Cristina Odone: French are forgiving of their paunchy lotharios
Thank goodness for 'l'affaire Hollande', a scandal as juicy as a proper coq au vin. Just as civil wars, famine, and Angela Merkel's fractured pelvis threatened to mire the year's start in gloom, Francois Hollande has stepped into Silvio Berlusconi's role as G8 merrymaker-in-chief.
The French president has been caught with his pantalons around his chubby ankles, betraying not the mother of his children, but the mistress he had left her for.
His paramour, Julie Gayet, is a sensual actress 20 years his junior; the wronged woman is Valerie Trierweiler, a feisty journalist nicknamed "Rottweiler".
The details are delicious -- and wholly Gallic. Only in France would the president task his bodyguard with delivering breakfast croissants to his secret love nest. Only the French would express outrage not at the cheating president, but at his mode of transport: Hollande scuttled to and from his assignations via (quelle horreur!) a moped. And only in France would 84pc of the public claim their opinion of Hollande has not changed.
At first sight, it seems preposterous that the French affect insouciance even when their head of state is exposed as a two-timing lothario -- that an affair is a non-event and sex a marginal issue. I confess I spent the weekend giggling with friends at the carry on across the Channel. We thrilled at the prospect of the Rottweiler -- once she's emerged from hospital -- gnashing her teeth as her cheating lover tries to justify himself. We couldn't get over the success this podgy and humourless Leftie enjoys with gorgeous women who should know better: Segolene Royal, with whom he lived for 30 years; Trierweiler, a sexy and successful professional; Gayet, a celluloid siren.
But in France, it's nothing unusual. Hollande is merely the latest and most ignoble exponent of a long tradition of libidinous politicians that includes Edgar Faure (who died, aged 79, in bed with his half-naked mistress); Francois Mitterrand (who had an illegitimate daughter); and Valery Giscard d'Estaing (whose liaisons have been too numerous to list).
Admittedly, their sexual sophistication means the French champion women who, from Christine Lagarde to Catherine Deneuve, would be considered way past their prime here. As their attitude to their unprepossessing president shows, the French are forgiving of their paunchy, balding middle-aged men.
Consider Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF lothario whose sexual escapades sparked an international scandal, or Gerard Depardieu, the star who loves women and wine -- neither is a looker, yet the former's brilliance and the latter's gusto for life make them hugely appealing.
This Gallic attitude to sex gets lost in translation. It's a fun pastime in France. But in Britain it is seen as something secretive. An illicit liaison can ruin reputations: even when the spouse forgives, the public won't.
I can't help but wonder if the Profumo affair would have filled the newspapers there? I suspect the French would have dismissed such shenanigans with a shrug of the shoulders. Seen this way, the president's affair suddenly seems to highlight our deficiencies, rather than his. (© Daily Telegraph, London)