© 2022
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
WAMC 1400 AM will be off of the air Sept. 29 and 30.

How To Address France's New, Unmarried First Lady


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, he turned heads and won a million dollars as a contestant on the reality show "Survivor." Yul Kwon turned that win into a career as a television journalist and host. He's the latest guest in our Game Changer series where we're recognizing Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, Americans who have changed the game in their respective fields. That's ahead.

But first, it's time for the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh look at the week's news with a panel of women thinkers, writers and journalists. Today, in a special shop, we'll talk about the protocol for today's very modern families.

Now, there are strict rules of etiquette for diplomats and others who deal closely with the political elite. Most people probably don't even think about such, but then it happens. It's time to plan a formal wedding or other such event, so just what is the correct way to refer to unmarried significant others, lovers, even baby mamas and daddies of world leaders?

That question is in the news now that Francois Hollande has become president of France. He is unmarried, but has lived with the same woman for a number of years now, so should she be invited to international events and what should we call her? And does it matter?

We'll talk about this with Pamela Druckerman, who joins us from Paris. She's a journalist and the author of "Lust in Translation: Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee." Her latest book is "Bringing up Bebe."

Pamela Eyring is the president of the Protocol School of Washington. That's an organization that teaches business etiquette and international protocol and she joins us from Columbia, South Carolina.

With us from New York, Harriette Cole. She is the president of Harriette Cole Media. She is an etiquette expert and a contributor to "The Today Show."

Welcome to all of you. Thank you for joining us.

PAMELA DRUCKERMAN: Hi, Michel. Thanks.

PAMELA EYRING: Great to be here.

HARRIETTE COLE: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: And, as we mentioned, Francois Hollande was inaugurated on Tuesday. He and the woman who has been called his companion, Valerie Trierweiler, will move into the Elysee Presidential Palace together. They are the first unmarried couple to enter the palace.

So, Pamela Druckerman, you live in France. How is she being described by the media there? What do they call her? What do they plan to call her?

DRUCKERMAN: Well, she is considered to be the first lady. She's known in the media, usually, as his companion. I've even seen her referred to once as his concubine, which is actually a legal status in France. It's...

MARTIN: It's a legal status?

DRUCKERMAN: ...a civil partnership.

MARTIN: So it's not...


MARTIN: They're not being mean, then?

DRUCKERMAN: No. It's not - sort of ancient Chinese thing. It's an actual legal status. It carries some legal rights and it means, essentially, that you're living together and that you can break up the status anytime.

MARTIN: Apparently, the protocol school...


MARTIN: Oh, go ahead, Pamela. You were going to - Pamela Druckerman...

DRUCKERMAN: Yeah. But the French really accept it. I mean, I have to say, in the French media, most of the stories about her status have been about what the foreign media is saying about it. The French themselves - you see it in the polls. Seventy-nine percent of French people think it's not at all important that they aren't married.

MARTIN: Well, and - you know, you've also written about this previously and it is known that Francois Mitterrand, the previous - prior president of France, had a longtime relationship outside of marriage. He remained married to his wife, but he had a longtime relationship with a woman outside of that marriage and they both appeared at his official state funeral. And did that raise eyebrows, Pamela?

DRUCKERMAN: That absolutely raised eyebrows in France and that relationship - that sort of second family - was kept hidden during most of Mitterrand's presidency, so there are rules governing French presidents and how they have to behave.

But Hollande is basically - and his concubine, or his partner - they're basically obeying them. They're doing what ordinary French people do, which is live together in serious, committed, usually monogamous, relationships without being married.

So - and these two are really part of the French political establishment. They're people who've been on the scene, who know the rules, who know the social codes and much more than their predecessors did. Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy, who really were - it wasn't that they - they were basically too flashy and the thing about Hollande's partner is that she's extremely discreet and she's sophisticated and she's elegant and people are really responding well to that in France, I think.

MARTIN: Pamela Eyring, the Protocol School of Washington has an entire book on proper forms of address in official situations, but I'm guessing that people consult it for formal events in their own lives. Well, what do you recommend? How would Miss Trierweiler be referred to if she were to accompany the president on a trip on an official visit?

EYRING: Well, I think we start with what we call a courtesy title and, because she is not married to him, then if she has explained that she wants to be titled as his companion, then that's what we'll refer to.

MARTIN: And - but I understand, Harriette Cole, that you're not a fan of this term, companion. Why is that?

COLE: It feels very casual to me and, you know, this is from an American point of view. I will say that I'm not at all surprised that France would be the leader in having elected a president who has a companion or an unmarried partner. I prefer the term partner, simply because it represents equality in a relationship. To me, companion seems like someone who could also be put aside, but I do understand that this is an American interpretation.

