‘France is being mocked for its absurd president’

The same day President François Hollande responded to the most hurtful claims in his ex's tell-all memoir, The Local hit the streets to see what the French think about the book and its impact on their historically unpoplar leader.

'France is being mocked for its absurd president'
The French aren't very happy with their president and even less so after his ex's tell-all memoir. Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP

With her new book “Thank You for This Moment” (Merci pour ce moment) making headlines, Valérie Trierweiler has done nothing for the low popularity and waning credibility of her former partner, President François Hollande.

Her bombshell of a tell-all memoir rapidly topped the sales charts on Amazon and in bookshops across the country, with people seemingly eager to read about her nine years with Hollande and her life as France’s unofficial first lady.

Hollande for the first time on Friday responded to one of the book’s most harmful allegations, which accused the self-styled man of the people of referring in private to France’s poor as “the toothless.”

“The presidency must be respected…I will never allow my lifetime committment be put into question, the foundation of my political life, and all the terms I’ve served,  the human connection with the most fragile, the most humble, the poorest. I am at the service of the poorest, it is my reason for being,” Hollande said at a NATO summit in the United Kingdom.

But what do people really make of it? Shame, disbelief, anger is what The Local heard on the streets of Paris. 

It’s the case for Claudine Romain, 49, who says she is ashamed of the president, a man who’s supposed to embody all that is good in France.  

“Every time I travel outside of France for my job, I hear people making fun of my country. Hollande is hated by everyone. Too bad for him, he deserves it,” she said. “This book, Valerie Trierweiler had the right to write it. It does not change much, we were already ashamed of François Hollande before. It’s just the icing on the cake”.

It’s a view shared by Kamel, 40, a security guard: “Clearly, Hollande does not have what it takes to be president. We didn’t like Sarkozy, but at least he was dynamic, he did things, and he acted like a leader. Now the French are mocked by foreigners for having a ridiculous president”.

Asked if he’d read the book, Kamel said: “It’s only natural. We are all curious by nature. I heard it sold really well yesterday. To be honest, I just want to get my own opinion on the book, even though it will only confirm what I already know. Hollande should never have become president. He would be better as a farmer, raising chickens. But even that would be too hard for him”.

‘Had her ego shattered’

Trierwieler hasn’t come through the scandal looking too good either.

“Publishing the president’s private life is bound to damage French institutions on the long-term. People will stop respecting him abroad. It gives a very bad image of France as a whole, which is a problem for all of us,” Sandrine Boulet, a 33-year-old office worker said. “If she really had things to tell Hollande, she should have told him directly and privately.”

Student Camille Kaelblen, 20, believes Trierweiler has brought herself down in pursuit of revenge against Hollande.

“Her book says a lot more about her weaknesses, her jealousy, than about François Hollande’s personality,” she said. “It’s clearly the work of a woman whose ego has been shattered.”  

Though some of the French are responding to the episode with a Gallic shrug.

“There are far more important problems than the president’s personality and private life,” student Julien Charrier, 24 said, adding he won’t read the book.

Helping booksellers

More than just another blow for the president, the book has quickly become for some the symbol of all that is wrong with French politics and society.

Claudine Romain bitterly concluded “today people are just interested by money and sex, that’s why they read it. The president does not care about us, who work like crazy every day and who pay our taxes for him to spend on all his women. He mirrors everything that is wrong in France. This book is nothing, he had already reached the lowest point in people’s esteem”.

Though not everyone is totally disgusted by the book.

Sarah a clerk at the FNAC bookstore near the Gare de l’Est train station said 120 copies of it had flown off shelves on Thursday.  

 “I am dismayed that people would find any interest in the private life of the president,” she said. “But let’s just say for once Hollande is helping us do business, by boosting our sales, so we can’t complain”.  

By Léa Surugue

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