Not in My White House: French-Style Divorce Unthinkable Here

"There would probably be more sensationalism in the U.S. and a lot more ink spilled," he said. "But it would be difficult to remove a president simply because of divorce."

The French Have a Word for It

For the French public, news of the divorce is unlikely to come as a shock. Their presidents and spouses have a long tradition of leading separate lives.

Former President Francois Mitterrand not only lived apart from his wife, Danielle, but he maintained a secret second family. His mistress even turned up in public at his funeral.

"The French thought it was a bit weird, but did not get too worked up about the whole thing," said Anne-Marie Gustavson, a high school teacher who leads cultural exchanges between students at New Jersey's Peddie School and her native France. "They found it mildly amusing,"

President Jacques Chirac, who stepped down when Sarkozy was elected this year, had hinted at a number of affairs. He and his wife appeared together only at presidential functions.

The Sarkozys have had a tumultuous marriage, staying together despite public affairs and rumors of infidelity. Both have children from previous marriages.

"As far as the divorce goes, the French tend to keep private and public life more separate than in the U.S.," said Gustavson.

In contrast, Americans hold their presidents to a much higher ethical standard, according to presidential scholar Russell Riley, who teaches at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs.

"The big difference between us and most European countries is that we look to the president to be a kind of moral leader," Riley said.

"There is still a stigma associated with divorce that would make it impossible for a president to withstand the terrific political consequences," he said. "It's not impeachable, but the bottom would drop out of his support."

C'est la Vie

He said Americans would also worry about distractions surrounding the divorce for the president, rather than judging the couple as a "moral failure."

"We have an idyllic notion of our political leadership," said Riley. "We prefer the ideal, and if we can't get it, there better be a good explanation."

French pollster CSA released a poll this week that found four of five French citizens consider the Sarkozy split unimportant. About 92 percent said the news had no bearing on their opinion of the president.

Cecilia Sarkozy, in an interview Thursday in L'Est Republican, even spoke openly about her 2005 affair that led to a temporary breakup with Sarkozy.

"I met someone, I fell in love, I left" the marriage, she told the newspaper.

Despite the laissez-faire attitude with which the French regard their leaders' personal lives, Sarkozy's constituents will be watching how he handles the current union crisis and other issues of import.

"Personally, I think that it is terribly difficult to live constantly in the eyes of the public, and I am not surprised nor would I think less of Sarkozy and his wife because of the divorce," said French-born Gustavson.

"But," she said, "you can be sure that I will be very critical of our president's political life if I feel that he is not serving the French people well."

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