Aucune idée

Hollande hasn't got a clue
Hollande hasn’t got a clue

I have no idea why French President François Hollande is making this face. It could be for any number of reasons.

Perhaps he’s reacting to a question about his popularity. Or lack of. It could be a response to his ex’s new book, in which Valérie Trierweiler casts aspersions not on his sexual prowess so much as his true sentiments towards the poor classes. Someone should have told her that living well is the best revenge, not writing about it. Then again, Hollande should have known that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

But I know what he meant. This face, and its expression, is familiar to anyone who’s ever lived in France. It’s the face fart, or universal expression for ‘aucune idée’ – I haven’t got a clue. And a clue is just what this fellow does not have, it seems, as his popularity slides further into oblivion.

It’s just one of several ways to speak French in sign language. Which gesture is your favorite?

I must confess to a certain penchant for the doigt d’honneur. And I’d be willing to bet it’s a certain former first lady’s too.

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.