Excuse Our French: The Dominique Strauss-Kahn Affair and NYC’s Dirty French Laundry

Mr. Ripert took objection with American characterizations of French attitudes, noting the media as far less conspiratorial than Americans are being led to believe. “I don’t think the legitimate French media are promoting this kind of behavior.” Reiterating the need for a fair trial, Mr. Ripert noted: “Even if he was set up, the guy didn’t do the right thing,” referring to recent evidence that Mr. Strauss-Kahn did in fact have sexual relations with a maid at the Sofitel Hotel. “He did something that was not right. Even if he got set up, he’s not supposed to cheat on his wife. It’s a scandal, obviously, and it reflects poorly on French people and on France. They believe that he did what he did, which we know. They’re not happy about it.”

Julien Farel, a French-born hairstylist and proprietor of Midtown East’s celebrity-frequented Julien Farel Salon, also sees from a perspective contrary to that being propagated by those in France: “I think Dominique Strauss-Kahn should be treated as any other sex offender,” Mr. Farel explained via e-mail, calling conspiratorial cries “absurd.” “He has a reputation as a ‘player,'” said Mr. Farel. “He has ruined his reputation with Americans, who have lost all respect for him as a man and as a professional. [They] certainly won’t stand for it and neither will I!”

Won’t they?

“I think there’s a pride in France that [sex lives and politics] are unrelated,” Mr. Gross argues, “that your being qualified to be an elected official has nothing to do with your relationship with your wife, whether you’re faithful or not. All of that seems like silly, Hollywood, phony American politics.”

French laws are stridently in favor of the accused when it comes to sexual harassment; Americans are encouraged to come forward with anything suspicious, especially when it involves an abuse of power. When asked about policies with his own employees, Mr. Gross agreed that sexual harassment in the workplace was likely a more touchy subject in France than it is in America, due conversely to relaxed norms about what’s passable.

Mr. Ripert admits of France that “power can be abused, in the workplace” admitting a preference for “the American rules, fair laws. I don’t think anyone who’s being sexually abused would be able to live with that. In the workplace? Someone who’s harassed by his boss or his supervisor? It’s terrible,” pausing, and then: “In any culture, it’s unacceptable.”

Some are flexible on that count. In the soon-to-be-released La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life, Elaine Sciolino, a correspondent and former Paris bureau chief for The New York Times, notes: “Sexuality always lies at the bottom of the toolbox; in everyday life, in business, and even in politics. For the French, this is part of the frisson of life.” She later writes: “The French still imbue everything they do with a deep affection for sensuality, subtlety, mystery, and play. Even as their traditional influence in the world shrinks, they soldier on … [Seduction] is more than game; it is an essential strategy for France’s survival as a country of influence.”

Ms. Sciolino lives in Paris, of course. According to Wikipedia, she was born in Buffalo, N.Y.

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