Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee

Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee

by Pamela Druckerman

An irreverent and hilarious journey around the world to examine how and why people cheat on their spouses; this global look at infidelity reveals that Americans are uniquely mixed up about being faithful.

It's an adulterous world out there.

In America, however, there is never a free pass when it comes to infidelity.

She interviews people all over the world, from retirees in South Florida to Muslim polygamists in Indonesia; from Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn to the men who keep their mistresses in a "concubine village" outside Hong Kong.

Druckerman talks to psychologists, sex researchers, marriage counselors, and most of all, cheaters and the people they've cheated on, and concludes that Americans are the least adept at having affairs, have the most trouble enjoying them, and suffer the most in their aftermath.

"Lust in Translation" is a voyeuristic, statistics-packed, sometimes shocking, often hysterical, worldwide glimpse into the endly intriguing world of extramarital sex.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Nonfiction
  • Rating: 3.46
  • Pages: 291
  • Publish Date: May 1st 2007 by Penguin Press
  • Isbn10: 1594201145
  • Isbn13: 9781594201141

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Druckerman travels to a number of different countries in order to examine the mores (or lack thereof) and laws governing marriage fidelity, the disparity between social/legal standards and actual human behavior, and the ways in which all of her scrambled, somewhat spotty "data" shakes out when compared to America. Sure, you don't get stoned to death for cheating on your husband or wife, but it is predominantly viewed as the ultimate affront to another individual's sense of self-worth, an act of self-mutilation leading to endless, crushing guilt spirals, and unquestionable grounds for divorce. People were positively flabbergasted that a woman would tolerate such behavior, would stay with such a scumbag, would not do what most Americans tend to do when spouses have affairs: fall apart, get a divorce, then spend a decade trying to glue themselves back together with antidepressants and self-help books. One woman mentioned in the book leads a group called "Covenant Keepers" who hold the view that, even if your husband leaves you for another woman, it is your duty to the lord to stay celibate and spend the rest of your days praying for his return. As another example, Druckerman interviews a couple who stayed together through couples therapy, and the cheating wife's acceptance of full-on emotional battery and stalking by her husband. Yet another contemporary American therapeutic approach to dealing with adultery is the mapping of the affair in detail in order to get over what a lot of Americans see as the largest problem of infidelity: the lying. Back on point, these vastly different approaches are indicative of the multifarious nature of contemporary American views of infidelity. Taking America's complexities on the matter into consideration, Druckerman sets about investigating how other countries tend to view infidelity. Forgiving the generalizing nature of these summaries, her interviews, explorations, and stats basically break it down like so: France: Though commonly believed to be a veritable cesspool of infidelity, the numbers are actually more similar to America's than Britain's are. Many French people don't see a moral (and certainly not a religious) issue in an affair itself, but rather see the moral obligation of the cheater to be making sure the cheated-upon doesn't find out in order to spare them from hurt feelings. For a number of years, sex education and adultery were banned in Russia, and were punishable offenses. Married men spend time and money going to businesses offering strange women for them to talk and flirt with, often much more openly than that same man ever does with his own wife. Additional companies offer up a buffet of sexual fetish material, with sets designed to look like parks, schoolrooms, and train stations, as well as women costumed in any number of personality/career types (or sometimes just sprawled naked on a table covered in sushi) allowing men to entertain even the most elaborate sexual fantasies before getting a non-punishable b.j., paying extra if he wants to be, uh, very specific about where (or on/in who) he wants to ejaculate. A man will cheat on his wife knowing there's a good risk his lover has AIDS, then will take the disease home to his spouse without even feeling guilty or being punished by his peers for his atrocious behavior. I will stop there, since I feel like I've already been typing for a pretty long time. Some of the more interesting sections of the book cover polygamy in Muslim nations, working girls in China set up as something resembling a second wife, and the under-the-wire sexual misbehaviors of Hasidic Jews in New York City.

She travels from France (where she lives) to the United States, Russia, Japan, South Africa, Indonesia and China, interviewing professionals and anonymous adulterers and pondering what makes people cheat and what difference country of origin makes. What does differ is the level of guilt experienced over infidelity and its concomitant offense, lying (of Paris, Druckerman writes, I am also struck that most people I interview arent tortured and conscience-racked about their own affairs). Travel-based quest narratives like this usually have a personal element to them (such as Caitlin Doughtys From Here to Eternity, which I was reading at the same time), and I find that a thread of memoir helps to anchor a book. a Japanese woman she meets: You can have different kinds of love at the same time.

In Lust in Translation, Pamela Druckerman, an American journalist based in Paris, attempts to sort out adultery: who cheats on whom, where, and in spite of what consequences. Italian men apparently cheat very little, while Latin Americans seem relatively enthusiastic about affairs. In Russia, Druckerman finds that revealing one's infidelity is part of the narrative of an affair, and it apparently is tied up with a vacation. Perhaps because America is a melting pot or perhaps because it's not easy to find reliable studies on infidelity, every other culture is mostly treated as a monoculture.

Books like this one, in which Druckerman examines differences in cultural attitudes towards infidelity around the world, or Eric Weiner's recent investigation of happiness by country ("The Geography of Bliss": http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...) show us that cultural heterogeneity is still alive and thriving. One of the most memorable episodes in the book is her account of the horrifying aftermath of a single episode of infidelity in one southern couple's marriage. Not a particularly deep book, but one that is both readable and interesting.

Druckerman takes a look at why people have affairs, how they deal with them, what are the consequences in various countries such as Indonesia, South Africa, China, Russia, Japan and France. But as being originally from the US, Druckerman uses that as a point of comparison (and arguably it is likely Americans are her audience.) On the point of accuracy, though, I recognized some of which that is discussed on France and Hasidic communities in NY, so I hope overall it's accurate. The author also doesn't discuss infidelity in terms of homosexual/bisexual/non-heterosexual relationships. I couldn't say if those who enjoyed her French parenting books (which I think helped shoot Druckerman into prominence) would love this, since I haven't read any of her other work yet.

Yes, I know she's american, but if you write a book about (as she says) "infidelity in the world", it has to be more inclusive. Probably it is the same situation that she depicts in Chapter 9, "God in the bedroom", (why didn't she go to Israel to investigate orthodox jews instead of going to Brooklyn, New York???), but still it would have been great to know what happens in latin culture.

Pamela Druckerman is an American journalist and the author of Bringing Up Bébé (The Penguin Press: 2012); the U.K. version of the same book - French Children Dont Throw Food (Doubleday UK: 2012); and Lust In Translation (The Penguin Press: 2007).