• France's news in English
 

Why it really is OK to stray in France

Published: 07 Oct 2011 15:06 GMT+02:00
Updated: 07 Oct 2011 14:24 GMT+02:00

The French are famed for their relaxed approach to extra-marital affairs, but is the country's love of a bit on the side really just a bit of a myth? Or is adultery really a very French affair? Matthew Warren investigates.

As with food, wine and fashion, it seems the French possess a certain flair when it comes to bed-hopping.

French movies are filled with married men and women slipping elegantly between partners with not the slightest hint of marital discord. 

Everyone seemingly gives a Gallic shrug, smokes a cigarette and moves on. 

And it's not just the movies. French presidents through the years have been well-known to have had affairs with women other than their wives.

France's last Socialist president, François Mitterrand, kept a whole second family on the go while married. He had a daughter, Mazarine, with his long-time mistress, Anne Pingeot. Both attended his funeral in 1996 alongside his wife, Danielle.

Mitterrand's successor, Jacques Chirac, wrote in his own memoires about his affairs. “There have been women I have loved a lot, as discreetly as possible,” he said coyly. 

In many countries, such tales would mark the end of a politician's career. In France, it often seems to have the opposite effect, giving them a poll boost.

Maryse Vaillant is a psychologist who has written extensively about infidelity in France. She published a book on the subject called 'Les Hommes, L'Amour, La Fidélité' (Men, Love and Fidelity). She agrees that the French see things differently.

"Our culture isn't as harsh about infidelity as, say, the Anglo-Saxon countries," she says. "It's different to the US where cheating on your wife is seen as very bad, by the wife, the cheater and the whole community. There, people would rather get divorced and remarry, whereas in France we can imagine someone being married and having relationships at the same time."

Still, in France's macho society there remains a big difference between what men and women can get away with.

"French culture is hard on women who cheat," says Vaillant. "The husband of a woman who cheats is ridiculed, even today."

American writer Pamela Druckerman researched infidelity around the world for her book, 'Lust in Translation: Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee'. Druckerman lives in Paris so has first hand experience of how the French approach the topic.

"At dinner parties other women's husbands and boyfriends hold my gaze a bit longer than all but the most lecherous American men would dare," she writes in the book. "Flirting with someone else's partner isn't a betrayal of your spouse or a gateway to extramarital sex. It's a harmless way to have fun."

This breezy nonchalance was shaken over the summer when leading politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested for the alleged rape of a hotel maid.

The former IMF boss was once seen as the most likely candidate to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential elections and had a huge lead in the polls until the incident on May 14th at New York’s Sofitel hotel. Charges were eventually dropped but the resulting cascade of stories about his behaviour ended his aspirations, for now.

The seriousness of the accusations went beyond the dalliances that the French would normally regard as nothing to get too fussed about. Nevertheless, forgiveness appears to be swift. A poll taken in mid-September by Ifop said that 47 percent would like to see him return to politics. A DSK comeback is far from unlikely.

One of the most striking features of the Strauss-Kahn story was the behaviour of his wife, Anne Sinclair. This glamorous, independently wealthy former TV journalist has stood by her husband throughout the ordeal, not with a pale smile through gritted teeth but with full make-up, perfect hair and expensive shoes.

While many non-French commentators have been amazed that she has stuck with her husband, the French find it completely acceptable and her personal approval rating has soared.

A poll found that 54 percent of women say they "understand" the support she gave her husband. 58 percent of women said they have a good impression of her and almost three-quarters said she was "courageous." 

Maryse Vaillant says the role of the supportive wife who accepts that her husband may stray from time to time is well understood in French culture.

"Anne Sinclair is perfect, a true companion. The French love women who are 'grande dames', who support their husbands."

The truth is that the powerful elites have a much easier time of it than most French people.

"Ordinary people allow elites to act in a way that they themselves wouldn't, in particular powerful men," says Vaillant.

So what are the non-elite majority of French people up to? Are they also indulging in the famous cinq à sept, the term for the 5 to 7pm slot in the day when the French reportedly scuttle off to their lovers for a couple of hours together before going home?

Gleeden.com is a website that was set up for married people to meet others who want an uncomplicated romantic tryst. It already has 500,000 members in France alone and almost a million worldwide.

Hélène Antier, a spokeswoman for Gleeden, says many French people prefer to avoid divorce by finding a few “moments of adventure” outside their marriage. It may be working. Divorce rates in France are certainly lower than many of the country’s European neighbours, including the UK, Germany, Belgium and Sweden.

