• France's news in English
 

Why it really is OK to stray in France

Matthew Warren · 7 Oct 2011, 14:24

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
Gérard Depardieu: 'I want to sell up in France'
The French actor still has property in France. Photo: Valery Hache/AFP

Gérard Depardieu: 'I want to sell up in France'

2 hours ago

French actor and tax exile Gérard Depardieu has declared that he will "sell everything" in his home country, French media has reported.

France confirms wing part is from flight MH370
A policeman and a gendarme stand next to the piece of debris on Réunion island. Photo: AFP

France confirms wing part is from flight MH370

2 hours ago

French prosecutors confirmed on Thursday that a piece of debris found on the Indian island of Réunion was from the Malaysian airlines flight MH370.

Butcher gets jail term for cannabis cake prank
The cake in this picture is not the cake from the story. Photo: Michał Bażak/Flickr

Butcher gets jail term for cannabis cake prank

4 hours ago

A French supermarket butcher has been handed a suspended prison sentence after he gave his colleagues a cannabis-laced chocolate cake, a move that caused the shop to close and five people to be hospitalized.

Guest blog - French exports
How English fans are funding French football
Anthony Martial's "€80 million" move to Manchester United will help prop up French football. Photo: AFP

How English fans are funding French football

5 hours ago

Forget fine wines, luxury perfumes and cars, France's most important export to the UK could be its footballers and it's all thanks to the legion of English armchair fans, argues Martin Dixon from the Franco British Chamber of Commerce. Vive l'entente cordial.

French farmers' protest
French farmers' tractor protest rolls into Paris
A convoy of tractors runs in a street of Paris on Thursday. Photo: AFP

French farmers' tractor protest rolls into Paris

5 hours ago

UPDATED: Up to 1,700 tractors along with thousands of furious farmers descended on Paris on Thursday in a show of force to raise attention to their plight. Motorists have been told to stay off the roads.

Russia rejects French proposal to limit UN veto
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. Photo: AFP

Russia rejects French proposal to limit UN veto

7 hours ago

Russia on Wednesday dismissed as "populist" a French proposal to limit the use of the veto at the UN Security Council and said it would oppose it.

Time for France to show fraternité to refugees?
Should France stick to its traditions and accept more refugees? Photo: AFP

Time for France to show fraternité to refugees?

7 hours ago

As images of a drowned Syrian boy shock Europe to the core, France like other EU nations comes under more pressure to welcome more refugees. But will France open its doors as it has done in the past?

Migrant crisis
France joins call for reform of asylum rules
A rescuer walks past migrants waiting to disembark from the Irish military vessel Naimh after its arrival in the port of Palermo. Photo: AFP

France joins call for reform of asylum rules

10 hours ago

France joined Germany and Italy in calling for an overhaul of laws on the right of asylum and a fairer distribution of migrants throughout the European Union, Italy's foreign minister said on Wednesday.

French jobless rate stays stable at ten percent
May Day protests in France where marchers demanding jobs and labour reform.

French jobless rate stays stable at ten percent

10 hours ago

French unemployment was stable in the second quarter at around 10 percent, official data showed on Thursday, as the EU's second-largest economy continues to grapple with a stagnant economy.

Eurostar nightmare: 'We can hardly complain'
Passengers on a Eurostar train plunged into darkness, but should we really complain? Photo: Simon Gentry

Eurostar nightmare: 'We can hardly complain'

1 day ago

The Local's Oliver Gee was one of thousands of passengers stranded for hours on six Eurostar trains that became blocked when migrants broke through security. He says it's hard to complain given the hardship of those that caused the chaos.

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS

National
Why has France abandoned its tradition of sheltering refugees?
Thousands of furious French farmers roll in to Paris on tractors
National
Winter is coming as Paris hosts Game of Thrones exhibition
Came for love, fear for job, but adore way of life - Are you a typical expat?
Would a new Calais migrant camp be a step back to the days of Sangatte?
Opinion
French education is in 'crisis' - Here are ten ways to fix it
French minister says 35-hour week not working in France
IN PICS: Police evict 300 people from France's oldest shanty town
Features
Take a look at some of the wackiest bars you can find in Paris
National
Feminist stunt sees French road signs changed for the day
Travel
Could coaches overtake trains when it comes to travelling in France?
Meet the five heroes who foiled the French train attack
National
France set for 'tourism record' of 85 million visitors in 2015
National
Paris students are helping police to warn Asian visitors about crime
Naked couple found dead beside French fortress
Europe's biggest science museum burns in Paris
Robber found half-naked and asleep in French beauty salon
National
Here are eight tips for blending in with the French while at the beach
Humans of Paris: We meet the man changing our perception of Parisians
National
France reveals new plans for Sunday and late-night shopping
Read about this revolutionary kidney op in a Toulouse hospital
National
Panic after four dogs 'poisoned' after walks in Paris park
France hit by huge summer spike in abandoned pets
National
France boils in second hottest summer ever
Technology
Meet Max - the first person in France to receive a 3D-printed hand
Politics
French minister admits to 'Obama engagement' tweeting mishap
Features
From giant bubbles to treehouses - here are the craziest hotels in France
National
How would you like to spend a night in the Palace of Versailles?
French manager paid to do nothing for 12 years
Features
We talk to Calais residents about their migrant crisis
National
Cow spared after fleeing from abattoir in France
FIVE reasons why everyone should visit Calais... yes Calais
Travel
France for adrenaline junkies: Ten crazy things to do
VIDEO: Slingshot elastic breaks on ride at French theme park
This plant might spell the end of the Asian hornet invasion
Who says the French don't like speaking English
National
It may be trickier to find a baguette in Paris this August
Killers of French student were 'inspired by Breaking Bad'
Ten must-see French gems you probably never thought of visiting
Is it time for France to force Britain to move border back across Channel?
Is romance in France just a "heterosexual concept"?
Can YOU pronounce these ten French town names?
Dog buried alive sparks French social media fury
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