Thursday, May 17, 2007

postheadericon Lust in Translation

Book: Hardcover |304 pages | 19 Apr 2007 | The Penguin Press

For those of you who do not wish to read on, I'll understand, but for the rest of you,
Pamela Druckerman, former foreign correspondant for the "Wall Street Journal" came upon the idea to write about infidelity when on a trip to Columbia she kept being propositioned by married men all the time. Once she got over her shock and horror, she realized that extra-marital affairs are not frowned upon everywhere in the world and she decided to explore what the rules of infidelity were in different countries resulting in this cracker of a book, "Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee".

T0 make it more interesting and readable, I've decided to share, countrywise,what Druckerman found out about infedilty in her research and trips abroad and how it contrasts with the American view:

Let's start with
Finland, because, in sexology circles, Finland is known for having Europe's best sex research (in 1970, Finnish researchers sent uniformed nurses door-to-door to question people on their sex lives and got a 91% response rate!). The Finns aren't ambivalent about sex...they see it as a positive experience. Unlike elsewhere, the Finns or their media do not focus on the perils of sex, such as diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Also, they travel a lot, creating a lot of opportunities for affairs. Although they value being faithful to their partners, they believe that if there is an opportunity for an affair that no one will get to know about, they will grab it with both hands because they consider it a positive and valuable experience!

The French surprisingly (and I say surprisingly because watch any French romantic comedy and you will imagine that l 'adultere is a national pastime) are boringly and staggeringly faithful to their spouses. When, and if, they do stray they don't tell their spouses and their spouses don't seem to want to know "...Extramarital sex becomes "adultery" only when your partner finds out". Also, although they view adultery as a transgression, they seem to understand that it can and does happen and do not usually experience terrible guilt over it. The only realm of French life where infedility is derigueur is politics (there are some very nice passages on Mitterand, Chirac and even France's new PM, Sarkozy in this book)

The Russians probably have the most laidback attitude when it comes to extramarital affairs, a fling is almost always welcomed and enjoyed, not at all surprising when you read about the problems facing today's Russians (alcoholism, violent crime, cramped living spaces, poverty, illhealth, car accidents). An affair seems like therapy for all the problems they have in their day to day lives. Another reason there's so much adultery in Russia is that there are so few men. "...For Russian women in their 30's and 40's a man who isn't married or an alcoholic is as rare as a Feberge egg."

From all accounts, the Japanese are probably having the least sex of anyone around. It's the land of the single bed. The minute a Japanese wife has her first child, she moves out of her bedroom and into the child's room and sleeps there until he is 5 or 6, giving rise to a phenomenon they call a "sexless marriage" or the abbreviated, "sexress". Many of the men actually pride themselves on having chaste marriages. Sexress has spawned the development of a thriving sex industry with hostess bars (where businessmen pay by the hour to talk to young women); Sex clubs (self-explanatory); love hotels (where couples can rent rooms without comingn face to face with a clerk.) Japanese couples have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. "Have your affair, but be discreet about it" is what Japanese women seem to be saying to their husbands.

The chapter on South Africa was the saddest chapter to read...the culture seems to not just accept, but even encourage promiscuity and with AIDS being so prevalent, not being monogamous is a death sentence, literally and yet, King Mswati III, King of Swaziland (the last absolute monarch of Africa) with his multiple wives is held up by most South African man as someone to admire and emulate.

Polygamy is legal in Indonesia and although it has fallen out of favor, the fact that it is legal makes easier to justify. "...Polygamy legitimizes the idea that one woman isn't enough and effectively gives married men permission to date , even if they have no plans to convert thier mistresses into wives." Although extra-marital affairs are forbidden by the Koran it doesn't stop Indonesians, especially the upwardly mobile, from having them.

China's new economic boom means that even working class men in China can now afford to keep second wives or yi lai as they are called. Many Chinese explain away their extra-marital affairs by saying it is not cheating when you fall in love with someone other than your wife. Does that sound familiar to Westerners? Although you can sympathise with the Chinese when they say it because romance was considered a vice during the Cultural Revolution. Are the Chinese simply making up for lost time?

