A different state of affairs

15 Jan

The tangled love life of Francois Hollande has generated a tidal wave of coverage – much of it abroad.  As has been extensively observed, the French do infidelity differently; a private passion is just that – private – even if those allegedly involved occupy the highest public office.

There is much to be said in favour of this approach – a relative lack of prurience in the media, a respect for what are personal choices, a clear line drawn between professional responsibility and private life.  Why should we know who the President is allegedly sleeping with as long as he (and in France it has always been he) is doing his job and paying attention to the best interests of his country? The case against – more likely to be expressed in the UK and USA – is one which views an affair as a sign of untrustworthiness (‘if he cheats on his partner will he cheat on the country?’) and of distraction from duty (‘if he’s involved with a new woman he won’t have his mind on the job’) – hence the public interest in making such relationships public knowledge.  It simply wouldn’t be possible for a British or American politician to conduct a press conference in the face of such revelations – as Hollande did yesterday – without detailed questioning from the media and without a coherent story to tell of either return to the fold, or separation.  Hollande did not do any of this because in France private means private.  He was standing there doing his job, outlining his programme for the country and that was all people needed to know.

All apart from the fact that his ‘difficult moments’ meant that he would in due course clarify the position of Valerie Trierweiler as First Lady in advance of his official visit to the USA next month.  The French take on public interest has seemed to revolve in part around explaining how (and by whom) the publicly-funded role of First Lady should be played.  In France, the nature and future of the role itself seems to have been discussed as much as the personal fortunes of the incumbent herself – an unlikely scenario in Britain.  But is our approach any better?

From the BBC news website I gather from the glossary of terms used to describe the President’s activities in the French press that Hollande would s’exfiltrer (smuggle himself out) through the Grille du Coq – an ornate entry to the Elysee topped by a cockerel.  As we view everything through a sex filter, in Britain this would surely be Cockgate.  Vive la difference as the cliché goes, but perhaps we should be joking a little less about privacy these days.



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