Long ago, when I had just arrived in France and was working with IBM, a French colleague told me a trivial parable that illustrates perfectly a fundamental difference in mentality between the French and Americans. In the USA, when a humble working citizen sees a rich man driving by in a fabulous automobile, he says to himself, inevitably: "What must I do in order to own a vehicle like that?" In France, in a similar situation, the humble working citizen is likely to say to himself: "Why the hell is that son of a bitch parading around in a flashy vehicle instead of driving a cheap old car like the rest of us?" Well, the following banal photo has provided a pretext for demonstrating that this mentality still exists in France, indeed more than ever… no doubt as a reaction to the bling-bling behavior of the present president.
We see Dominique Strauss-Kahn—current president of the IMF [International Monetary Fund]—and his wife Anne Sinclair about to step into a Porsche driven by their friend Ramzi Khiroun. This photo was taken on 28 April 2011 in front of the Parisian residence of the Strauss-Kahn couple, who have been living in Washington over the last three and a half years.
So, what's so exceptional about this photo? It is becoming more and more apparent that DSK (as he's generally called in France) will in fact be stepping down soon from his IMF job in order to become a candidate of the Parti socialiste in next year's French presidential election. And voting-opinion polls have indicated that DSK is highly likely to win. In other words, that left-wing individual seen stepping into a black Porsche could well be the future president of the French République. And that's why many French people have been annoyed by that photo. Why? Well, it's morally wrong for a leftist Frenchman to move around Paris in a luxury automobile! The photo transmits an incoherent message of the way in which a leftist presidential candidate should be behaving. It would have been infinitely better to see the Strauss-Kahn couple (who, in fact, are quite wealthy) catching a cab, or maybe even stepping into the Paris métro.
Political anecdote. During the 1974 presidential election (mentioned in my previous post, about the red Coluche roses), the journalist Françoise Giroud embarrassed Valéry Giscard d'Estaing by asking him if he knew the current price of a métro ticket. He had no idea, in fact, but that didn't prevent him from being elected. On the other hand, his haughty aloofness with respect to the realities of the ordinary people's existence probably played a role in Giscard's defeat in 1981. In any case, ostentatious signs of wealth (particularly when the wealth in question is basically money-based and recently-acquired) can be a handicap for would-be political leaders in France.