In case you have been hibernating, the best show in town isn’t Dallas or Dynasty, it’s Australian politics. An extramarital affair and its fallout have put the ruling Liberal-National coalition under massive pressure. The nation is completely hooked -I shamefully admit that I am too. Today there was no headlines about the whole saga, and I almost found it boring. The difference between American soap operas and the Australian government is that one features a scorned soon-to-be first wife, a pregnant younger lover and doubts over paternity, and the others are 1980s TV shows that I grew up watching. What can I say? Reality is sometimes even messier than fiction. And I, for one, can’t wait for the next episode (Reconciliation with wife? Twins? Another potential father? Who knows?). I am joking of course. Well, sort of.
Now let me tell you different stories: a 15 year-old boy meets a much older drama teacher in high school, and eventually falls in love with her. His parents can’t keep them apart, so years later the mother-of-three eventually divorces her husband and marries her former student. He then runs for president when he’s 39 and she’s 64. He wins. The exact date of the start of their relationship isn’t known. What could be the stuff of criminal case in the Anglo-saxon world is met with a Gallic shrug in my home country.
I keep hearing that what worries my Aussie friends isn’t the affair per se (yeah right. As if I believe you!) but the fact that taxpayers’ money might have been used for highly paid jobs and expenses. Boy, you guys are real cute! In France and in no particular order, we had a President having a car crash with the milkman while coming back from a night with his mistress (we taxpayers had to foot the bill), another President who kept two families and numerous mistresses at our expenses, and who even tapped the phone of women he wanted to sleep with (The French secret services did the dirty work. Of course they did.). Nobody batted an eyelid.
The former French President had four children by another politician and former presidential candidate (What can I say? Politics is a family affair in my home country). They split, and he immediately took up with a glamorous French journalist until a tabloid caught him riding on a motor scooter to the apartment of a much younger woman in Paris. He had of course a bodyguard and several croissants with him. French men never come unprepared. Now do me a favour and just imagine an Australian, Canadian or American president riding a moped around the streets of the capital to an affair. It would bring down their presidency. In France, it didn’t.
So why the different treatment? Well, we’re French, and everything when it comes to the personal lives and relationships is different. For instance, privacy laws are much stricter: the French constitution sets out that everyone has the right to privacy, which is why even a public figure like the president can claim breaches of it despite placing himself in the most prominent spot in the public eye. Publication of an individual’s private details is a criminal offence in my home country, unless permission has been sought first of course.
In France, when it comes to cheating, the golden rule is that everyone must remain discreet. Until recently, lying was the ‘accepted’ way of things, including for the betrayed spouse (things are changing). French men (especially the old guard) could not see what Bill Clinton, to name one famous two-timer, had done wrong. “Of course he lied,” they shrugged. That’s what a gentleman does; it’s his way to protect his (official) family. We French even have invented the cinq-à-sept and the baise-en-ville (http://frenchyummymummy.com/the-baise-en-ville/)
But for whatever reason – the banging on ‘family values’, perhaps? – a candidate’s personal life has always seemed to matter more in other countries.
So what’s my point? Well, I hate to say it, but I think that private life must remain, well, private. Unless of course there is an abuse of position, nepotism or harassment. Maybe I have remained more French than I thought. And if I am really honest, I think that my Aussie friends are very, very lucky: a ‘bad’ Australian politician is, in my view, a lot better than an ‘average’ French politician – as far as private life is concerned. Maybe my Aussie friends need to be well, more French. Just a thought. Now can we move on and can everybody STFU?