Belfast Telegraph

Bruni's behaviour doesn't impress women of Paris

By Mary Kenny

The chic and intelligent-looking woman sitting opposite me, lunching at a small restaurant in the sixth arrondissement of Paris, was around my own vintage. That is, she was part of that generation known as 'les soixante-huitards' - the 1968ers - those formed in their youth by the radical year of 1968.

We fell into conversations, talking about the food we were eating, and then about her experience of growing up on the Boulevard St Germain, when artists and artisans, students and poorer people, could afford to live in that delightful part of the Left Bank.

The generation of the 1968ers in France has, on the whole, retained most of its liberal and vaguely Left-wing values - especially on subjects such as sexual liberation and female empowerment.

So when the conversation turned to the French presidential election, I was surprised to hear my companion launch a ferocious critique of Carla Bruni, Madame Sarkozy.

"She's completely unsuitable for her position," said the Parisienne, albeit with a smile. "A mannequin. Why, she's slept with everyone. And made no secret of it, either. Nude pictures of her on the internet."

"But surely," I argued, "she's settled down since her modelling days. She's tried to stop the circulation of that nude photograph. She does charitable work."

My companion did the famous Parisian shoulder-shrug that can express everything from indifference to contempt.

But surely the French tradition is that a public person's private life was their own business? Doesn't the French media always castigate 'the Anglo-Saxon' media for its intrusive attitude to marriages and matters of sexuality?

"Perhaps. But there is also a question of taste and discretion. Your private life is your own business so long as you maintain a certain decorum. Carla has not maintained that dignity. And she's had a negative influence on Sarko in other ways that people don't like. This 'bling' thing - it's a form of Americanised vulgarity.

"And then, catastrophically, she forbids her husband to eat cheese. In a country of famous cheesemakers. He drinks Diet Coke and doesn't eat cheese - for a French president, it's unacceptable."

A French president's policies are surely more important than his lifestyle, what he eats, whether he wears bling, or whether his wife meets with the traditional standards of the head of state's consort. And yet, in France, lifestyle and image do matter, because a French president is also a kind of monarch. A republic France may be, but there is nothing and simple about French republican tradition.

The most successful French presidents have had the bearing of monarchs - Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand being the chief exemplars of the dignified body-language and orotund use of language and address.

You wouldn't have seen Yvonne de Gaulle or Danielle Mitterrand strumming a guitar, singing songs about former loves.

When the history books come to be written, it may be that my luncheon companion spoke for France and that Ms Bruni-Sarkozy did not, in the final assessment, help her husband's political career - and may well have contributed to its decline.


From Belfast Telegraph