'Lust in Translation' Explores World of Infidelity Pamela Druckerman's book Lust in Translation examines infidelity around the world. She finds that Americans tend to take a much harder line against marital infidelity than the people of many other nations.
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'Lust in Translation' Explores World of Infidelity

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'Lust in Translation' Explores World of Infidelity

'Lust in Translation' Explores World of Infidelity

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Turns out you can tell a lot about a country by the way its people cheat.

The writer Pamela Druckerman traveled the globe talking with people about adultery, and she collected what she learned in the book, "Lust in Translation." The book begins with a wealth of colorful terms used to describe the act of cheating.

Ms. PAMELA DRUCKERMAN (Author, "Lust in Translation."): My favorite one is the Dutch one, which is pinching the cat in the dark.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Ms. DRUCKERMAN: I never quite figured out what that means. In Taiwan, they say a man is trying to stand in two boats at the same time. In England, it's of course a sports metaphor, it's playing off-sides. In every culture they seem to say - or in a lot of cultures I visited they would say you're growing horns.

INSKEEP: Pamela Druckerman joined us from Paris, the city of love, to talk about her research. Compared with other people around the world, she says Americans tend to take a much harder line against infidelity.

Ms. DRUCKERMAN: I went to Tennessee as part of my research for the book and I met a couple who were a couple of years post-affair. The woman had had an affair, and I think it's fair to say that their lives were still consumed with the affair.

They were in therapy. He was completely obsessive about her whereabouts. He needed to know where she was all the time. She didn't go out with her friends anymore. She didn't have family members over. She was - spent most of her time sitting in the living room on her couch with him talking about what had happened and kind of defending herself and apologizing.

INSKEEP: Two years later?

Ms. DRUCKERMAN: Two years later, and I was very surprised, but I talked to a psychologist about this and they said oh no, two years is pretty typical.

INSKEEP: Now, you live in Paris, which is about as romantic a city as you could imagine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DRUCKERMAN: Yes, I do, I do. I was really excited when I moved to Paris because I thought what a perfect place to research adultery. I'll be tripping over people who are coming out of hotel rooms after their 5:00 to 7:00 o'clock tryst. It will be easy.


Ms. DRUCKERMAN: It didn't turn out that way. First, I found their statistics on infidelity in France, and it turns out that French people have affairs at approximately the same rate as Americans do. The difference between America and France is not so much in what they do but the way they talk about affairs and the way they treat affairs once they happen.

INSKEEP: What do you mean?

Ms. DRUCKERMAN: In America, the sort of story goes that you find the e-mail from your husband's mistress and you march into the living room and you say, I gotcha, you know, this relationship is over. And in France there isn't an assumption that you would even confront your spouse about what happened. It's something that you might sense for years and never bring to the surface.

And you certainly wouldn't necessarily assume that the relationship is over just because someone cheated. I think the French very much assume that infidelity is something that can happen in the course of a long relationship. And in fact it might be part of the romantic story. It's one of the sort of trials and tribulations that you have to go through.

INSKEEP: Are you saying that a husband, say, might be sitting there and have reason to suspect that his wife is having an affair, and he might not be thrilled about it but just kind of shrugs and says, oh well, maybe I'll go have an affair.

Ms. DRUCKERMAN: I don't think he shrugs and says, oh well. I think he cares a lot. But I don't think that he thinks that the best way to deal with the problem of infidelity in a marriage is to confront it directly or to go into therapy and talk about what's going on. You know, husbands would tell me, I just kept watching, and you know, I thought that my wife was having an affair with my best friend and I just gave my wife the sort of space to figure it out. And then at a certain point I sensed that the affair had ended.

INSKEEP: Do you think that you got somehow at the character of different nations by exploring the way that people in different countries cheat?

Ms. DRUCKERMAN: I think so. I mean I think about Japan when you asked that question because what was so different was not so much the way married people behave - though that was different - it was also the way they conceived of their marriages. If you ask someone on the streets of New York, you know, what are you looking for in a husband or a spouse, they would say, someone who's really smart and funny, someone with a good sense of humor.

In Japan, they would say someone who is responsible. And I think that kind of formality and that almost sort of parental relationship between a man and a woman is maintained throughout the marriage, and it's just not very sexy. People really - because they didn't expect marriage to be the sort of sexual center of their lives - weren't even that disappointed to find out that their spouse is sleeping with someone else. When they got upset, they said I'm upset because my husband - this one woman told me - I'm upset because my husband let me find out.

INSKEEP: There does seem to be a common thread from country to country in that everybody's got a story about why whatever they're doing is okay.

Ms. DRUCKERMAN: Yeah, that was amazing to me, that there was no place where it was considered acceptable to say I just cheat because I want to, you know, I have the urge so I do it. All over the world people had excuses, and they had ways of explaining to the person they were having an affair with why there were still a good person even though they were cheating.

For example, in America, you know, one story that you're sort of obliged to tell your affair partner is that you're unhappy in your marriage. That's the way a lot of affairs seem to start, is you're complaining to someone at the office about what's happening at home. Whereas in China I found that men would tell me that they are expected to praise their wives to their affair partners to show that they're good people. You didn't have to show that you're not the sort of a person who would cheat.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask, as you went around the world asking people about their affairs, having conversations, I assume, over lunch or dinner with people - anybody hit on you?

Ms. DRUCKERMAN: I got into a few interesting situations. I was very excited in Russia because I - the statistics are that 55 percent of men and 25 percent of women have been unfaithful in their current marriage in St. Petersburg. But I couldn't find the 45 percent of men who were actually faithful.

And I finally - I finally met one. This guy, he - we sat down for dinner and he just told me he had been married for two years and he was so excited about his wife and he was always going to be faithful to her and he wasn't going to be like other Russian men, and then he started drinking. And by the end of the evening, he had sort of moved over to my side of the booth and was offering me a ride home. But for the record, I kept it to the straight and narrow and was fully professional while working on this book.

INSKEEP: Duly noted.

Ms. DRUCKERMAN: I did get married in the process.

INSKEEP: Oh, congratulations. That's great.


INSKEEP: How's it going?

Ms. DRUCKERMAN: So far so good.

INSKEEP: Pamela Druckerman is the author of "Lust in Translation." Thanks very much for speaking with us.

Ms. DRUCKERMAN: Thanks so much for having me on, Steve.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Hopelessly devoted to you, and millions of others, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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