French learn to talk about money as politicians reveal their wealth

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Liberacion front page

All of a sudden, French politicians are rushing to say how rich they are.

Monday was the deadline for all 38 ministers of the French government to reveal details of their net worth. Everything is out there—from cars to homes and even debt—in a nation that usually shies away from public discussion of assets. “Wealth, the end of a taboo,” proclaimed the front of page of French daily Libération, pictured above.

“People don’t talk about money,” sociologist Janine Mossuz-Lavau observed of the French people. “It remains a lot more taboo than sex.”

And yet, there was the minister of housing, Cécile Duflot, admitting that she drives a 14-year-old Renault Twingo and the minister of the elderly, Michèle Delaunay, disclosing €10,000 ($13,042) worth of watches. The minister of industry, Arnaud Montebourg, owns 50% of a parking lot in Dijon and an Eames chair worth €4,200 ($5,477).

Even politicians not yet required to disclose their finances have done so, eager to avoid public fury in the wake of several scandals. In a recent survey (pdf), 77% of French said their politicians are “rather corrupted.”

But the disclosures haven’t gone smoothly. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, head of the Left Party, emphasized his awkwardness by listing not only his belongings but his body features: “I’m 1.74 meters tall. I weigh 79 kilograms. My shirt size is 41/42. My trouser size is 42, and my shoe-size is a 42,” Mélenchon wrote on his blog. Eva Joly, a presidential candidate last year, noted that she owns several kayaks, “which are very expensive because they are made of carbon.”

The disclosures have created a sensation in French media, with each asset, no matter how mundane, receiving extensive attention. “French people do not like to talk about the money they own,” Mossuz-Lavau, the sociologist, told Libération, “but the paradox is that they love knowing how much the others have.”