Reinventing the Role of First Lady in France

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: One world figure who actually is on Twitter is the new First Lady of France, Valérie Trierweiler. Her account has more than 70,000 followers. Trierweiler isn't your typical First Lady. For one thing she and President Francois Hollande are not married. Also, Trierweiler is a journalist who plans to continue her own career. She'd had cover politics for a long a time but her bosses at the weekly magazine "Paris Match"  say she'll now cover arts and culture instead to avoid conflicts of interest. Her first article "On a new beat,"  is a review of a book about Eleanor Roosevelt who herself wrote a newspaper column while she was First Lady. "Will you look at that,"  Trierwieler writes in her review, "a First Lady who is also a journalist isn't a novelty."  New York Times correspondent Elaine Sciolino is based in Paris. She says Trierweiler has come in for criticism about her choice to continue as a journalist.

Elaine Sciolino: There is a perceived conflict of interest because even if she writes about culture and the arts, she can be perceived to use her influence to change the President's mind. There is a Ministry of Culture in France. We do not have such a ministry in the United States. And she is a journalist who has been a journalist working for 22 years. She says she has to earn a living because she's supporting her three teenage sons, and that is admirable. But how to reconcile that with earning her living as a journalist is going to be extremely difficult.

Werman: Now there are also other aspects of the relationship between Trierwieler and Hollande that are less unconventional. They're not married for one thing. We alluded to that earlier. Does being domestic partners rather than Mr. and Ms. work for a French First couple?

Sciolino: There's not really a problem in France because the French really don't care very much about private morality. I find it very interesting that nobody during the entire French presidential campaign asked Francois Hollande, "Do you believe in the institution of marriage?"  He was the partner of Segoline Royal who ran for president in 2007, and he's the father of their four children. They were never married. He is not married to Valerie Trierwieler either. And it could pose problems, if not inside France, is it going to pose problems when they go to the Vatican or they go to Saudi Arabia or they go to Egypt or even I wasn't arguing, but if they go to Blair House in Washington DC?

Werman: Now what about the kind of public morality, because the previous French president Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni embraced celebrity. They were associated with bling. And the French public kind of found that distasteful. With Trierwieler being a reporter for Paris Match is France kind of getting a continuation of a celebritized Presidential Office?

Sciolino: France is not getting a continuation of the celebritized presidency because Hollande and Trierwieler are very, very different from Sarkozy and Carla Bruni. They live very modestly. Right now they live in a 2-bedroom $4,000/month rental in un-chic part of Paris. She likes to ride her bike. He has been dubbed "Mr. Normal"  because he promised to be a normal president. And he wants to take trains instead of planes. So you're going to see a different style. And what I find the most interesting is they're trying to have it all. They're trying to stay true their own values, that they don't have to be married. They don't have to live in the Elysee Palace. They don't have to change their lifestyles. But once you become a head of state and a head of state of a very important country you have to change. It's not normal to be the President of France. You have to embrace all sorts of protocol and pump and state dinners. And that requires growing up to a certain extent. [laughs]

Werman: Elaine Sciolino is a Paris-based correspondent for the New York Times. Her most recent book is "La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life."  Elaine, thank you very much.

Sciolino: Thank you Marco.