Hell (and Paris) Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned

        It seems that, in some political circles here in Paris, Valerie Trierweiler, the 50-year-old ex-First Lady of France, has a nickname. When she was hanging out in the Elysees Palace with her pal, Mr. President, Francois Hollande, she was known as “Rottweiler”, supposedly due to her extremely short, growling temper.   And now, even though she is no longer romantically associated with Mr. Hollande and no longer lives anywhere near the glimmering Elysees Palace, she continues to show the public that the nickname was well-deserved.

About ten days ago, Valerie allegedly slapped a man in a bar in Paris.

France's Ex-First Lady supposedly gets slap-happy.
France’s Ex-First Lady gets slap-happy

Why? His version of the story is that he asked her a simple question, “How is Francois?”. He said he did not ask it in a sarcastic manner; he was just making conversation. She snapped; asked for an apology which she did not get. She decided to leave and, on her way out, spun around on her high heels and smacked this guy’s face. She got her vengeance and he got a lawyer.

Valerie Trierweiler is allegedly being charged with assault. The victim’s lawyer has requested that Ms Trierweiler be ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine her “dangerousness”. The man she struck is Mohamed Rizki, a 33-year-old junior right-wing politician.   He’s not famous…well, he wasn’t before he got hit. Now he’ll probably be in her upcoming movie. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back a bit – about six months.

Mohamed Rizki, the 33-year-old alleged victim
Mohamed Rizki, the 33-year-old alleged victim

Six months ago was when Valerie allegedly slapped a woman in a bar. This woman was the ex-wife of the Minister of Finance. She seemed not to like the kiss-and-tell- all autobiography that Valerie had just written about Francois called “Thank You for This Moment: A Story of Love, Power and Betrayal.” (Ms Trierweiler lost her place as First Girlfriend when Francois cheated on her with Julie Gayet, a 42-year-old actress).

Valerie found out about the affair at the same time as the rest of the world did, when Mr. President was seen on a scooter, clandestinely leaving the new girlfriend’s apartment (and looking pretty silly in the process – I mean really, a sushi delivery man has more class than that). In the woman-slapping incident, it seems that Mr. Trierweiler did more than slap the critic; she scratched her face and pulled her hair – a real public display of why her Rottweiler nickname is not so far off mark.

I notice that the journalistic tides are changing in France. When I first moved here 25 years ago, the press would not cover a story about the President’s women (not any of them and they all had mistresses, kids born out of wedlock, etc.).

Valerie and Francois under happier skies.
Valerie and Francois under happier skies.

The French strongly believe that the private lives of politicians are not public property. But, Valerie’s book, which belittles the President in a very effective way, sold 730,000 copies in France and has made Ms Trierweiler an estimated two million Euros. A paperback version, with more juicy details will be out shortly. Besides the book’s success, the movie rights have been sold to a French film producer, ensuring more compensation for the First Lady who came in second.

As you can see, someone has been buying the book so someone cares about how Mr. Hollande is doing. That would lead to the conclusion that the victim of the slap-happy ex-First Lady was only being curious. Why oh why should Ms Trierweiler care, or even worse, get upset, if someone asks her how Francois is. If no one cared about Francois, no one would buy her book.

The Power of Publicity.
The Power of Publicity.

In retrospect, Ms Trierweiler should probably say “Thank You for This Moment” to Mr. Rizki.  As the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

The French Animalistic Side to International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day today, March 8th, and Paris is hosting many activities ranging from races to exhibits; films to flash mobs. The theme this year is “Make it Happen” and the Parisians seem to be doing just that. At least, that’s what I thought when I looked up the ambitious program on paris.fr. But soon after, I also picked up a copy of the women’s magazine “Marie Claire” and was a bit surprised to see an article about International Women’s Day with the photo of a prominent young French politician holding a hen (that’s right, a live hen, the rooster’s female counterpart) and posing very seriously for the camera. Huh, what’s that all about?

I knew the French had a difficult time understanding Obama’s Presidential pardon of a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. I remember trying to explain that tradition to my colleagues, only to have the discussion finish with yet another, “You Americans are crazy” comment. So, what was this? Some kind of statement connected to the cock being the symbol of France? Was the politician rooting for replacing the rooster, a male symbol, with the hen, a female symbol? Was it time to make this happen? Were the French the crazy ones now?

The man in the photo is Jean-Vincent Placé, a the president of the Ecologist Party in the Senate. It seems this photo was staged as his personal statement against sexism and, specifically, against sexism in politics.