The American view:

"Adultery provokes more outrage in America than in almost any other country on record (Ireland and the Philippines are two exceptions)."

Americans have become more tolerant on practically every major sexual issue from having a child out of wedlock to divorce ... and homosexuality. They are more accepting of all these issues except infidelity, where they seem to have become stricter.

Not only do the Americans feel a lot of guilt, but they also believe there must be complete honesty between spouses, which means, when and if they have an affair, they will feel a burning need to confess every little detail of the affair to their partners once the affair is over. Americans are extremely bothered by "lies" or "witholding the truth" in relationships. Even when it comes to their leaders having affairs (eg. Bill Clinton) the American public were more concerned about him lying about the affair than the affair itself.

Adultery is traumatic everywhere, but in America it's especially so. The reactions of a betrayed spouse resemble the post-traumatic stress symptoms of the victims of catastrophic events like 9/11 or the Asian tsunami.
"Betrayed spouses" as they're called here, can take years to recover, they feel so out of control,they feel their going crazy. One person described a spouse's betrayal as feeling worse than when she lost her child. In Europe, betrayed spouses either take the affair with a pinch of salt or like in France, they may opt for a "revenge affair".

It's hard to sum up a book which is packed with so much information, but if I can make any conclusions it would be:

1.Religion is not a deterrent when it comes to adultery. In other words, religious societies can have the same rate of infedility as non-religious ones.

2. Location trumps religion because the stats have consistently shown that people in warm places are more promiscuous, with Scandanavia and St. Petersburg being the exceptions.

3. There appears to be more infidelity in poorer countries than others,especially by men.

While the evidence Druckerman presents is primarily anecdotal (this is not a scientific study by any means)she still manages to provide the reader with a cultural, albeit voyeuristic, guide to infedility in various parts of the world in an engaging and interesting manner. The anthropologist in me enjoyed this book! Oh, and one last word, don't be fooled by the cover, there is no sex in this book!


hellomelissa said...

very informative, lotus! i'd love to see a follow-up on the personal (rather than sociological) impact of infidelity in these cultures.

Bybee said...

From what I've heard, Korea is similar to Japan.

Sanjay said...

Very interesting subject matter and a great post!! I especially loved the lead up to it.
I can see why the anthropologist in you so enjoyed the book and also tells us why you so deserved the thinking blogger award. :)

I so dig the Finns :)

I was surprised (I should have known better) that the French are more adventurous in film than in real life, when it comes to these things.

I also found out things about the Russians and the Indonesians that I did not know. The Japanese.. I have read about this aspect of their lives before.

The Chinese are enjoying personal freedoms and not political ones. Their government is quite content to let them push the envelope as long as the current power structure is not threatened. The prosperity and loosening of postcultural shackles like you point out also contribute.

I wish us Americans were a bit more relaxed about things such as these, but despite what appears like an outward rejection of adultery (and for some people this feeling is genuine) these things surely happen.

But the "betrayed spouse" that you talk about is real. A friend of ours is married to another guy, who left his wife for him. He had been in the closet for years. While I certainly understand how terrible she feels, she has taken this very hard and even more than year later continues feel the effects of this.

And I am sure my views on this don't quite line up with those of main street America. :)

Sanjay said...

I also want to say "kudos to you" for talking about a subject that is not often discussed.

ML said...

How incredibly fascinating, Lotus! I never really gave it much thought to how other countries and cultures view infidelity.

Thanks for the review and making me think.

Literary Feline said...

Although I doubt this is a book I will pick up to read anytime soon, I found your review and description of the book quite interesting. Thanks for the review!

Beenzzz said...

So, the French really are loyal to their spouses? How odd. I would have thought the opposite!
This sounds like an interesting read!

tanabata said...

Fascinating topic. Your summary of how the different countries view infidelity was very interesting. It's quite true about the Japanese. Traditionally it was single futons, now if people opt for Western style beds, even married couples, even young married couples without kids, usually get 2 single beds. Surprised me at first.

Danielle said...