But, if the person were coming to America, I would prefer, and his partner, Ms. - how do you say her surname?

MARTIN: Valerie Trierweiler.

COLE: Right. So - and his partner, Valerie Trierweiler.

MARTIN: So, you know, Pamela Eyring, you know, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, also has a companion/partner with whom he's not married. She's also a high profile figure in her own right. The kind of - what would you say? Sort of entertaining guru, Sandra Lee. Pamela, how are they referred to? What do they do? What do we do here in the U.S.?

EYRING: Well, I like what Harriette was saying. We're not used to that word, companion, in the United States. A companion could be just a friend or it could be a pet, so you know, I understand that difference and I agree that, you know, I would prefer to see them use, when they're at least in the United States, the term partner, because it does show more equality and it seems like more long term, although he has been with her a couple of years.

But what we're seeing a lot of here in the United States is these different titles. Women and men or partners that are both men or both women - they're keeping their own names, and so when we're sending out, like, invitations, we're addressing them separately, meaning their names separately on the envelope.

MARTIN: You know, Harriette Cole, I'm guessing that people - because people know that you're an etiquette expert, you've written about this - that people - I'm betting that friends ask you this question all the time, so I'll go ahead. What do you do? How do you address, say, for an invitation for a formal event? Say, a family member who may have a child by someone with whom - with - but he's not married to? Do you automatically invite both parties? Do you - what if they have an intimate relationship, but they don't live together? That's also becoming increasingly common. What do you do?

COLE: So let me be clear about your question. It is if there were a wedding or some kind of formal event?

MARTIN: A formal occasion in which, you know, you're going to sort of - you have to make some choices. It's not like a potluck, everybody comes - show up.

COLE: Right. Well, I think that you make the decision as to - when you look at your whole guest list, how many people can you have? You know, you shrink it down. Normally, that's what you do, anyhow, but when you come to a family unit, even if it is not the traditional family unit, to the best of your ability, you invite everyone. On that invitation, though, you need to name each person.

Now, you need to be sensitive to whether or not everyone gets along because, in some instances, it is the father who gets along with the child, but not with the ex-wife, for example. You need to be aware of those kinds of relationships to determine - do you invite everyone, even if they don't live in the same house? Like it was mentioned at Mitterrand's funeral, you know, is it OK to have these other people to attend that event?

You need to bring your awareness, your sensitivity, to the occasion. Ask, if you are uncertain, what they would prefer and then, on the invitation, name each person who is invited so there's no question.

MARTIN: And, finally, Pamela Druckerman, before we leave this subject, what about the question - this is a question that most of us, as just regular people, are not going to face, but the head of state or head of government does have responsibilities internationally. What are the French media saying about how the question of their travel - the first couple traveling to places like Saudi Arabia, you know, or for example, perhaps visiting, you know, the Vatican, which has a very particular - sort of conservative social values that they prefer to uphold, particularly in, you know, public events? How is that to be handled?

DRUCKERMAN: Well, the president's companion, Valerie, has said that, you know, that could be a problem and she's, you know, prepared to sort of address it when it comes to that, but I think, you know, as she said, there are more pressing problems facing France at this moment than how to sort of - you know, whether or not she gets to appear before the pope and there are more pressing problems to French people, as well.

So she's sort of taken a we'll-cross-that-bridge-when-we-come-to-it approach and I think, you know, as someone in the French media said, you know, no one checks - when the Saudi princes come to France, they come with, you know, lots and lots of wives and no one checks to make sure they all have their papers in order.

So I think they're sort of playing it cool and they're coasting on public opinion being very positive and trying to sort of face down the big questions at hand and I think that makes them look serious and smart and sophisticated and they're taking the high road and I think that's a good place for them.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our visit to the Beauty Shop and we're talking about the protocol as families evolve. We're joined by a few etiquette gurus.

We have with us journalist Pamela Druckerman. She's written about relationships kind of internationally. Harriette Cole is president of Harriette Cole Media. She's also an etiquette expert who's written etiquette books and guides. Pamela Eyring is president of the Protocol School of Washington.

So, Harriette, let's talk about - the personal lives of politicians does become public fodder. Right now, the former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is on trial for allegedly misusing campaign donations to support and then hide his then pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter.

And part of the reaction against John Edwards has to be due to the fact that his wife, Elizabeth, was fighting cancer and it was just a very painful, you know, episode. I'll just play a short clip from Elizabeth Edwards on "The Today Show" back in 2010 reading from her memoir about the decision to end her marriage. Here it is.


