L’infidelité: Are the French unfaithful?

Hollande, Trierveiler, GayetLa carte de fidelité, as I wrote in a recent post about the sales, is on offer in just about every French boutique. But how common in France is la fidelité in its other sense, the one closer to the English usage?

Since ‘Closer’ magazine exposed the French president’s unfaithfulness on its une (cover), the subject of l’infidelité – being unfaithful, fooling around or just plain cheating – has been all over the news. It seems that Hollande’s popularity has surged following these revelations, suggesting that the French are not only tolerant of such dalliances, they actually approve.

Prior to making headlines with his love affair with actress Julie Gayet, Hollande’s popularity had fallen below that of any French president in history – to a mere 26%. Now it’s back up to 31%. Presumably philandering gets the French president a rise in more ways than one!

What the French don’t approve of is so-called invasion of privacy. Gayet is suing Closer for ‘atteinte à la vie privée’ as the photos were ‘stolen’, i.e. used without permission. If Closer magazine gets away without paying damages, it will only be because the revelation of the affair was more in the public interest than just interesting to the public.

France has a long history of protecting its politicians by turning a blind eye to licentious behavior in the name of ‘la vie privée’. So it was that the existence of former president Mitterrand’s illegitimate daughter, Mazarine, was an open secret for years before they allowed themselves to be photographed in public.

Valérie Trierweiler, the president’s companion of several years, currently fills the role of Première Dame (First Lady) of France. The million-euro question is, what is her status now? Will we have a new first lady any time soon?

Traditionalists will say that the first lady’s role is not official in France and thus has no bearing on politics. However, as she enjoys an office at the Elysée palace and a staff paid by the taxpayer, the question begs to be answered.

All will be revealed, reassures Hollande, before his upcoming trip to the US. Presumably because he will travel for this state visit in the company of his first lady, and the current one is licking her wounds at the presidential country retreat in Versailles. As if the French reputation weren’t sufficiently sullied by the recent performance stateside of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, aka DSK. La honte!

Trierveiler has received more public sympathy and support than at any other time since she came to (un)official office. A journalist with Paris Match, she has been generally perceived by the French as antipathique; she’s also assumed to wear the pants with the weak-kneed Hollande and is frequently referred to as ‘Rottweiler’. At least we know now why she’s been pulling a face the whole time (seems the affair with Gayet’s being going on for two years).

But how much sympathy can you feel for a woman who was herself the ‘other woman’ when Hollande, who apparently doesn’t believe in marriage, dumped his previous compagne of 30 years, with whom he had four children? Ségolène Royal split from Hollande just after losing the previous presidential election, in which she ran as Socialist Party candidate against Nicolas Sarkozy. She lost, evidently, more than the battle for office.

(Considering how close Hollande came to becoming the First Monsieur of France…I cannot help but wonder: would they have stayed together for form’s sake had she won? Truth is definitely stranger than anything fiction can think up – and while we’re at it, why hasn’t anyone turned that saga into a full-length feature?)

Riding on the wave of Hollande’s love life, a new survey by the French opinion poll agency Ifop was released this week showing that over half of married men and a third of women admit to cheating on their partner.

Call me old-fashioned but I must admit to being rather shocked by so much cheating. It goes against everything I’ve experienced in my own (admittedly rather limited) circle of friends in France. And, I may be sticking out my neck here, but also against my own experience of being married to a Frenchman.

So either people are admitting to more than they really get up to or I’ve been leading a very sheltered life (which is fine by me, merci!)

In the meantime, stay tuned for news of a new Première Dame.


  1. 365thingsiloveaboutfrance.com · January 23, 2014

    Fifty-percent of men?! I need to take stock of the French couples I hang out with. Shocking to this mild mannered gal, but evidently not to the French.

    • MELewis · January 23, 2014

      Yes, and oddly enough the percentage is even higher amongst those on the political left, as well as older and wealthier segments. Perhaps we’re just too middle class! 😉

  2. nessafrance · January 24, 2014

    I’m not in any way qualified to comment on this but just read Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Blessing’ and you’ll see how the clash of cultures affects the concept of marital love. Of course, all this is fine if you’re a man. If the president of France were a woman she would have to keep her nose cleaner than clean…

    • MELewis · January 25, 2014

      Very true! A woman president would have to be perfect in both public and private life. Thanks for your comment, and for mentioning the book – I read another of Nancy Mitford’s years ago and quite enjoyed it, so will try to pick it up.

  3. Multifarious meanderings · September 8, 2014

    Eight months later, the same French nation who yelled their support and bemoaned the intrusive behaviour of the tabloid press is queuing up to buy “Val’s Revenge”, just like they did with Closer magazine. As for Miss Valou, she’s using the very same press that spread the muck about their separation to publicize her book. Double standards everywhere as far as I’m concerned. I’m waiting for Julie and Segolène to twig that they can write a book too (although I suspect that Segolène Royal may have more to say, and say it in a better style than a Marie Patch “journalist”). *Claws away*

    • MELewis · September 9, 2014

      Raahr! (That’s my attempt at a cat screech…) I’m not at all surprised by Valou’s cattiness or lack of journalistic integrity – although it’s amazing to me that her book got published in this country. As for Ségo, she’s far too wily a political coyote to break the code of silence – unless somehow it could serve her own agenda. In the meantime Hollande’s love life is no longer shoring up his popularity – 13%!

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