You piqued my curiosity, so I had to come over and read more. I had read somewhere recently the same information on the French and affairs--that they really don't have then as much as we expect them to. This sounds like an interesting book! As for single beds--maybe they are not so terrible if your spouse takes up too much room! :)

Parth said...

Hmm, the Japanese and Chinese cases were interesting, given that they are both Asian countries with such varied responses. I must ask: what about India? :-)

Lotus Reads said...

@Melissa ~ I would be curious, too! I think everyone is hurt by adultery or infidelity no matter which country you come from, but the salve would differ depending upon the culture. For instance, Russian women seem quite happy to forgive their cheating spouses just so long as the spouse takes them on an expensive holiday!

@Bybee ~ Are there a lot of similarities between the Koreans and Japanese in general? Because of their geographical proximity I would dare to think there were more similarities than differences, but I could be so wrong because it takes a lot more than geography to make culture.

Lotus Reads said...

@Sanjay ~ This book is an anthropologist's delight for sure!

Thank you for your kind remarks, yes, I like the Finns, too, and I'm not surprised at their outlook, the Sandanavians do tend to be very liberal about issues like these. Did you find that about the Danes as well or were you not there long enough to tell?

You are so right about the Chinese...during Mao's time they were not allowed to dream of romance nor pick their own brides...this sexual freedom and the money to go with it must open so many delicious avenues for them.

Americans, the author found, were very uptight about infidelity. It does go on ofcourse, but people in extra-marital affairs have said that the guilt keeps them from enjoying the affair!

I feel sorry for your friend's wife, but what's to be done? You cannot bring your whole life to an end just because a spouse feels the need to move on? It's very sad really.

Lotus Reads said...

@ml ~ You're so welcome! Glad it fired those synapses! :)

@Literary Feline ~ I am glad you liked the review. Sorry it was lengthy, but I wanted to make sure I got as much of the information as I could because I found it all so fascinating!

@Beenzzz ~ yeah, just goes to show how we buy the stereotypes huh? Next they will be telling us there is no such thing as a hot Latin Lover, waaaaaaaa!

Lotus Reads said...

@Nat ~ I just couldn't get over the single futon thing and now I am equally appalled at the twin beds. I guess they do have their practical uses though! :)

It is amazing to me how different cultures view infidelity and love. I remember the author saying the Japanese seem to prefer pining for love than love itself. Now all those Japanese movies I have seen are finally starting to make sense.

@Danielle ~ So glad you visited! Remember all those stories of Italian men being world class philanderers? Well apparently that's not true either! Infact, they commit less adultery than American men. Wonder how they get these reputations in the first place? And I agree with what you said about the single beds...I vote for single washrooms too! ;)

@Parth ~ I asked myself the same question...what about India? Apparently Druckerman didn't have time to visit India but she plans to come for us next! ;)

Bybee said...

The Koreans bristle at any mention of similarities, and they get huffy if you use a Japanese word for something instead of the Korean word. Example: Karaoke vs. Noribang, manga vs. manhwa. It's because they were occupied by the Japanese for about 50 years, till the end of WWII.

That being said, one really striking difference is the respect for another's space. Both countries are crowded, but you can walk down the street in a Japanese city and not be touched, and if you're even lightly brushed, there's an apology. In Korea, people bump each other all the time without anyone getting upset. This was hard for me to adjust to.

Thanks for the great review of Lust In Translation!

tanabata said...

LOL. There are times when a certain someone is hogging the covers that I think single beds would be nice! ;P
There was a quote I noted in the mystery I read recently of all places, but I thought it rang quite true. It was talking about when choosing a kimono to wear how the pattern should anticipate the coming season rather than just state what had already happened and that 'longing and waiting' are everything in Japan.

Helene said...

Well done for choosing such an interesting topic. A Ukrainian female friend told me that sex was impossible after 40 because by then all men were alcoholics, married or not.

Nyssaneala said...

My inner anthropologist loved this post! This sounds like a really great book to read.

Sugarlips said...

Lotus...A very bold and beautiful review :)

Stay Beautiful...!

