Comment dit-on ‘Soap Opera’ en Français ?

| May 11, 2012

PARIS  – Most of you have already learned that the French elected a new (gasp!) Socialist president, yet few of you could actually give a souris’s ass. If you knew, however, that the grand soap opera that is les politiques Français — one that makes American follies pale pedestrian in comparison — was this over-the-top, you’d spend your life’s savings ordering back copies of Paris Match.
Here are five morsels for you to chew on about this past election, and as with most things in life, we’d like to recommend a glass or two of French Medoc to wash it all down. So without further ado, as ma grand-mère used to say, “Sit down, and be still, I’m trying to watch my stories.”


1. “Sanctity of marriage” does not exist in France.
Marriage is not a big deal amongst the French — the soon-to-be former president,  Nicholas Sarkozy, was married to his second wife, Cecilia (such a beautiful soap opera name by the way), when he was elected in 2007. Right away Cecelia ended her affair with her lover, a successful New York businessman, and flew back into Sarkozy’s arms to pose as a dutiful wife.

Shortly after Sarkozy’s election, Cecilia embarked on a few high-profile stunts


(for example, flying to Libya to help free some hostages), but soon she and Sarkozy divorced. Within months, however, le Président was remarried to wife number three: Italian aristocrat/former super-model/fading pop star Carla Bruni. (It was a whirlwind three-month courtship, complete with a nauseating teacup spin at Euro-Disney — quel charmant).

As for the Socialists, who are a bit like that those Knots Landing cul-des-sac’ers (a term that means “bottom of the bag,” *cough*) things really go awry. Sarkozy’s opponent in 2007 was Ségolène Royal, a photogenic woman of une age certaine with experience serving as both a regional executive and a government minister in the late ‘90s. She was also unmarried with four children. And the father of her four children, you ask? None other than the head of the Socialist Party, Francois Hollande.


Fast forward five years, and Mr. Hollande and Ms. Royal, who were never wed, are now “separated,” and suddenly he’s a near-svelte 40 pounds lighter. Still a bachelor, Hollande now has a new female companion, and he’s has just been elected president of France. With the taste for soap operas like this, it’s no wonder that The Bold and the Beautiful and Days of Our Lives were dubbed and aired in prime time.

2. Style over substance is what matters in France.
The average Frenchman knows even less about how the global economy works than the average American does, and that’s frightening. University classes do not require anyone to take economics, and if you’re unfortunate enough to be forced to take an economics course for your degree, most of the professors are unreconstructed Trotskyites (the Trotskyite party, Lutte Ouvriere, had as part of its platform the abolition of unemployment, but that’s a rabbit hole to follow for another discussion). As a result of this profound ignorance, and general confusion about how much the modern world is economically interconnected, the French just decided that they didn’t like Sarkozy’s soap-operatic public life — leaving aside for the moment the whole Knots Landing aspect to the Socialist cast of characters.

3. The French are as evenly divided as the Americans
For most of the past 50 years, France has been governed by conservative politicians and governments descended from Charles De Gaulle’s original philosophical orientation. Of the past six elected presidents of France’s modern era (the 5th Republic), only one was from the left: the Socialist Francois Mitterrand. Now with this election, a second leftist will take power, but he will do so in a political landscape that has already shifted more to the left; this is the antithesis of what has been transpiring in the United States for the last several decades.

Today the political balance of power is fought amongst the 5 – 10 percent who define themselves as centrist and can tilt either way. We call them swing voters in the U.S. In France these were the ones who found Sarkozy’s style distasteful and changed the channel from Falcon Crest to Knots Landing.

Hollande + Trierweiler

4. The French still think it’s 1982.
Three decades ago, not only were the aforementioned nighttime dramas still airing, but governments could actually tax and spend with far less consequence than today. Hollande, the newly elected French president, has vowed to cut the retirement age from 62 to 60 years (increasing the cost, and therefore the taxes, of the pension system), hire tens of thousands additional government employees, and increase the minimum wage. All of which sounds simply wonderful. Really. Which brings us to the fifth and final point.

5. France is married to Germany.
Unfortunately, it’s an unhappy marriage, and as you can see from number one, the French aren’t really marriage material, and that doesn’t bode too well for the future of the republic.


With politics like this, every day is a cliffhanger in France — question is, does someone throw us a rope or do we disappear into the quicksand? Stay tuned.

This Cat Speaks French

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Category: Analyze, Featured

About the Author ()

Buck Jones is a writer and entrepreneur who lives in Paris. His first novel, The Influentials, will be published summer 2013.

Comments (4)

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  1. Jeffrey Stine says:

    ENCORE UNE CHOSE: I found Mr. Jones’s article to be very interesting, informative, and entertaining. Having read the whole thing, I have but one unanswered question: what is the over/under bet on the expected duration of the Sarkozy/Bruni marriage in a post-presidential world?

  2. Mohamed Lorino says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I think this sums it up best: “The living is a species of the dead and not a very attractive one.” by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.

  3. ParisOnTheHudson says:

    Can you please do one on the Le Pen Klan — excuse me, “clan”?

  4. Lyle Kornbleuth says:

    I’ve lived here for twenty years and French politics never cease to amaze me. I agree with Magali, I’d love to read a Le Pen version of this soap opera. I think that one will have significantly lower production values and more angry viewers but lord knows it will be fascinating….and sickening.