International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, known as the "Great Seducer" in his home country of France, flunked out at seducing New York Judge Melissa C. Jackson this week. Instead, she sent him to Rikers Island pending further court appearances in the wake of a Sofitel maid's accusations that he attempted to force his charisma upon her before leaving for the airport and boarding a plane, where authorities arrested him.
I'm in no position to judge the facts of this case. Not only was I not in the hotel room, but my experience with Strauss-Kahn -- or "DSK," as he's known here in France -- is limited to having seen him on the cover of the newspaper France Soir in his capacity as presidential hopeful. I immediately texted to a French friend that the look Strauss-Kahn was giving in the cover photo made my skin crawl. But who am I to judge anything definitively with my gut instinct honed by thousands of years of human evolution? I think I'll let the State of New York apply a more objective test.
But as a Canadian-born political analyst and media commentator who has spent the bulk of her career in America and now lives and works in that same capacity in Paris, it's not the details of this case that I find striking or the most disturbing, but rather what the incident says more globally about French culture and the way things work here.
It would appear that this is France's first real sex scandal. Not that people in power here haven't previously behaved abominably. Jacques Chirac, for instance, once bragged that he loved many women despite being quite obviously married to his long-suffering Bernadette. Centrist President Valery Giscard d'Estaing is alleged to have fathered an extramarital love child with Christine de Veyrac, who's now a European Parliament member. Francois Mitterrand kept a second secret family at taxpayers' expense while he led the country, proving that not even taxpayer burden can justify public exposure of peccadilloes.