Anali said...

Very interesting post. I listened to an interview with the author on NPR and it was very good. I guess the Puritan background has a lot to do with how Americans react.

Chimera said...

interesting book - never thought that someone would actually get around to writing about such stuff.
though the reactions might differ from mild to the ultra-sensitive,adultery by women might be viewed differently than that by men - the same way that men having many girlfriends is a 'casanova' where a women would be called 'cheap'. any thoughts on that in this book?

Lotus Reads said...

@Bybee ~ you are welcome and thank you for shining light on the Koreans vs. the Japanese. I am totally fascinated with both cultures. Korean and Japanese pop culture has really taken off here. One of these days I am going to have to sit down and read "The Koreans" by Michael Breen. I have had it sitting here on my bookshelf for a long,long time.

@Nat ~ Wow@ the kimono quote. It really does seem to ring quite true for the Japanese doesn't it? Such a fascinating culture. Colour me intrigued. The first time I got well and truly interested in the people was after reading "Polite Lies: : On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures" by Kyoko Mori and then, Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha"

Lotus Reads said...

@Helene ~ Sad, isn't it? I always knew many Russians were heavy drinkers ( I mean we are all familiar with news items about Yelstin's heavy drinking) but I hadn't realized how severe the problem seems to be.

@Nyssaneala ~ Anyone who prides themselves on being an anthropologist would love this book! Hope you get to read it!

@Nahal ~ yes, the subject matter is bold and that is precisely why I loved it so much. We need to speak more on subjects that rarely see the light of day. Thank for stopping by sugarlips! :)

Lisa Francisco aka AVIANA said...


I have not kept up to date with everyone and been a little lazy with updating my site. thanks for stopping by!

yeah, infidelity is very huge with me. friendshipwise or intimate relationshipwise. something i would never tolerate and would tear me to shreds as it did one time...

yesterday was awesome! i will update and give full details tonite or tomorrow...i'm really sleepy.....i'm at sucks..but good for my rent

Olivia said...

Oh wow, this is interesting, and i don;t know where to start...

Once again the American psyche betrays its Puritan roots. It's been so long, but it runs in the blood still.

I can't speak for Scandinavia, though what I say about Iceland probably applies in most respects. Iceland has a high rate of both literacy and illegitimacy (I like to say it's because there is nothing else to do in the perpetual night-time of winter but read and have sex). My Icelandic genes don't seem to be manifesting, but I could do with a bit of their help right now!

The Dutch idea of "pinching the cat in the dark" is the funniest phrase of them all. Der Nederlanders are not known for their humour, though they are very cheerful people.

Lotus Reads said...

@Anali ~ I guess that is true. Wonder what happened to the East Indians in that case. We started out so well with the Kamasutra, the erotic sculptures at Konark etc., and look at what a bashful nation we are now! ;)

@Chimera ~ Yes, it is quite true that people have a very different perspective on adultery by women vs. the men but the book doesn't go into that. Ms. Druckerman has shown by citing various stats however that men are far more likely to cheat than women. You raise an interesting point though...are women less likely to cheat only because of what society might think of us? Or that we simply have less opportunities to cheat? Or are we less predisposed to cheating than men are?

Lotus Reads said...

@Lisa ~ Am grateful for the personal input, I think most women in the US would take your stand. So glad everything went well for you yesterday, I would love to know more about it, hope you put up a nice long post about the event!

@Olivia ~ The Icelanders sound like a fascinating people! I don't know too much about them but because they were isolated geographically for years they have a very interesting gene pool. You share your heritage with them? That is waaay cool!

tanabata said...

Oh, I've had "Polite Lies" in the stacks for literally several years. I must read it!

Lotus Reads said...

Nat, when you do get around to reading it you will have to tell me if you hold similar impressions of Japan and the Japanese!

Olivia said...

Yep, my paternal grandmother is half Icelandic (her father); she speaks the language too, and a bit of Danish.

Bookfool said...

How fascinating! I have way too many books, here, but this post was so informative that you've piqued my interest and I'll put the title on my wish list. Darn. Would you quit that? LOL

Bookfool said...

