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Does Sarah’s love for Gordon translate?

01 Feb 2016
Does Sarah’s love for Gordon translate?

Ergo … Is she speaking to a bunch of coconuts?!

As the British people listened to a public declaration of Sarah Brown’s love for husband Gordon at the Labour Party conference earlier this week, I couldn’t help viewing this from a cultural standpoint.

Frankly, do we care? Do we care that Sarah loves Gordon and calls him ‘my hero’ - not likely. We Brits probably don’t want to know about their private emotions any more than we want to know about the private life of a gnat. Nevertheless, in what Amanda Platell of Mail Online “I’m a huge fan of Sarah Brown, so why do I worry that suddenly she’s getting things so terribly wrong?” calls “Oprah Winfrey style politics”; for the second year running we have been treated to an expression of emotions from our ‘first lady’.

Sarah’s approach may well have worked in the USA (and I feel qualified to say this since I lived and worked in the US for over three years); indeed Sarah does appear to be emulating Michelle Obama. But as Platell astutely points out, “this is not America”. Brits generally speaking, probably suspect that behind Sarah’s outpouring is the PR machine with the objective of ‘humanising Gordon’. We are unlikely to go in for the Americanisation of politics; we won’t ‘fall for it’.

Why is that?

One possible explanation is neatly illustrated by the Peach and Coconut model (Zaninelli, 2005). The model refers to the amount of public ‘socialising’ or interpersonal distance that differs between cultures. Trompenaars (1997) calls it the ‘private and public spaces’.

People from peach cultures (that the U.S. is often cited as an example of) have soft outsides and are friendly and easy to get to know and engage in a lot of self-disclosure initially, but it is not necessarily a sign of a deep and lasting relationship. Coconuts on the other hand are harder to get to know but once you do, longer lasting relationships are typically formed. Germany is often quoted as an example of a ‘coconut culture’.

So where does this leave the Brits? Closer to the Americans in this respect or to the Germans? And, is Michelle Obama, when communicating to peaches likely to have more effect than Sarah Brown who may well be speaking to a ‘lovely bunch of coconuts’!!

 


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