribute) be sleeping with such a gorgeous actress?
As quick as a flash, the world was wondering: Who is she? How did they meet? How will his companion (they are not married), Valérie Trierweiler react? What is going to happen next? But all these questions remained unanswered.
Even more surprising than Hollande’s spicy secret nocturne activity was the silence of the French media on the matter. While the Brits referred to the affair as a scandal, most serious media in France were praising themselves for not obscenely placing this scoop on their front page.
For the Brits, ridicule reached its pinnacle when the President hardly mentioned the affair during his press conference on Tuesday 14 January, just a day after the amazing revelations. Almost all British media (except maybe the Hollande-friendly newspaper, The Guardian) were expecting a myriad of questions on one of the greatest sex scandals in recent history, but the French preferred dry economic reforms to salacious imbroglios. How strange are the Frogs?!
One of the funniest critiques of of French media discretion came from the Telegraph with a sarcastic article titled “François Hollande: with the greatest respect, there was an elephant dans la salle”. The journalist, Michael Deacon, did not spare witty criticisms and started off by saying: “If François Hollande treats his women the way he treats his press conferences, I feel rather sorry for them.”
After mourning for a few paragraphs about how boring and cowardly the French are, he concludes ironically: “Well, the British were being taught an important lesson. For centuries, we had mockingly stereotyped the French as sex-mad. When, in reality these spotlessly abstemious souls have so little interest in sex that when their own head of state is caught up in the juiciest scandal to hit politics since Clinton-Lewinsky, they only want to ask about social security.”
So do the Gauls actually get more kicks out of austerity measures than live Head of State soap operas? In theory, yes they do.
Ask any middle class citizen about what he thinks and he will answer back along the lines of: “We’re not like the Brits (or worse, the Americans, according to anti-Anglo-Saxon hierarchy), nobody cares about this tittle tattle. And cheating is not that bad after all (women will surely deviate from that view on this case), the English are such puritans”.
Difficult to believe, but this statement is corroborated by recent polls showing that 77% of French consider the Gayet-Hollande affair as private. Furthermore, most political journalists accused the tabloids of diverting public attention from important issues at stake, such as unemployment and public sector finances.
Separation between private and public life is indeed embedded in a long tradition that thrives from the “King’s two bodies” theory. The State representative has a mortal body, which corresponds to him as an individual human being, and an immortal one, that refers to the institution he embodies.
For the French, so long as the President keeps doing his job as a State representative, there is no reason to judge him for his individual woes. The acceptance of Jacques Chirac’s reputation of “15 minutes including the shower”, is enough to cement the point: marital conventions are meaningless so long as France’s future is not at stake.
If British Monarchy’s privacy might still be respected – as the scandal over photos of Kate Middleton in a bathing suit might suggest – UK politicians in Hollande’s place would not survive a second. The British press would create havoc with their private lives. But the real question is: are the French as respectful as they think they are?
Is the current state of the French economy really their main interest?
In theory, Hollande’s bedroom antics are too vulgar for the French, but in practice, there is a great deal of hypocrisy.
Three quarters of French people may say they are not interested, but they all bought the tabloid and women's magazines that unilaterally investigated Julie Gayet and her "affaire" with the President. They all wanted to know more about this discrete actress that suddenly making the headlines.
So, if you are not aware by now, this gorgeous blond dark-eyed woman is an award-winning actress (Romy Schneider Prize in 1997 for Sélect-Hotel by Laurent Bouhnik), but also a successful film producer. Born in Paris, she first started as a lyrical singer and then mostly played in art-crowd movies with Agnès Varda or Eli Chouraqui. As the daughter of a great surgeon close to the socialist Bernard Kouchner, Julie Gayet has never hidden her leftist views and has been politically active in addition to her dramatic career. First married to an Argentine filmmaker, Santiago Amigorena, she has two boys, Tadéo and Ezéchiel.
François's mistress set aside, the French have also been wondering what is going to happen to Valérie Trierweiler. On Saturday 25th January, the President issued an official separation declaration that was criticized for its lack of “elegance and humanity”. This event has even increased the ex-First-Lady’s popularity and had a real impact on how Hollande is perceived.
So the French might pretend they do not care, but they do? Deontological scruples might be the official response, but they do not want to get into any trouble with the corridors of power and do not want to see their tabloid press grow like the Brits. Or at least this is what they say.