The Ecologist protecting his hen.
The Ecologist protecting his hen.

It directly relates to a recent incident where an extremely impolite UMP (French center-right political party) politician “clucked” at a woman speaker, a colleague of Mr. Placé.  She was insulted and retorted with, “I am not a hen!” And that’s how this French version of Animal Farm started.

Mr. Placé also states in the article that the French political world is primarily old and macho – a bunch of unenlightened sexagenarians (think Dominique Strauss-Kahn). Is he right about that? Oh definitely. Will holding a hen change any of the old geezers’ way of treating women? I doubt it.  Even though there are quite a few women in the French government, they are not respected by their peers. A few months ago, a female minister was actually whistled at when she addressed the Senate because she was wearing a dress – that’s right – an unprovocative flowery dress. Mr. Placé does have some work to do.

However, getting dressed up in a nice suit and holding up a hen in a protective gesture is just as ridiculous as clucking in the French Senate. This Senator is actually part of the legislative system. He can propose laws; lobby laws; change laws. He can introduce sanctions for politicians who disrupt their colleagues and the business-at-hand. (There is nothing like a hefty fine or a suspension to make anyone think twice before he opens his beak.) Mr. Placé can find a legislative solution and, in doing so, demand respect for everyone – men and women alike. He can leave the hen in the farmyard and show us a law that deals with this problem. That’s part of the job.

Let’s hope that this hen party is the last one for the French government. Let’s hope that in 2016, on International Women’s Day, we can see a photo of Mr. Placé holding up legislation that sanctions disrespectful and unproductive public behavior on the part of  politicians. We can all cluck to that.

What Happens When French Politicians Use the “F” Word

Hollywood Comes to Paris

Since last Sunday, Paris, and France in general, has become the backdrop for a political sitcom and, suddenly, every UMP politician who is interviewed on television says the “F” word loud and clear.  I have witnessed a lot of political drama in France over the past twenty years, but no one has ever gotten dramatic enough to use the “F” word.  Americans, on the other hand, use it all the time.  President Obama used it in his acceptance speech on Nov 6th.  Mitt Romney spit it out regularly on his campaign trail.  And now, it’s here in France.  That “F” word is Family – a new political concept for the UMP and one which is not holding up well at all.
Funny Family Guys
You see, it is common practice for the UMP, the conservative right-wing party, to elect a president, a leader.  The 2 candidates were Francois Fillon, the former Prime Minister under Sarkozy and Jean-Francois Cope, rumoured to be a candidate for the 2017 presidential run.  The elections were close (actually reminded me of the Bush/Gore debacle of 2000) and have not yet been officially settled.  UMPers are taking sides and shooting each other in the foot at the same time.  But they keep talking family – saying they have to find a solution that works for everyone so that the family stays united.  But, the way I see it, this family is getting more dysfunctional by the minute.
How They Got There
Here’s a quick overview of what the problem is.  The vote was close; Mr. Cope said he won before all the votes were counted.  Mr. Fillon protested and continues to protest the

and the winner is ….me!

validity of the election.  Mr. Cope said, “tant pis” (too bad), “I’m the president of the UMP and thank you very much.”  He offered Mr.  Fillon the VP position but that went over like a cold day in hell.
Who’s in Charge Here?
Mr.  Fillon officially filed a court order to review the results.  That is happening today, but the majority of the members of this Commission are friends of Cope.  So, one of Mr. Fillon’s supporters left the meeting – slamming the door behind him.  There is a mediator, Mr. Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux, who is supposed to sort this all out, but he might just throw in the towel. Now Mr. Fillon is talking about separating and

we’ll just see about that …

starting a new political party with his friends.  And Mr. Cope still says he’s the man in charge of this wonderful family and he will do everything in his power to keep it together.
What about Instant Replay?
A simple way of solving this would be to insist on another election and throw that supposedly-biased Commission out the French window.  It seems fair.  One poll says that 67% of UMP members advocate this step.   It would be a simple enough event to organize; everyone could wipe the slate clean and start over.  And no one should speak up until all the votes are counted.  But both family guys have to agree to this and, only one thing is sure at this point, they are not agreeing on anything.
Clowning Around
As this blog goes to press, I can’t tell you who won since the name-calling, finger-pointing, sulking and whining are still going on and on and on. The only thing I am sure of is that the “F” word doesn’t work in France.  The typical values associated with that word – such as support, love, sacrifice, teamwork – are nowhere to be seen.  In fact, the “F” word has actually turned the whole political scene into a show – a full-fledged, unprecedented circus.   What we need now is for someone to send in the clowns – quickly.  Oh wait, they’re here.