Antier says one of the particularities of their French members is the time spent wooing each other before actually meeting.

“In France, our members don’t want to meet up immediately. They’re not after a sexual encounter tomorrow. People take several weeks before they meet up,” says Antier. “In Spain, it’s much quicker. People spend less time on the site before meeting up”

Gleeden’s own figures suggest that the French are no more likely to stray than other nationalities. Its own research found that 17 percent of the French admitted to having an affair, the same as in Spain and Italy.

Yet if the French aren’t cheating more than others, they do seem more tolerant. 53 percent of those questioned by Gleeden said it was possible to cheat on your partner while still loving them, the highest rate for all countries.

Maryse Vaillant agrees that infidelity doesn’t mean you no longer love your partner. Indeed, she argues that being unfaithful can actually be a good thing for a relationship.

"My research showed that giving in to temptation can help a man understand the extent to which he is attached to his wife," she says.

"With his wife he has projects of bringing up children, buying a house, creating a life. With an attraction to another young woman it's not the same thing."

"Sometimes we need a little emotional crisis to show the difference between a moment's satisfaction and building an existence together."

twitter.com/matthew_warren

Matthew Warren (news.france@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

2012-04-24 17:44:04 by benfree7
I live in England. Perhaps I will move to France. Great food, Great Diet fine wine, beautiful women etc. Planning already!
2012-04-13 10:47:56 by Marie
I do not agree with the idea that french culture is still very is hard on women who cheat. Things have changed. The french society is moving to a model where men and women have the same rights ... Even in the cocoon of their private life. I for exemple invite you to read this french blog : blog adultère (in french) The infos give an alternative point of view, with different testimonials.
2012-01-03 07:05:55 by tatianaM
I agree. These may be the exact reason why these people do what they want no matter what the result would be. They are very confident and proud that even hurting their partner is no longer part of their consideration as long as they are happy. Anyway, here's another interesting story: A 'gory and creepy' lawsuit in Illinois.
2011-11-13 13:50:20 by n230099
The world has been carrying these people for a century. This is what they've devolved into having no responsibility believing the world will always bail them out.
2011-11-02 14:55:39 by dubonlaitfrais
Vive LA France. The word France has boobs in French.
2011-10-23 15:39:45 by ExAFCrewDog
Vive le France!!
2011-10-14 20:36:53 by merlu free
I find that Anne Sinclair is a stupid woman. she has been leaving for years beside Dominique with any suspicion, or she is so proud that she refuses to admit the truth.
Today's headlines
UK councillor blasted for 250km French commute
The commute is around 250 kilometres. Photo: Google Maps

UK councillor blasted for 250km French commute

A councillor from the UK has come under fire in the UK for her long distance commute - from France. Opponents have called for her resignation. READ  

French management style slated by foreigners
French management style has been blasted by foreigners, although they do appreciate the lunch breaks. Management photo: Shutterstock.

French management style slated by foreigners

A massive survey of foreigners working in France has revealed that the French management style is far from being an international role model - but the extended lunch breaks, at least, were a redeeming feature. We take a closer look at the findings. READ  

French set for U-turn on EU-US trade agreement
The EU-US free trade agreement is the cause of much angst in France. Photo: AFP

French set for U-turn on EU-US trade agreement

The proposed free trade zone between the EU and the US is at the centre of a political struggle in France, with the government looking set to make a U-turn over its stance towards one of the most controversial elements of the agreement. READ  

Louvre condemns Iraq jihadist statue-smashing
Islamic State militants gleefully smash ancient statues to pieces with sledgehammers in the main museum and an archeological site in Iraq's second city of Mosul. Photo: AFP

Louvre condemns Iraq jihadist statue-smashing

Paris's famed Louvre museum on Friday reacted in shock to the destruction of priceless artefacts by jihadists in Iraq, saying they hit at the heart of "humanity's memory." READ  

French cartoon festival canned over terror fears
The Caen Memorial where the international press cartoon festival was due to take place. Photo: AFP

French cartoon festival canned over terror fears

UPDATED: In what represents a blow to freedom of speech, France's international press cartoon festival has been cancelled, because organisers fear it could be targeted by terrorists. Cartoonists have accused organisers of giving in to terror. READ  

The official guide on how to be cool in Paris
One of France's ultimate cool icons - Brigitte Bardot - sharing a hint on how to be cool. Photo: Laura Loveday/Flickr

