French president François Hollande and Valerie Trierweiler celebrate election night. (Photo: Reuters)

Newly elected French president François Hollande was accompanied by his “first girlfriend” (wink, wink, snicker, snicker) during his first official visit to the United States on May 19, for the G-8 meeting and the conference on NATO.

You are probably thinking I’m alluding to a report from an American or English television station or publication. Au contraire. It was on French TV: The anchors were smirking over the problem the English-language press seems to be having with a moniker for Valerie Trierweiler. With mock horror they gleefully referred to her (in English) as France’s “first girlfriend.” Normally, in the French press, she is Hollande’s “companion.”

Some less kind individuals refer to her as a “concubine.” But Trierweiler’s semantic status seems to be more of a problem for foreign diplomats and journalists than it is for the couple themselves—or, for that matter, the French public.

Some 50 percent of cohabitating French couples are unmarried. Is that shocking? Not in France it isn’t.

When they are young, such French couples usually refer to each other as mon ami or mon amie; as they move into their 30s and beyond they tend to graduate into “companion.”

None of these Gallic word choices make it any easier for those outside of France, it seems. Even the French press occasionally calls Madame Trierweiler the “Premier Dame, and speculates not only on her role as an unmarried First Lady, but also if the couple will wed to simplify everyone’s life. They have both declared that no outside influences will push them into the institution.

But all of this is so much fuss about nothing in a country that tends to glorify l’amour and care much less about making it legal. From the kings through the presidents, their romantic lives have been vigorously active and often complicated—or exciting, depending upon one’s point of view.

Francois Boucher's portrait of Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, also known as Madame de Pompadour, the official chief mistress of King Louis XV. French kings and presidents have always had a vigorous romantic life.

Mistresses were the coin of the realm, and promiscuous presidents have been the norm. You will recall the illegitimate daughter of François Mitterrand, as well as his many dalliances; Valéry Giscard d’Estaing had an unfortunate fender-bender with a milk truck in the early morning hours while out with a dancer; and Jacques Chirac was reputed to be quite the ladies’ man.

Nicolas Sarkozy and his second wife, Cécilia, divorced a few months after he was inaugurated because of his reported constant infidelity. Sarkozy then speed-dated super star model Carla Bruni, whom he married at rocket speed not long into his tenure. In the interim, Cecelia married her lover and now lives in the United States.

Back to François Hollande: He had four children with his former companion, Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party’s candidate running against Sarkozy in 2007; she famously pronounced marriage to be a “bourgeois institution.”

(Hollande supposedly has a daughter with another woman between Ségolène and Valerie.)

Madame Trierweiler, the mother of three boys, is either twice divorced or once divorced and waiting for the second to be pronounced—it depends upon which publication one believes. If the latter is true, it would obviously delay her third marriage to the president, who has never been married.

You see, it’s part of the culture and no one cares except those involved—who, one would imagine, are often hurt and humiliated. But then again, we’ll never know, because they do not confess to their private sufferings in public.

Imagine these situations in the United States. Exactly. One cannot imagine these situations in the United States—except, of course, in shameless New York, where both the governor and New York City’s mayor also have a “companion.” We want to “get into bed” with our politicians, judge their marital morals, find their character flaws, and flail them for all the world to see. Afterward, we often enjoy their second comings and find it in our hearts to forgive them as they set out on a new path toward redemption and religion.

Meanwhile, the French believe public figures have the right to a private life. Curious, non?



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  • déjà pseu May 28, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Great article, Tish! Frankly, I prefer the French attitude to the hypocrisy of so many politicians and public figures here who thump their chests about “family values” but have mistresses or a string of divorces on their resumes.