chauds lapins

As a francophile (and it’s not neccessarily always a positive predisposition, but I’m definitely not a francophobe!), I’ve read some of Stephen Clarke’s writings over the years. Often he is right on target about the French. Unfortunately, he has it exactly right in his recent oped piece, Droit du Dirty Old Men, in The New York Times about Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the French Elite.

Op-Ed Contributor

Droit du Dirty Old Men


Published: May 17, 2011


SINCE Sunday, when Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, was arrested on sexual assault charges in New York, French politicians have been loudly expressing their horror at his “violent” treatment at the hands of America’s criminal justice system. It must be a shock to them: the sight of a top French establishment figure being treated like an ordinary criminal is about as rare as a photo of the Queen of England in a bikini.

But they are not merely voicing their concern for an esteemed colleague; many of them are also thinking, “There but for the grace of God (or rather the grace of living in France and not the United States) go I.”

France may think it had a revolution, but in fact it just got a new, and even more powerful, elite.

This is why the French establishment sees Mr. Strauss-Kahn — rather than the traumatized chambermaid the police say he attacked — as the victim. She would have been reminded that it was her word against his, and frankly, whom would people believe? The witty, famous man with the influential friends, or the nobody?

The danger is, however, that their reputation as “chauds lapins” (hot rabbits), to use the French term, can give them a sense of impunity.

It’s all very Louis XIV.

The most telling parallel with the Strauss-Kahn case is that of Roman Polanski. When he was arrested in Switzerland in 2009, at the request of the American authorities, the whole of the French cultural establishment rose up to defend him.

All of which leads me to my belief that even if Dominique Strauss-Kahn is convicted and has to serve time, he will someday return to France, publish his autobiography (which will, of course, be adapted for the big screen by Mr. Polanski) and eventually be made a government minister. Minister of gender equality, perhaps?

Stephen Clarke is the author of “1,000 Years of Annoying the French.” A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 18, 2011, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Droit du Dirty Old Men.