Why Francois Hollande needs to learn to swagger
- 8 September 2012
- From the section Magazine
French President Francois Hollande has been in power little more than 100 days but his approval ratings have already dropped below 50%. Does he need to start getting a little more pushy?
It is often said that it is only the well-heeled who can holiday in St Tropez, but sit in a bar in the port here for just five minutes and you will soon see it is really the high-heeled who frequent this place.
Every second woman here is precariously balanced on needle-thin stilettos, and she wears them not exactly confidently - but nonetheless with a fixed determination. Her head is held high and her mouth curved in a slight, but distinctly self-satisfied smile. Or perhaps that is just the botox.
"Good surgeon," nods the man sitting next to me in the cafe, appreciating the designer-draped, tanned and toned Barbie doll who is stilt walking past our table. Her bra-less breasts are as pert as a pair of genetically modified pomegranates and appear to turn the corner a good two seconds before the rest of her.
She looks about 45, which in St Tropez means she is probably at least 60. But she, like all her clones, clattering and teetering behind and in front of her, is out to impress.
She may well have just walked down the gang plank of one of the scores of luxury yachts that are moored here, or she might equally have just caught the bus in from one of the neighbouring camp sites, but either way she has come to St Tropez in the hope that as she passes, you and I will look up from our pastis and our newspapers and say - "Wow, look at that!"
Just along the Riviera coast, President Hollande has also been taking a moderate summer break, dutifully staying in the official presidential retreat of Fort de Bregancon. It is an austere and cramped castle that President de Gaulle described as a loathsome and mosquito-ridden "nightmare" and to which he refused to return.
But Hollande, the self-styled President Normal, is doing everything he can not to draw attention to himself.
Not for him the private jets and billionaire yachts favoured by his predecessor, Nicolas "Bling Bling" Sarkozy. Not for him the Ray Bans and Rolex and the raunchy photos of sun-drenched kisses with pop star models like Carla Bruni.
The celebrity magazine VSD did publish a photo of him dutifully taking his first dip in the Mediterranean sea with his partner Valerie Trierweiler. But in his serviceable, blue, knee-length shorts, the waistband slightly hidden by the sun-starved but food-filled overhang of his stomach, he looked so much like everyone's dad that the best headline VSD could come up with was: "Francois Hollande - normal even down to his swimming trunks."
But being unremarkable has come at a cost to the fledgling president.
His approval ratings continue to slip and a new poll suggests 68% of French people feel pessimistic about their country's prospects - the highest level ever in the initial months of a new presidency.
Being the grey man and simply blending in may have been a crowd pleaser during the election campaign when the electorate was gorged on the frenetic excesses of the omnipresent and flashy Sarkozy, but now he has taken up office, Hollande's rigid normality has started to look like indecision.
In St Tropez, where the port is already glutted with the flash and glitz of billionaire's yachts, a swarm of people has now crowded onto the jetty to drool over the arrival of yet another massive hunk of floating steel, as it expertly crams itself in between the other boats, staking its claim among the notable.
In other parts of France, public displays of wealth are uniformly deplored as abhorrent and, well, American. But in this town, you just have to show them what you have got.
The French people rejected Nicolas Sarkozy partly for his showiness and his bossiness but they nonetheless always demand their president should look strong and stand out. Perhaps Francois Hollande could benefit from a short stay here.
Until the 1950s, St Tropez was really just a small fishing village but ever since the arrival of Brigitte Bardot, this place has reinvented itself as a star-studded hotspot, the place to be if you want to be a person who counts.
It talks the talk and it walks the walk, and if your pastis costs you 12 euros (£10, $15) and comes with lukewarm water and no ice, well that is just the way it is meant to be here.
On my final morning in St Tropez, the mistral wind has ripped the warmth from the air, and I can feel its sharp and spiteful breath on my skin.
The bars are emptying and the holidaymakers are all are heading home where hefty tax hikes, spiralling public debt and exploding unemployment await them.
There is a big storm brewing in France. President Hollande had better learn to swagger, and fast.
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