François Hollande is now the president-elect of France. To many people outside France, he is an unknown, a man who literally emerged from the shadows.
As people across the world scramble to read up on France’s new leader, here are a few facts you almost certainly did not know about the rather obscure President Hollande:
1. He’s no longer Mr. Flabby.
The French are a cruel people when it comes to inventing nicknames. For instance, the British – amongst other, unprintable names — are called ‘rosbifs’ (in reference to their love of roast beef). Americans, thankfully, fare far worse. Even politicans do not escape, Chriac was called ‘La girouette’ (weather vane) for his propensity to change positions overnight with the prevailing political current. Sarkozy’s various nicknames are quite vulgar, with the least offensive being ‘Hyper-President’ (the hyperactive president).
Indeed, Hollande was known in French society as ‘Flanby’, a type of woobly, beige, and somewhat bland but very sugary French dessert. Not very positive or very presidential.
To combat the image of him as an overweight, middle-aged man, Hollande went on a diet and lost 26 pounds. In the process he had to buy a whole new wardrobe, but the change was effective in revamping his physical image. Even if he still looks like a provincial head-teacher.
2. That’s not his wife.
Actually, that woman he passionately embraces (French style) at elections rallies, is not actually his wife. It’s his girlfriend.
France now has a new frst lady, but one who is not married to the president. One could almost say that the president has a first girlfriend, not a wife. Quelle Horreur.
It is interesting to speculate as to what would happen in a smiliar U.S. context. Imagine if Barack Obama was merely “In a Relationship” with Michelle, would the electorate in the U.S. be comfortable? Or, would he be frogmarched to the altar to the tune of "Yankee Doodle”?
In France, however, politicians’ private lives are never mentioned. This is a long-held tradition dating back decades, even ceturies. French politics has therefore largely avoided the highly personal smear campaigns of Anglo-Saxon counterparts.
Will the pair marry now that Hollande is president? Only time will tell. However, it will not be the first French presidential marriage, Nicolas Sarkozy already broke that record when he married Carla Bruni.
3. He is an ÉNA graduate.
To a non-French audience, the fact that Hollande is an ENA graduate is a virtual unknown. Essentially, the ÉNA (National School of Administration) is a finishing school for very high-flying civil servants and politicians.
It provides two years of training, post-university, in how to govern effectively. At the end of the course, all of the graduating twenty-somethings go on to high posts within French ministries. The entry exams are incredibly tough and only the brightest obtain a place. It is very much comparable to Harvard Business School or Harvard Law School in its production of political elites.
The school has given France three presidents since it was created in 1945, as well as scores of minor politicians and important civil servants. Interestingly, Nicolas Sarkozy is not an ÉNA graduate but Hollande is. Therefore, paradoxically, Francois Hollande is more of an establishment candidate than the former president.
4. Hollande has a taste for burgers.
A very interesting fact about France is that it is one of the largest European markets for MacDonald’s. Even as the French rail against ‘Anglo-Saxons’ and globalization, many of their compatriots are tucking into some of America’s finest culinary exports.
Hollande is no exception and apparently enjoys a burger or two. Stemming from his days having to make ends meet as a student and working in fast food, the new president “has retained a taste for burgers” according to his girlfriend, Valérie Trierweiler.
Maybe Hollande and Obama could head down to Barack’s favorite fast-food joints when Hollande first visits DC. One connoisseur showing another connoisseur the delights of American burger cuisine. Except, in an election year, that would be politically sensitive. Surely, Obama would wish to avoid having a cozy chat with a socialist in a quiet booth, especially if he is a French Socialist. Hollande will likely have to show himself around the place.
5. Hollande is the only world leader (so far) to have been congratulated on his election by Admiral General Aladeen.
Sacha Baron’s character from The Dictator has already extended the warm hand of friendship to Hollande, following his success in the presidential election. Speaking to him from an undisclosed location, Aladeen said: “Congratulations to the new President, Francois Hollandaise, on your victory over a midget.” Yet, even in fiction, Hollande is haunted by the reality he may have been second choice, as Aladeen says: “However, the only French President I acknowledge is Dominique Strauss-Kahn. You should have picked him people of France. He has some of the best rape excuses I have ever heard.”
Touché, Admiral General Aladeen.