Everything you always wanted to know about adultery in France
Ok, I admit it. The title of this article is more provocative than this post will be. Don’t expect any juicy details or any personal admissions. But a study on morality in Europe and the United States reveals a huge difference that I would like to talk about today.
Do you remember a few days ago when I cited a great survey from the PEW Research Center? The study that quantified certain differences between the United States and Europe? Beyond the figures about networking in France, which I discussed in this article Networking in France and this article Travailler Dur pour Réussir aux Etats-Unis, the research institute uncovered stunning facts about morality, and adultery in France and the States in particular.
These figures illustrate a significant difference between adultery in France and adultery in the United States. In my table, I added Germany which falls somewhere between the two countries:
– Adultery is unacceptable for 84% of Americans (compared to 47% of the French)
– 40% of the French believe that it’s not a moral issue (compared to 10% of Americans)
Do you personally believe that married people having an affair is morally acceptable, non acceptable or it is not a moral issue? (source: PEW Research Center)
People fantasize about a French accent
I’ve lived outside of my birth country for 25 years now. I’m not Brigitte Bardot (when she was young) or Laetitia Casta. You should know that I’m not a hottie and it has been a very long time since guys have turned their heads to look at me when I pass by them on the street! But if you’re not French, you have no idea how much our little French accent is the stuff that dreams are made of…
If you believe a study conducted by Babbel magazine, the French accent is the sexiest in the world. Of those surveyed, 37% ranked the French accent highest, followed by Italian at only 19%. Babbel also asked what the sexiest language was. The result: once again, French (34%) topped Italian (24%).
But where does this reputation come from?
From the cinema, first of all.
I didn’t have to think for very long to recall recent American movies in which the hero went to Paris, the romantic city. Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big kissed on a bridge in Sex and the City. In Something’s Gotta Give, Nicholson and Keaton also reunited in Paris. In French Kiss, Meg Ryan meets a pseudo-Frenchman (played by Kevin Kline) on a plane…and of course he obviously proceeds to charm her. Even Harry Potter didn’t skimp out and presented us with Fleur Delacourt, racy, refined, and inaccessible…
History also provides some direction. The French court was famous for its Kings’ favorites: Madame de Montespan, Madame du Barry or Madame de Pompadour. But the Queens could also be promiscuous, as the American cinema aptly illustrated in Marie-Antoinette played by Kirsten Dunst.
19th-century French literature also contributes to this reputation. Here are a few random titles, some of which I even read at school: Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Madame Bovary, Thérèse Raquin, Le Diable au Corps, etc.
Is the reputation deserved?
OK, OK, the French do have a reputation of being naughty. And the examples coming from France today do nothing to dispute this reputation.
In 2014, a tabloid exposed the French President when he was leaving on a scooter to meet his mistress. You can read more here.
After François Mitterrand’s death, the head of state between 1981 and 1995, French people learned of the existence of another woman and a secret child. Details are here.
The newspapers caught wind in both cases, but other than making the headlines for a few weeks, nothing more happened.
What a difference when compared to American politicians ! Remember, during the 1990s President Clinton was almost impeached for having an affair with a White House intern.
Does this mean that all Frenchmen are skirt chasers?
A priori the French don’t cheat on their partners any more than other Europeans do. The most telling study on the subject is probably the one done by the French Institute of Public Option conducted for a dating site. In the 2014 l’Observatoire Européen de l’Infidélité (The European Observatory of Infidelity), the institute investigated European’s perceptions and behaviors relating to extra-marital affairs.
In this study, 55% of French men and 32% of French women acknowledge having cheated on their partner. These figures are comparable to Italy and slightly above Belgium and Spain. Interestingly, German women are the least faithful (43%).
% of people claiming to be unfaithful
What about the Americans?
In all cases they are the most emphatic on the subject. Cheating on a partner is unacceptable for 84% of them, compared to only 47% of the French. But are they really more faithful? The following figures don’t compare to those from the IFOP. Additionally, the range is very wide as 30% and 60% of Americans are supposed to be or have been unfaithful.
It would be easy to draw a hasty conclusion. I don’t know if Americans are more faithful or if German women are more unfaithful. But I’m at an age (somewhere in my forties!) where I’ve seen a few things: I know Germans, French people and Americans who are cheating on or have cheated on their spouses. But I also know many people who have never cheated on their partner.
In my opinion, there’s no reliable study on the subject. I can assume that some people would never answer the question honestly, sometimes so that they are not contradicting their moral values, or sometimes just to brag.
The biggest difference is the moral view of adultery
This is exactly what the PEW Research Center study indicated – 40% of French people don’t view adultery as a moral issue.
I found this explanation in one of my favorite books about France (They eat horses, don’t they? by Piu Marie Eatwell) , and I confess that I agree completely.
In France, everyone is entitled to his/her own secrets. Adultery is considered as a private sin, for sure, but not a public one. So when President Hollande’s liaison was revealed, 77% of the French said that this affair was “a private affair that was only Francois Hollande’s business”.
Foto credit by Attila Schmidt (featured image) and Voyagerix