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Anyone can be difficult

05 May 2017

AS MEALS go, it was not exactly an agape. Since the Prime Minister gave supper in Downing Street to the EU’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and its chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, reported at the time as “constructive”, a less flattering account of events has emerged in a German newspaper. It appears that sharp differences of opinion were expressed over citizenship, a final lump-sum payment, and whether the negotiations could be kept secret. A key exchange was about the outcome: Theresa May is said to have proposed: “Let us make Brexit a success.” Mr Juncker is reported to have replied that the British would be poorer than today. “Brexit cannot be a success.”

It is easy to understand a certain tetchiness on the part of Brussels: the timetable for reaching agreement between Britain and 27 sovereign countries is tight, and not helped by a six-week hiatus while Britain conducts a General Election. More par­ticularly, the election has revived the whistling-in-the-dark op­tim­ism about Brexit which ought to have died down, now that serious negotiations are under way, and the consequences of the electorate’s choice are becoming a little clearer. Both sides ought to be able to plot a course that does as little damage to either party as possible. Instead, political considerations are pushing the EU and the Government into adversarial postur­ing.


Nearer, my God, to thee
EVER wondered why people sit so far apart in church? What may look like basic unfriendliness probably goes much deeper. Fortunately, there is an academic study of the phenomenon, proxemics. A new study, published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, has looked at what is a comfortable distance between people in 42 different nations, depending on whether the other person is an intimate friend, an ac­quaint­ance, or a stranger. Researchers asked about standing distances, but these will bear a strong relationship with pew-sitting. Romanians wanted to keep strangers at the greatest distance (1.4 metres), but were happy to have close friends as near as 40cm. Saudi Arabians felt roughly the same about strangers, but wanted even their intimates to stand at least one metre off. People in the UK came roughly in the middle: strangers at one metre, acquaintances at 80cm, intimates at 50cm. Women pre­ferred greater distances, as did older people.

The researchers found that, in warmer countries such as Argentina and Mexico, strangers could come closer; people in colder countries kept strangers at a distance but allowed close friends deep into their personal space, as near as 40cm in Norway. The implications for church seating are clear: if you want your congregation to sit closer together, turn up the heat­ing and seek to attract young males. Or, if your church is poorly heated and attended by elderly women, make sure they know each other really well — which they will, once they have huddled together for warmth a few times.

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