News & Politics

Elaine Sciolino Talks Obama, Strauss-Kahn, and the Art of Seduction

The author of “La Seduction” talks about Strauss-Kahn’s “women problems” and why Washington has a lot to learn about flirting.

Buffalo-born Elaine Sciolino is a serious Francophile. She’s also a serious journalist (she’s the Paris correspondent for the New York Times)and author. Her latest book carries the intriguing title La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life. Dominique Strauss-Kahn is in the book, and Sciolino has strong opinions about the former IMF chief, who was accused of sexually assaulting a New York hotel housekeeper. The charges were dropped, and he returned to Paris with his wife, Anne Sinclair.

“His women problems were very well known in Paris,” says Sciolino, who was in Washington to speak at the French Ambassador’s residence. “I would often ask my French friends about his private behavior. We’re not talking about him having a fling or casual affair, but about a pattern of behavior that was widely known to be aberrant.”

Sciolino says that the French use the word “seduce” not necessarily as a sexual term, but more in the way Americans might use words like “charm,” “attract,” or “persuade.” It is, she says, “absolutely not” about sex.

Strauss-Kahn “was considered a very seductive person. A seductive professor, a very seductive head of IMF,” she says. “But people now say publicly that he suffers from compulsive behavior.” She adds that in Paris, “Everybody asks why does she [Sinclair] stay with him? She has to tell her story. Everyone else is an armchair psychologist.”

Another person mentioned in the book is President Barack Obama, who lost points with the French in 2009 when he declined an invitation to dinner at the Élysée Palace with President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“The French loved Obama because of his beauty. They looked at him as so gorgeous: his physical presence. His way of moving. The way he uses his hands and fingers, and the way he talked. The game of using words is seductive for the French.”

Are the French no longer in love with Obama? “Well,” Sciolino says, “today nobody’s in love with anybody.”

And what about Washington and the art of seduction? Is it practiced well here? In a word, no. “In Washington when you go to a dinner party, you are going to work. You show up, you network. Little of this translates to the French. At Washington dinner parties, you don’t flirt. At Paris dinner parties, you flirt. You take the time for pleasure. That’s what seduction is.”