ELIZABETH EDWARDS: I knew I could no longer be John's wife. It was a sad and terrifying decision. I've been trying to reinvent the role of wife for the last two years, trying to find a place where I could be happy and still be John's wife, despite his infidelity. Each day, it seemed another piece of my history chipped away. There was little comfort or satisfaction. There was no peace.

MARTIN: Harriette, I'm going to give you the first word on this. There are lot of people who are arguing that John Edwards is really on trial for being a jerk as opposed to really any finding of the law and, obviously, that's what a trial is for. But, from an etiquette perspective, some would say that he actually did the right thing to try to hide this.

COLE: Well, let's start with he shouldn't have done this.

MARTIN: Well, yeah.

COLE: I mean, he used such poor judgment and, when we think about someone running for president in America, what we look for is what kind of integrity and dignity and, you know, that the candidate has and how the person moves through the world, what kinds of decisions the person makes.

And I do believe that America and much of the world are up in arms about John Edwards' behavior because it was so unkind and unthinking when he had a dying wife and he's running for president. I mean, just the manners of it - it couldn't be worse manners.

I think, in a way, he's on trial for having such heinous behavior and we're angry with him. We're hurt for his wife and it's interesting. When you contrast that to other parts of the world, like we just talked about France, living with someone, that's very different from cheating on your dying wife. It's just despicable behavior and we don't like it, so we want him to be on trial for it. Whether or not it is illegal, it is illegal in our hearts.

MARTIN: Pamela Eyring, we happened to catch you in South Carolina, where the former governor, Mark Sanford, was caught having an affair with a woman and that seems to have pretty much ruined his career, at least, you know, to this point. And I just wondered about how that is sort of viewed now. Do you think that people still feel that his personal conduct has bearing on his public performance?

EYRING: I do think so. I'm finding that, over the past three decades, actually, the protocol of politicians - you know, we see their personal life and their professional life as one. It's basically the expectations we have of our politicians, especially if we've elected them into that office. And it comes down to trust, so when you break that trust like John Edwards has by having a mistress and a baby mama or whatever you want to call it, you know, that infidelity, like Harriette was talking about, it just - it ruins their reputation in their professional lives because we don't see those separately, mostly, in America. We see them as one. And when you're in public office, you know, you're held to those standards and those expectations.

MARTIN: Pamela Druckerman, you actually wrote a whole book about infidelity internationally and how it is viewed, particularly for public figures. And what is your sense of this?

DRUCKERMAN: Well, I actually see it a bit differently. I think that the rules have been changing a lot in America. You know, it used to be you were out of the running for being a president if it turned out, as it did with Gary Hart, that you had had an extramarital affair.

And the bar has risen quite a lot. Now, you have to have actually done something illegal around the affair for it to really officially disqualify you and I think John Edwards is on trial not for having an extramarital affair, but for using a lot of campaign money - possible campaign money - to pay for it. And I think that's a kind of tribute and testament to the evolving standards of Americans and the fact that, you know, we are becoming a bit more realistic about what a 57 year old or a 58 year old man - you know, what happens to him in the course of a long life.

I'm certainly not justifying John Edwards' indiscretions or behavior at all, but I think, as a country, we're coming to realize that marriage is long and, you know, in real life, people don't always break up or get divorced because somebody has an affair and presidents - you know, or potential presidents aren't necessarily - shouldn't necessarily be held to that standard, either. So I think it's quite good that what he's being tried for is an actual crime, a potential crime.

MARTIN: I think we have to leave it there for now. Unfortunate because we wanted to talk about the whole question of when you draw the line on the past. Did you know that some love letters between President Obama and a former college girlfriend surfaced recently are included in an upcoming biography? I don't know. Harriette, I think I may have time for a brief comment from you. What do you think about that?

COLE: Well...

MARTIN: Is that bad manners or is it fair game if you're going to run for president?

COLE: If you're going to run for president, pretty much everything is fair game. I think the good news is, so far, we've only heard that he had good manners when the woman said that she loved him and perhaps that wasn't his response. He said, thank you. That is never exactly what you want to hear, but the president, thus far, has shown that he has good manners in his relationships and I think that we can appreciate that.

MARTIN: What a relief. Harriette Cole is the president of Harriette Cole Media. She is an etiquette expert. She's a contributor to "The Today Show." She pens the nationally syndicated advice column "Sense and Sensibility." She was with us from NPR's New York Bureau.

Also with us, Pamela Eyring, the president of the Protocol School of Washington. That's an organization that teaches business etiquette and international protocol around the world. We caught up with her in Columbia, South Carolina.

And Pamela Druckerman is a journalist and author of "Lust in Translation: Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee." Her latest book is "Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting." She was with us from Paris.

Ladies, thank you all so much.

EYRING: Thank you.

DRUCKERMAN: Thank you, Michel.

COLE: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.