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Fidelity French style

After a decade living in Paris, The Weekly’s newest writer, Bryce Corbett, has seen it all. So, when glamorous First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy became embroiled in an affair scandal, he knew exactly how the French would react.

Eyebrows all over the world were raised in March when scuttlebutt started leaking out of Paris that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his elegant première dame wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, were cheating on each other. People everywhere reacted with shock at the rumours. Everywhere, that is, except France.

While the rest of the world whipped itself into a frenzy of righteous indignation, the French responded with an almighty Gallic shrug. As moral arbiters, political commentators and gossip mongers from other God-fearing nations weighed in on the unseemliness of a head of state and his wife sleeping around, the French were left wondering what all the fuss was about.

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If the gossip is to be believed, France’s president has been “’aving it off” with his Secretary of State for Ecology, Chantal Jouanno, while his pop-princess wife has supposedly been getting cosy with her songwriting collaborator, Benjamin Biolay.

The tattle was initially sparked by a few wayward “tweets” by an online journalist, then spread like wildfire throughout Paris, finally catching up with the president during a press conference at 10 Downing Street, in London, where he was forced to take a break from expounding on matters of state to dismiss it as a baseless rumour.

Although a carefully staged bout of public canoodling during a subsequent trip to New York poured cold water on the claims, the collective indifference of the French people to the rumoured affair only served to highlight the difference in attitude between us and our Gallic cousins. While we tend to tremble in its presence, terrified at the threat infidelity poses to the social fabric, the French seem to accept it as an inevitable part of the messy business of living. And when it is perpetrated by their politicians, well, that’s just part of the job description.

This is a country, after all, in which Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand’s admission of sex holidays in Thailand ruffled barely a feather, where the late President François Mitterrand had a secret second family and his successor, Jacques Chirac, was so renowned for his extra-marital liaisons, he earned the nickname The Three-Minute Man for the efficiency with which he conducted them.

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As a former resident of Paris, recently returned home, I know from 10 years living among them that the French are relatively relaxed when it comes to the prickly issue of sleeping around. The 19th-century French author Alexandre Dumas pretty much set the tone when he observed, “The bonds of wedlock are so heavy that it takes two to carry them, sometimes three”.

Certainly, rumours of the Sarkozys’ straying have come as no great surprise to the average French citizen. First Lady Carla is as well-known in France for her contempt for monogamy as she is for her preference for kitten heels. “Monogamy bores me terribly,” she famously told Madame Figaro magazine before her marriage to the president. “I am monogamous from time to time, but I prefer polygamy.”

And you only have to glance at her dance card to see that she means it. Her string of famous former lovers includes Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Donald Trump. While living with the French publishing magnate, Jean-Paul Enthoven, Carla ran off with his son, the philosopher Raphaël Enthoven, and bore him a child.

Your say: What do you think about this? Do you think the French opinion on fidelity is far removed from our own? What is your take on fidelity? Share with us below.

Read more of this story in the May issue ofThe Australian Women’s Weekly. Out now with Susan Boyle on the cover.

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