Opinion

Saturday 18 November 2017

Having a French accent is no excuse

Marriage French style is sold as the answer to a happy home life, but people clearly do get hurt, says Eilis O'Hanlon

Francois Hollande and his companion Valerie Trierweiler
Francois Hollande and his companion Valerie Trierweiler
Francois Hollande with former partner, Segolene Royal

Eilis O'Hanlon

IT'S a familiar story by now. A French president is caught playing away from home. More accurately, playing away from home so regularly that 'away' has practically become a home from home in itself. The news is followed by a disapproving chorus of tut tuts at the media invasion of privacy involved, not only in France but in other European countries as well, as everyone dutifully repeats the hoary old cliche that the French have a much more grown-up attitude to extramarital affairs than we do, with our prurient interest in the private lives of politicians and our antiquated belief in monogamy.

French political commentator Agnes Poirier probably summed up this attitude best when she dismissed the story of socialist President Francois Hollande's affair with a 41-year-old actress as "a very British scandal about a very French affair", a phrase so innately condescending in its automatic assumption of Gallic superiority that it's practically riding round on a bicycle with a string of onions round its neck singing La Marseillaise. (See, Madame Poirier? We can all do jingoistic stereotypes).

Where are you supposed to begin to disentangle this nonsense? We could do worse than start with the notion that there's anything remotely enviable about Hollande's love life. Scuttling around on the back of a three-wheeled scooter with a motorcycle helmet on to protect your identity and to make sure the missus back home doesn't find out is hardly living the dream. It's just another instance of the old-fashioned tale about a man with power and money acting like an absolute goat because he can get away with it. Just because you're doing it with a French accent doesn't make having the sexual mores of a guest on the Jeremy Kyle Show any more acceptable.

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