Everyone knows the story by now: about two weeks ago, a French gossip magazine revealed that President François Hollande has been cheating on his official partner, first lady Valérie Trierweiler, with the previously little-known actress Julie Gayet. Instantly relayed in the international media, the news left people around the world reeling in shock and disbelief, all wondering one thing: how the hell do you pronounce “Trierweiler”?
Ever eager to provide insightful analyses of current events, I’m going to answer that question. Just remember this simple two-step procedure:
Step 1: Pronounce the first syllable with a sharp “t” followed by a French unvoiced guttural “r” and a vowel that’s sort of like the English long “e” but inflected with a bit of long “a,” moving through a brief schwa sound and terminating with another back-of-the-throat “r.”
Step 2: Hope with every fiber of your being that they break up so she’ll no longer be first lady, and you’ll never have to say her name out loud.
The revelation raised some less-important questions as well. Has Hollande compromised the dignity of his office? Does the affair reflect badly on his character? Does the media have the right to expose a public figure’s private life? And who will accompany Hollande as first lady on his state visit to Washington in February?
I can answer those, too: yes, yes, yes and we don’t know. Oh wait — that’s if you happen to be a typical American. If you’re a typical French person, the answers are: no, no, no and we don’t care.
This is because France has a long history of men in positions of power indulging in dalliances with younger women. Actually, so does the United States and, for that matter, every other country in the world, with the possible exception of South Sudan, and in that case only because the country is too new to have a long history of anything. But we’re talking about France here.
Hollande’s is definitely not the first little head of state to pop up where it’s not supposed to be. Back in the days of the monarchy, a king who didn’t have at least three mistresses was considered a bad example for youth. Louis XIV had so many (11 by the official count) that he actually got his own Wikipedia page entitled “Mistresses of Louis XIV of France.” Obviously a guy who knew how to leverage the social networks.
Adolphe Thiers, who in 1871 became the first president of France after the country finally stopped flip-flopping between this republic, that empire and the other restoration, was widely known to have extended state benefits, so to speak, to both his sister-in-law and mother-in-law. When questioned about his questionable fidelity policy, he replied, “You’re talking about a private thing that I’d like to keep in the family.”
Former President François Mitterrand had a daughter with his mistress Anne Pingeot and went to great lengths to keep her existence secret. Apparently, he even ordered illegal wiretaps, under the guise of fighting terrorism, specifically to watch out for potential whistle-blowers among those who knew. (Special note to spouses of NSA officials: I’m just sayin’.)
But perhaps the best example is the story of the French novelist and diplomat Romain Gary. In the late 1940s, he was posted as a cultural attaché to the French embassy in Bulgaria, which, of course, was then a Soviet satellite state. One day, there appeared in his own orbit a personable young woman who spoke remarkably good French and seemed very keenly interested in getting to know him better.
An entente cordiale was soon reached, and when the discussion turned to a choice of venue for trying out liaison options in Franco-Bulgarian relations, she helpfully suggested her place, where they spent a refreshing, although not exactly restful, night with the doors closed and the curtains drawn.
And apparently with the lights on, because soon thereafter representatives of the KGB, or whoever was in charge of ruining people’s lives in Bulgaria back then, went to see Gary bearing a portfolio of photographs taken by hidden cameras embedded in the bedroom of the young lady, who turned out to be a “Juliet agent.”
The Soviet security guys, of course, thought that they could blackmail this Western diplomat into spying for them by threatening to reveal the photos, presuming that such a disclosure would ruin his reputation, career, chances with Brigitte Bardot, etc. But Gary, knowing that in France it was more likely to short-cut his short-listing for the Legion of Honor, replied, “These aren’t very good photographs. I wasn’t really inspired that night — why don’t we try it again with a different woman?”
His point was, and mine is: extraconjugal canoodling can cause big trouble in less broad-minded societies (just ask Bill Clinton) (or, if he doesn’t return your calls, Hugh Grant), but in France it tends to be taken lying down, as it were. Most French people — 77 percent in a recent survey — feel that private issues should remain private and that Hollande did the right thing in his recent new year’s press conference by refusing to comment on the scandal, concentrating instead on France’s frankly daunting economic problems.
In fact, in one poll Hollande’s approval rating actually rose a couple of points after his affair with Gayet was revealed. But that’s not saying much: as I mentioned in an article last year, he is reportedly the least popular French president ever, consistently scoring an approval level of around 20 percent.
Under these circumstances, if he wants to have any chance at re-election in 2017, it looks as though he has two choices:
1) Somehow get the economy moving again, which means cutting taxes and government spending, which in turn means convincing his own leftist camp to give up some of their longstanding, jealously guarded social benefits (as I said, daunting).
2) Have affairs with at least another dozen women.
If I were in his shoes, I know which tactic I’d pursue. I’m not saying it would be easy. It would involve epic, delicate negotiations and considerable sacrifices on all sides but would be well worth the effort in the end.
And if the going were to get really tough, I’d just close my eyes and think of France.
Reader Elaine Breakstone writes: “Memo to Michelle Obama, re Pres. Hollande’s visit to America: Recommend handwritten, easy-to-alter place cards at official dinners.”
Reader Barney Kirchhoff writes: “I heard another version of a Soviet attempt to blackmail French diplomats. It supposedly happened to a gay French ambassador to Russia during World War II. He was cruising in Moscow one night and picked up a handsome young man named Igor. A short time later, the Soviet spooks contacted the envoy, said that they had pictures of the encounter and suggested that it would be nice if the ambassador supplied them with various classified documents.
“‘Oh, you have pictures of me with Igor,’ the ambassador reportedly exclaimed. ‘Could you send me 20 copies so I could share them with friends?’
“End of blackmail attempt.”
© 2014 Paris UpdateFavorite
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