The official guide on how to be cool in Paris

Speaking backwards, hanging out in hidden bars, and picking up a seriously unhealthy addiction. These are among the habits that young Parisians told The Local were the ultimate secrets to being cool in the City of Light. READ  

EU slaps tough budget targets on France
Photo: Sebastian Fuss/Flickr

EU slaps tough budget targets on France

UPDATED: The EU set France tough new targets on Friday to ensure it gets its budget deficit back within Brussels rules, after giving Paris an extra two years until 2017 to comply. READ  

Stolen Paris Picasso sent to New York as '€30 gift'
The Pompidou Centre in central Paris where the Picasso was stolen from. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Stolen Paris Picasso sent to New York as '€30 gift'

A Picasso painting that was reported stolen in Paris 14 years ago has turned up in the United States after being sent across the Atlantic via the postal service disguised as a €30 Christmas present. READ  

Pyrénées
Woman dies after being 'caught in snow blower'
A woman has died in the Pyrenees after apparently being sucked into a snow blower. Photo: Msdot/flickr

Woman dies after being 'caught in snow blower'

Police at a ski resort in the PyrĂ©nĂ©es are investigating after a young woman died after apparently being sucked into a snow blower. READ  

'France feels like Nazi Germany,' says Madonna
Madonna says that France and Europe feel like Nazi Germany. Photo: AFP

'France feels like Nazi Germany,' says Madonna

Rebounding from her stage tumble at the Brit awards, pop star Madonna told French radio Thursday that "intolerance" was now so high in France and Europe that "it feels like Nazi Germany." READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Here's how to be cool in Paris, according to Parisians
Business & Money
France or Germany: Which country really is the best one to work in?
National
How can France enforce a no-drone zone over Paris?
National
Why do so many women in France smoke throughout their pregnancy?
National
VIDEO: Banned but beautiful - Paris seen through the eyes of a drone
Culture
What's on in France: Ten things to do in March
National
Would you want this Frenchman to squeal at YOUR wedding?
National
'We're back' - Charlie Hebdo magazine returns with a bite
Society
Handsome men on the Paris Metro are unknowingly going viral
Society
What are the little things that make France so different?
National
Should we be worried about drones being flown over Paris?
Travel
Another deadly avalanche in the French Alps
National
Text offences: Why French workers need to watch out in future
Gallery
Mont-Saint-Michel cut off as 'supertide' season opens in France
Gallery
Ten great moments for France throughout Oscar history
Culture
Anglo-French marriage problems begin long before anyone says 'Oui'
Travel
'The stars are aligned': Why now is the time to buy a house in France
National
IN PICTURES: 'Supertide' brings crowds to the French coast
Gallery
French property Face-off: Two luxury chalets in the French Alps
Travel
French coastal towns are braced for the 'tide of the century'
Sponsored Article
Tourist or lifer: what sort of expat are you?
Politics
Socialist rebel MPs are angry but not ready to topple French government
Society
France to welcome another US fast food giant
Culture
Les Entrepreneurs: How to watch Paris theatre shows in English
Culture
So where are all these swinging sex clubs in Paris?
Sport
VIDEO: 'We're racist' - Chelsea fans push black man off Paris Metro
Culture
Sex clubs touted as latest fashion in Paris
Culture
In pictures: The ever-colourful Dunkirk carnival
National
Do you worry about your French accent? Perhaps you have no need to
National
VIDEO: 'Fear and loathing' - Being a Jew in Paris
National
Why the DSK trial could spell bad news for French prostitutes
Society
The sorry recent history of anti-Semitic attacks in France
National
'Je suis Danois' - Paris shows solidarity with Copenhagen
Culture
Obituary: Louis Jourdan - The actor who embodied French elegance
National
France outraged after hundreds of Jewish tombs vandalised
Culture
Romance in France: Sex, Champagne and Je t'aime
Culture
Fox News was right, there are no-go zones in Paris (for anyone single)
Culture
Fifty Shades of Grey OK for French 12-year-olds
Culture
French property face-off: Rustic cottage vs manor
Politics
New Muslim party aims for French election wins
Gallery
What do the French get superstitious about?
International
Paris starts lawsuit over Fox News's no-go zones
National
Gun ads see French cops compared to Dirty Harry
Travel
The world's most popular selfie spot has been revealed...
Sponsored Article
Are you an American expat? How to face FATCA
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se