Unless you’ve been living under un rocher, it would be pretty hard to miss all the recent headlines sprawled across entertainment and mainstream news websites. “Jesse James Cheats on Wife Sandra Bullock.” “Tiger Woods Cheats on Wife Elin.” And in France, there was a spurt of news blasts about how Nicholas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni were each having affairs, he with a cabinet member and she with a fellow musician.
But there’s a difference between the American and French reactions to these headlines. In the U.S., people were shocked. Women were furious that Tiger and Jesse had sexual liaisons with multiple women. Some called for castration. How could they break their marriage vows?
The French reaction to the Sarkozy-Bruni rumors was far more subdued. Sure, it was grist for the gossips in cafés across France, but in a country where adultery is typically shrugged off, there was certainly no public outcry. While there has never been any proof of the alleged affairs, and three people were fired for posting the rumors, an affair by the President of the French Republic would never lead to one of those “I did not have sex with that woman” moments.
Truth is, the French have a very different approach to matters of sex than most Americans. Sex is something to be celebrated. It’s a part of life, part of the everyday, and they don’t try to wrap it in shame or taboo. That said, they do treat sex with much discretion, and many Frenchmen I’ve spoken with have said that the thought of more than one mistress is both exhausting and inconceivable.
Former French President François Mitterand had a mistress and even had a daughter with her. Both were present at Mitterand’s funeral in 1996, along with his wife and other children. A friend of mine, a 72-year old Frenchwoman I’ll call “Claudine,” once told me that she encouraged her husband to take a mistress, if only to appease his male libido. “He wanted too much sex for me,” she said.
It’s certainly a different attitude that what Americans are used to. So what do you think? Would you be able to forgive your significant other if they were to have an affair? Where would you draw the line?