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Is France ready for its trailblazing new first lady? (+video)

Valerie Trierweiler, France's first lady, is not married to President Hollande, and she plans to continue working as a journalist. 

By Staff writer / June 8, 2012

This May 6 photo shows French president-elect Francois Hollande waving to supporters with his companion Valerie Trierweiler as he celebrates his election victory in Bastille Square in Paris, France.

Francois Mori/AP

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Paris

Is Valerie Trierweiler a first lady, a first partner, a first companion, a first girlfriend, or a first journalist?

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A month after the election of François Hollande as president of France, the role of his significant other is a cultural work in progress. Ms. Trierweiler, a journalist for 22 years, twice married, mother of three, born into modest circumstances and who earned high marks in the tough world of French media, says the term "first lady" sounds old-fashioned, and that she will keep her job at the magazine Paris Match.

“I am willing to represent the French image and do the necessary smiling,” Trierweiler said this week as attention began to focus on her unorthodox decision to remain on the job. “But I won’t be a mere figurehead.”

The female partner of President Hollande, who won office running as a “normal guy,” says she herself will try to keep something of a normal working life, writing two articles a month, one of which will profile a foreign diplomat or celebrity. She won’t write on French politics, according to Paris Match senior editors, one of whom is a former Trierweiler husband.

Yesterday, her first article since Hollande’s election – an appreciative review of Eleanor Roosevelt, famous as an activist and social reformer, and someone who kept a public journal as US first lady – was being seen as a harbinger of a Trierweiler approach. 

Trierweiler takes over from Carla Bruni, a singer and former fashion model who married outgoing president Nicolas Sarkozy after his divorce while in office, and who proved to be more popular than he. 

France has never had an unmarried first lady, and the role in France is far less defined and official than in the US. Trierweiler wants to bring it down to earth. 
She said this week that working is not just something she wants to do, but with three daughters, needs to do.

A snippy press, a more accommodating public

Yet whether France is ready for a more assertive and independent first female, à la “Eleanor,” is hardly clear. L’Express asked this week if Trierweiler was “overdoing it” in her pronouncements. In the much-watched political puppet TV satire Les Guignols, she is depicted as bossy to Hollande’s shy persona, asking him in a hectoring fashion if he has finished typing her recent articles, urging him to fax out documents for her. Hollande in turn is often depicted as saying on important decisions, "let me check with my wife." 

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