Presidential Speeches in Paris and Chicago – Vive la Difference

Politics Everywhere

From May 6th to November 6th, as an American living in Paris, I got to follow two political adventurers in their bout for their respective Presidencies.  For the French election of François Hollande the campaign, the debates, the hype and Election Day coverage were omnipresent.  For the American election of Barack Obama, the campaign, the debates, the hype and Election Day coverage were also omnipresent – and I live in Paris, France, not Paris, Texas.  Why the French follow the US Election almost as closely as their own is beyond me.  I was just happy to be able watch it live from this side of the pond.

Declaration of Love
As I listened to President Obama’s acceptance speech and heard the words “love”, “family”, “spirit”, “hope”, “God”, I thought about the wonderful differences between France and the US and started smiling away as I imagined President Hollande accepting his new job using the same buzz words – especially the love buzz. Barack made a public

Obama and his family – up close and personal.

declaration of love for his wife, Michele Obama.  He said he wouldn’t be the man he is today without her.  He even said how proud he was that America had fallen in love with her too during these past four years.  The President mentioned family as well – his view that Americans are all one, big American family.

Stand By Your Man – Maybe
As an American, this habit of using one’s wife as part of the political platform didn’t surprise me.  But, in the French mindset, that just wouldn’t happen.  I saw flashes of all of Mr. Hollande’s women during his candidacy, but they were always in the background, not in the forefront.  And, since Mr. Hollande is not married, and his girlfriend tends to be outspoken in a bad way, he would just not “go there.”  In France, the wives and/or

Here’s the French President’s girlfriend, close but not too close.

girlfriends of politicians are not running for office with them.  No one cares what happens behind closed Presidential doors.  This is so NOT true in the US where the wrong companion choice can make or break a candidate.

Family Guys
Calling the nation an “American family” may sound a bit corny but it did get a huge round of applause from the public at Obama’s acceptance speech.  I cannot even imagine the President of France addressing his constituents as a “French family” – it would seem ludicrous to the Parisians.  Such a remark might be greeted with shouts and tomatoes.  French families are blood-related, not ballot-related – no exceptions.
One interesting thing I noticed as I re-read Hollande’s acceptance speech is that there is a bit of flag-waving (but no French flag pin on his lapel) as he says, “we are just not any nation on this planet, or this world, We are France.”  He had also mentioned that all of Europe was watching the results of the French elections – for Obama, of course, it was the whole world (but who’s counting?)

Happy Endings
The difference in the endings of the speeches was striking, even if predictable. I think Obama was really over the top with “Together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.  Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.”  I mean seriously, “the greatest nation on Earth?”  Now who says the French are arrogant?
However, I re-read Hollande’s last words and noticed they centered on serving his country; enforcing the values that were made clear by his election.  The French President emphasized that these values will be heard all over France, Europe and the World.  And then he repeated the traditional “Vive la République et vive la France !”  It was a bit boastful, as close to patriotism as a Frenchman can get but subtle compared to Obama’s declaration.
Divine Separation
There was no mention of God, since there couldn’t be – one of France’s cornerstone values is the separation of Church and State.  They actually enforce that belief in their political system.
The political roller coaster ride on both sides of the Atlantic is over for now.  It’s funny how wives, girlfriends, family, flag-waving and God can be such relative matters in a Presidential election.  That’s why I say, “Vive la Difference.”

Just When Will French Male Politicians Grow Up?

Macho Macho Men

Male chauvinism roared its ugly head here in Paris this week and this time it showed up in the National Assembly, the political home of France’s elected officials.  Here, in the gold and red sumptuously decorated meeting room, these guys (and a few women) are supposed to handle serious debates about the present and future of the French citizens who respected them enough to choose them as representatives.  Well, this week, they really blew it. With just one whistle (literally) they blew all that respect out the National Assembly window.

The scene that inspired this macho manifestation was a simple one; it was really business-as-usual.  The Minister of Housing Equality, Mme Cecile Duflot, rose to address the Assembly.  As she approached the microphone and tried to speak, she was greeted with whistles and jeers from masculine members of the Assembly, from the right and left alike (but mostly from the right).  It seems Mme Duflot was wearing a dress – yes, that’s correct.