I just read sanjay's comment and I have to throw in that the subject matter does fascinate me, in part, because of what I've seen take place in the lives of friends. Two have had husbands leave and then marry the "other woman". Both went through a miserable time and then ended up with happier second marriages.

MotoRama said...

Hey Lotus,
"Lust in Translation" made me think what other movie titles would have suited this book..hmm..."Pirates of Relationships", "XXX-Men", "Lord of Someone else's Ring" and my favourite.."How the World..screws itself" ;)

Jokes apart, i want to know if the book talks about motivations that are peculiar to a culture or does it come to the conclusion that we(iners) are all the same;)

Lisa Francisco aka AVIANA said...


Thank you for stopping by! I really appreciated your comment! We'll see what is up next? I have the next showcase a week from Sunday. We'll see how it goes? How's little twinkle fingers doing?

Lisa Francisco aka AVIANA said...

Happy Monday!

Olivia said...

*waits patiently for more anthropologising...*

Megster said...

Wow..that was an amazing, comprehensive review. Thank you for sharing it with us. I'm curious to know if they mentioned South do Indians feel as a race? Personally, I know it would rip me.

neda said...

Hi lotus! :)

I am thinking how is it possible to categorize people race-wise (?) or country wise, on such a topic? specially in today's world with so much so called globalization happening, i guess we are merging into other cultures so much, it does not seem so possible to categorize us based on religion/culture/etc.... In India for example, there are so much variety of actions against such an issue, that is so difficult to conclude how would an Indian man/woman react to such a thing... same can be said about Iran for example... In Iran temporary marriage is legally possible, but I don't know of a single person who would agree on it or go for it! yet extra marital affairs very much exist there, and one's reaction to an spouse is as variable as it could be anywhere in the world... some people forgive and forget, some know it and dont want to hear about its existance, some go for divorce and make a big issue out of it... you know what i am trying to say?

iamyuva said...

and Indian View:

Several sex surveys carried out recently point to a definite resurgence of guilt-free extramarital sex, as much on the initiative of women now as it was on the bidding of men before. Commenting on the findings of the KamaSutra Cross Tab Sex Survey 2003, conducted in association with Indiatimes, published on Thursday, sex expert Prakash Kothari said, "One can easily kiss that crummy era goodbye. A nation of 1 billion is getting sexy and kicking the guilt." Psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh, MD, is jubilant: Finally, "it" is happening in India.

Permissiveness is at an all-time high. Respondents across India (Bangalore 27 percent; Chennai 28 percent; Delhi 22 percent; Hyderabad 20 percent; Kolkata 32 percent; Mumbai 24 percent) feel that both partners should be free to have extramarital sex with the spouse's consent. Delhiites are most likely to have done it at a younger age than their counterparts in other cities. Hyderabadis and Mumbaikars show the maximum inclination to infidelity, summarized Anubha Sawhney, breaking the news of the survey

Credits: India rediscovers kama

in my view: one night stand is different from affair.. got drunk had 1night-stand.! ok fine move on (hopefully not many next times) but affair is beyond my understanding-- why pretend of happy life if don't have one.. life is fun but not design to be easy.. and although its about choice but most of the time its also about priorities.

may be that's why i think, Madison County Bridge ending was brilliant.. but then it just me.;)

Sharanya Manivannan said...

This is fascinating! Would love to check out this book. Have always personally felt that "infidelity is in the eye of the beholder". Good to know someone's been curious enough (in a non-fluffy magazine column way) to find out how omnifarious our human limits are.

Amit said...

Interesting book. I must check the library for it.

I do think that having an affair is not healthy for the relationship if the couple has agreed on being monogamous. However, if the couple agree on having an open relationship and/or have a talk beforehand that maybe a fling by either once a while is acceptable, then I'm sure there would still be unbroken homes.

I believe polyamorous people try to do just that - accept the fact that attraction to others is a fact of life, and instead of lying about it, be open and honest from the get-go, and not have the expectation of monogamy. I guess it all comes down to expectations.


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