The French are known for being more tolerant than Americans about their politicians’ private lives. One former French president even fathered a child with a mistress while in office.
But every French leader in history has been married — until now.
Next week, after Socialist Francois Hollande is sworn into office, he and his longtime companion, journalist Valerie Trieweiler, will become the first unmarried couple to move into the Elysee presidential palace.
“People in France, they don’t care about the way they live together,” says Sarah Merlino, who writes for the weekly lifestyle magazine Gala. “The problem is what he will do with his presidency. Will he be humble? That’s the most important thing.”
Merlino says many people viewed the outgoing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, as arrogant and ostentatious, and his private life was often splashed across the tabloids. Just after taking office in 2007, Sarkozy’s marriage broke up. His highly publicized courtship of top model-turned pop singer Carla Bruni soon followed.
Hollande’s private life isn’t simple either. On election night he spoke to supporters flanked by his current companion and his former companion, Segolene Royal, who lost the presidential election to Sarkozy in 2007. Hollande was with Royal for 30 years. Though the couple never married, they have four children together.
Tolerance For Non-Traditional Families
If Hollande’s domestic situation never caused much of a stir, it’s because a growing number of French couples live similarly, choosing to raise children, buy homes and build lives without religious or civil approval of their partnerships.
But the French are still shockable. The libertine lifestyle of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former chief of the International Monetary Fund, proved to be too much. Merlino says it helps that Hollande is just the opposite of Strauss-Kahn.
“Francois Hollande is not a womanizer. He’s very faithful. He lived a long time with Segolene Royale,” Merlino says. “He was a good father. His kids are with them. They get on very well. So he’s a nice guy.”
Merlino says Hollande’s Socialist predecessor, Francois Mitterrand, helped prepare the public.
“[Mitterand] was married, but he has another child with another woman. So it’s been 30 years now that French people, they deal with it,” Merlino says. “So this has been much more shocking than today with a president who is not married.”
The new president’s unmarried status could cause a few protocol issues on foreign travel to a handful of places with strict rules about unwed couples, like Indonesia, Saudi Arabia or the Vatican.
Concern With Economic Isssues
But in a hair salon near the Eiffel Tower, no one bats an eye.
Claudine Breche, 65, calls Hollande a family man, but says she hopes the new first lady will be more discreet than the last one. And with an economic crisis and austerity measures, the personal life of our politicians is not exactly our top priority, she says.
The crowds cheered as Hollande and Trieweiler danced to “La Vie en Rose” on election night. He has called her the love of his life, and many credit the elegantly dressed, twice-divorced mother of three with inspiring the mild-mannered Hollande to transform himself into a tough presidential candidate.
The couple has hinted that marriage might be in the cards, but that certainly won’t be dictated by a little thing like a presidential election.