Adolescent Angst

Here is the outfit that rocked the National Assembly in Paris

The Minister was fully clothed in a modest dress that covered everything that needed to be covered.  So why all the fuss?   Well, my own personal opinion is that, in their childhood, when French politicians hit puberty, their growth was stunted.  By growth I mean the part of their brain that governs dignity, respect and honor.  That part stayed in the seventh grade.  They manage to hide it most of the time, but once in a while, when you least expect it, the 13-year-old stupid adolescent they thought they used to be, shows up and embarrasses the entire country (not them remember, they’re 13 – they don’t care).

And the Point Is…?

What’s the use of France putting more women in office (half of the country’s ministers are female) if the rest of the Assembly members are going to treat them like children?   Does it fill some kind of entertainment quota?  Are the men listening or laughing when the female ministers speak?  How can they possibly get down to matters at hand and rule the country if something as commonplace as a flowered dress tickles their funny bones?

There was even a deputy who defended the hisses by saying that there were “admirative” ones.  He added that if the Mme Duflot was that sensitive and couldn’t handle it, then she should stay out of politics.  Wow!  Let’s just add a bit of macho arrogance to their adolescent behavior – the true colors of French male politicians are not pretty.

By the way, these men, these same men, are the ones who are deliberating and voting on the sexual harassment legislation that will soon become effective in France.  This is a pretty scary thought, scary because it’s true.  If they can treat a Minister so lightly and laugh right in her face, then I’m guessing they are not highly motivated to come up with a fair and just sexual harassment law.  What 13-year-old thinks everyone is created equal?

Order in the House

The President of the Assembly had to use his gavel to call the legislative body to order.  He hammered it on the table saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, actually gentlemen, silence please.”  Mme Duflot was astonished, but kept her cool.  She spoke but I’m sure no one was listening.  (They were probably already tweeting their mistresses about the incident.)  One critic said that a high percentage of male French politicians are still living in the 19th century.  I disagree.  Like I said, they didn’t stay in the 19th century, they stayed in 7th grade.

 

Twitter and Tweets Invade French Politics

Junior High a la Francaise

The Presidential Kiss

I’m sitting here in my Parisian living room watching the French legislative election returns on television, and, for some strange reason, am having painful flashbacks back to junior high.  This is extremely disconcerting but when I explain to you what’s been going on in France this past week, you’ll understand (and you might start dreaming about your junior high school as well).

The biggest subject on campus is the electronic cat fight that started with a tweet and ended with the cat swallowing the canary.  So, the “cat” who won is Valerie Trierweiler, supposedly the first lady of France.  She is the “companion” of Francois Hollande, the newly-elected president of France.  She used her smart phone to scandalize the country this week by sending one simple tweet supporting the Socialist candidate who was running against Segolene Royal.  Now, Segolene Royal is Francois Hollande’s “ex-companion” and the mother of his four children and was also publicly supported by the president.  Are you following this?  I warned you – junior high.

What a Difference a Tweet Makes

As the week wore on, the tweet got more publicity than anyone’s political platform.  Insults were thrown all over the place; one of the girls had tears in her eyes and everyone had an opinion about who is really running this country.  The Prime Minister even publicly announced that this new first girlfriend should find her place and stay in it.  The French population had elected Francois Hollande, not his girlfriend, so she should just zip it and let Segolene get elected to the National Assembly so that she could hang out with Francois again.

In the end, Segolene lost – it could have been because of the tweet, but it also could have been because the voters liked the other guy better.  We will never know.  Segolene used the word “treason” in her concession speech.  Journalists asked her if she had been in touch with Francois Hollande to discuss her political career.  She avoided answering.  They asked her about the tweet; she avoided answering once more.

The President’s Avoidance Policy

But you know what I want to know?  Where in hell’s name is the president?  Is he watching the returns with the Tweet Queen hoping that she can wipe that smirk off her face?  Is he secretly texting sympathetic messages to Segolene from the presidential bathroom?  Why isn’t he on TV claiming victory for his party since they did a pretty job good in winning a clear majority in the legislative elections?  Is he afraid of the questions the journalists would ask him?

The fine line between public and private is all messed up in France right now.    The new girl in town might be modern and highly skilled in social media but she seems to be lacking in socio-political integration skills.  The old girl in town (sorry Segolene) seems to be lacking in political clout, especially after today’s significant loss.  It looks like there’s a serious chance that she might fade off into the sunset.

Who’s Afraid of Valerie Tweet?

And the new guy in all this?  Is he really running the show?  Is the President the one wearing the designer pants?  Is he going to go public and tell the whole junior high of France which girl wins his heart?  Or is he going to keep playing ostrich and wait until the tweet passes over?  Someone should tell him – one tweet can hide another.