Seduction And French Politics
In her book, Elaine Sciolino discusses now former International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Dominque Strauss-Kahn (DSK) — who was controversial even before his now-dropped, highly publicized hotel maid rape case in New York this year. Many U.S. media outlets reported that DSK's political prospects in France are dim now that his reputation has been further tarnished by the rape scandal. Sciolino weighed in.
"DSK is back in France, but he has not been welcomed back. No matter what the truth about the encounter with the hotel maid in New York, too many tawdry details about his private life have been put into the public domain. Michel Rocard, the Socialist former prime minister, said publicly what others had said privately for years: That DSK has a 'mental illness' because he cannot contol his 'impulses,'" Sciolino said.
Sciolino also offered her take on why French President Nicolas Sarkozy is not exactly beloved by the French. "At first, one of the main reasons Sarkozy was perceived so negatively was that he wasn't seductive enough. He has a fierce temper and doesn't seem comfortable mingling with ordinary folk," Sciolino said.
Sciolino described Sarkozy's frank communication style and his tendency to use "naked flattery and insults rather than subtle wooing," as a turn-off for the French. She added that in France Sarkozy is seen as "contemptuous rather than enamored of the complicated codes of politesse. Unlike François Mitterrand, who used language to caress and mesmerize, Sarkozy contracts his words and salts his sentences with rough slang," Sciolino said.
Futhermore, Sciolino observed, in a country where food and wine are essential to the national identity, she said Sarkozy "prefers snack gobbling to meal savoring. French people of all classes disapproved of what they called Sarkozy's 'bling-bling' style early in his presidency: His Ray-Bans, his Rolex, his gold necklace, his penchant for hanging out with French billionaires."
The Fallout Of Infidelity In France
Is it a cross-cultural misperception that French marriages tend to survive infidelities, sometimes for many years, while many American marriages and political careers crumble after an infidelity has been discovered?
"Private lives and politics are different," Sciolino said.
"Private life first. The French, like Americans, have not figured out a way to inoculate themselves against the pain of a partner's unfaithfulness. Jealousy and guilt are alive and well. Adultery is a major reason for divorce in France, as in the United States. When infidelity turns serious and the unfaithful spouse leaves to live with a lover, a scorned wife, especially if she is no longer young, can have a much harder time recovering than a scorned husband, even in France," Sciolino said.
Here's where the French and Americans in particular part ways. Sciolino posits that for Americans, infidelity is a black-and-white betrayal and the violation of a marriage contract that often means the end of a marriage. While an American might call a divorce lawyer when a spouse has cheated, the French tend to stick together. Why stay in an unfaithful marriage? Staying in an imperfect marriage keeps the order of things. "Parents stay together; the children are spared emotional trauma; property stays in the family; financial security is maintained; family history is kept; vacations are taken," Sciolino said.
In France, Sciolino has observed that infidelity is not as serious or as destructive as it would be for those "with an Anglo-Saxon worldview, especially if it is played out in secret and no one gets hurt." Sciolino cited a poll in 2008 that indicated that 46 percent of the French believe an infidelity should not be "confessed."
As for politics, Sciolino agreed that American and French cultures do tend to judge the act of infidelity differently when it comes to public figures.
"Politicians in any democratic country must woo the public, but in France it is assumed that their powers should not only be personal and magnetic but also extend to the bedroom. Appealing political positions are not enough," Sciolino said. "Politicians are not hounded out of office for sexual indiscretions, and the public is often happy to let their secrets remain officially under wraps. But seduction flows as an undercurrent in public and private life, so it is natural that talking about politicians' personal lives is part of the national discourse."
Is there a double standard when it comes to women? The author acknowledged that there is one exception to the sexual indiscretion allowance: Gender. A female politician is expected to be faithful to one partner.
Three Wardrobe Essentials
Elegance and style are pre-requisites for seduction, so as we wrapped up our correspondence, I could not resist asking the long-time Paris resident to share what's on her must-have wardrobe list. Here's what Elaine Sciolino recommended for women:
1. A great black dress that fits perfectly.
2. Elegant shoes that are also very comfortable, enough for a lot of walking.
3. A well-cut jacket made from a fine fabric.
Sciolino was quick to be clear that clothes alone do not make someone seductive. "Much more important than a wardrobe is the willingness to find common ground with the other – the butcher, the newspaper vendor, the bureaucrat, the sales person – and to carry on a conversation. Seduction is nothing more than a conversation without end."
PAGE ONE: LET'S TALK ABOUT SEDUCTION