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Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennesseeby Pamela Druckerman
Synopses & Reviews
A strange and surprising journey around the world to examine how and why people cheat on their spouses. This global look at infidelity truly reveals a puritanical America From Memphis to Moscow, when it comes to infidelity the statistics tell the story. People cheat on their spouses-in fact, they cheat with astonishing frequency. But even illicit love has rules, and these rules change radically from country to country. Acclaimed journalist Pamela Druckerman decided to investigate extramarital affairs all around the world to discover how different cultures deal with adultery-and her research leads her to believe that both the concept and the consequences of infidelity are far less rigid outside the United States. Americans, she decides, are the least adept at having affairs, have the most trouble enjoying them, and, in the end, suffer the most as a result of them. The rules of fidelity aren't as strict in many other parts of the world because some cultures have found ways to acknowledge that adultery is an expected, if not acceptable, part of the marriage contract. The French, contrary to popular belief, have affairs at about the same rate as Americans do, and they're just as titillated by sex scandals. Although the subject of infidelity is still very taboo there, unlike Americans, they refuse to moralize about it. In Russia, staying faithful to one's spouse is merely optional; one poll stated 50 percent of men and 25 percent of women have cheated on their current spouse, to say nothing of previous marriages. In Japan, Druckerman discovers that two-person futons and mattresses aren't even for sale in most stores, and the saying among businessmen is If you pay, it's not cheating. SomeJapanese marriage counselors hire prostitutes to teach women how to lure their husbands home. Pamela Druckerman, formerly a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, has done her homework. She's interviewed people from all over the world, from retirees in south Florida to polygamist Muslims in Indonesia, from ultra-orthodox Jews in Brooklyn to residents of a concubine village outside Hong Kong. She takes us on a journey all around the world, talking with sexologists, psychologists, marriage counselors, and most of all, cheaters and the people they've cheated on, only to discover that America is still a place with surprisingly outdated ideals. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, many cultures are more accepting of the fact that a monogamous marriage is an incredibly difficult contract to keep.
"Former foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal now living in Paris, Druckerman offers an anecdotal rather than a scholarly exploration of the international etiquette of adultery. From American prudishness about the subject to French discretion, and from Russian vehemence about the obligatory affair to Japanese adherence to the single marital futon, one factor rings true in all cases: people lie about sex. Druckerman interviews numerous adulterers, starting with the conflicted Americans who 'gain status by radiating an aura of monogamy' while sneaking around on the side; guilt more often than not brings them to confession and absolution by therapy. Druckerman is at pains to uncover reliable statistics about infidelity where such research is suppressed, such as in Islamic countries or those formerly Communist; in contrast, Finland demonstrates the best sex research, e.g., clearly half of men there enjoy 'parallel relationships.' Druckerman concludes from one study that people in warmer climes cheat more (Scandinavia is the exception), while people in wealthy countries tend to cheat less than those in poor countries (exception: Kazakhstan). Druckerman found that the rules of sexual cultures differ widely: adultery is the least dangerous social evil in Russia, while in Japan, buying sex doesn't count as cheating. Druckerman's work is quirky, digressive and media quotable." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In America, we have someone 'on the side.' The Irish 'play offsides'; the English 'play away.' Swedes and Russians 'sneak to the left,' the Japanese 'go off the path' and the Dutch 'go strange' or 'pinch the cat in the dark,' whatever that means. The Indonesians, more romantically, have a 'wonderful interval.' Few activities in life have such delightful euphemisms as those describing infidelity. No... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) wonder people succumb to temptation the world over. In 'Lust in Translation,' Pamela Druckerman offers an amusing, if flippant, global tour of adultery. Inspired by her background as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal as well as her international lineup of ex-lovers, she travels to two dozen cities in 10 countries to discover how people from different cultures channel what she believes are the universal urges toward sex outside marriage. Her most shocking discovery? The supposedly sophisticated French actually sleep around less than Americans do — and Americans don't sleep around much. In broad strokes, Druckerman lays out what lures married folks toward adultery. 'The biggest "risk factor" for infidelity,' she claims, 'is simply being male.' No surprise there. But it also helps (or hurts) to be poor. If you made less than $10,000, you were twice as likely to cuckold your spouse as those who earned more than $60,000. Communism, on the other hand, is bad for illicit love — in both the Soviet Union and China, suspected adulterers were reported to party officials and severely punished. Meanwhile, as Ronald Reagan wished he'd said, the free market equals free love. With the introduction of economic reforms, Russia and China have become adulterous utopias, at least compared to the bad old days. You'd think that capitalist Americans would be particularly blase about the whole affair, or affairs. Not so: 'Adultery provokes more outrage in America than in almost any other country on record,' Druckerman writes. She blames the founding fathers — and not just randy Thomas Jefferson — for instilling within Americans a horror of marital lapses, believing as they did that 'the strength and perhaps the very survival of their country hinged on the moral fitness of its citizens.' Alas, where once we led the charge toward freedom for all, now we've pioneered self-indulgent guilt. To wit, one woman posted on a message board that she had interrogated her cheating spouse for nearly two years about the details of his affair and then 'with the aid of my master calendar, the 1000+ e-mail, the photo albums, visa receipts, and his old expense reports, he and I set out to put all of those 2 1/2 years of infidelity on a timeline.' Who would submit to this? Nobody, Druckerman claims, but a guilt-ridden American adulterer. As entertaining as all this is, 'Lust in Translation' ends up feeling superficial and stereotypical. Depth may be too much to expect from a slender book that purports to explain the 'rules of infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee.' After all, few expect cultural immersion from a package tour. Nor should they, but a study of adultery risks being casually cruel, without sympathy for those on both sides of the sheets. And some of her throwaway comments — for instance, 'even Mexican men were a lower adultery risk than the lawyers I'm used to. Perhaps I should have given some of them my number' — don't inspire much confidence in Druckerman's cultural sensitivity. Indeed, her whole underlying premise — that 'adultery crises in America last longer, cost more, and seem to inflict more emotional torture than they do in anyplace else' and that adultery is something that can be managed maturely between consenting adults — falls apart when she reaches South Africa. To her credit, she drops the snide tone during most of this sobering chapter. After all, there's not much to joke about in a country where one in five adults has HIV and men often don't 'sleep at home,' as one HIV-positive woman puts it. In South Africa, Druckerman writes, AIDS has 'transformed cheating from a naughty hobby into a lethal practice.' But couldn't adultery be lethal anywhere? Setting aside the very real danger of contracting AIDS (or enraging a murderous husband), doesn't infidelity kill trust? And isn't that what marriage is all about? But what do I know? I'm just an unsophisticated American." Reviewed by Carolyn See, who can be reached at www.carolynsee.comRachel Hartigan Shea, a contributing editor of The Washington Post Book World, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Compared to the citizens of just about every other nation, Americans are the least adept at having affairs, have the most trouble enjoying them, and suffer the most in their aftermath and Pamela Druckerman has the facts to prove it. The journalist's surprising findings include:
Voyeuristic and packed with eyebrow-raising statistics and interviews, Lust in Translation is her funny and fact-filled world tour of infidelity that will give new meaning to the phrase "practicing monogamy."
Acclaimed journalist Druckerman decided to investigate extramarital affairs around the world to learn how different cultures deal with adultery. The result of her journey reveals some surprising results.
About the Author
Pamela Druckerman is a former staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal. She has a Master's in International Affairs from Columbia University, and has reported from So Paulo, Buenos Aires, Jerusalem, Paris and New York. She lives in Paris.
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