Sunday, May 18, 2008


I finally saw the clip in which Obama called the female reporter by this term of endearment. A bit of vox populi followed. People from Leeds and Sheffield asked what the fuss was all about. "Everyone round her gets called 'Luv' or 'Chuck'" was the response. An obviously older woman pleaded, "I wish someone would call me 'Sweetie'". In our local market the stall holders call all women whatever their age 'Darling' and all men 'Mate'. In Glasgow you are likely to be called 'Jimmy' whatever your gender and I have noticed that young people tend to talk about each other as 'Guys' whether they are male or female.

Now I can see how such terms of address can be deliberately offensive. For a black man to be addressed as "Boy" is clearly a retrograde reference, and my wife would not take "Babe" even from me (I think she remember a pig of that name). Feminists were right to take umbrage at being thought of as air-heads, fit for nothing but kitchen and bedroom duties.

That being said I find nothing offensive in Obama's 'Sweetie' and bizarre that he should find it necessary to issue a public apology. If anything the reporter was rude in shouting out a question as he was touring a factory. But then America is an alien country and in alien civilizations they do things that other societies find strange. I remember a BBC documentary which portrayed men from Papua New Guinea walking around wearing nothing but enormous cones affixed to their private members.

On my first visit to the United States I was taken aside by a former mentor and reminded of Churchill's dictum "two countries divided by a common language". In a lift (elevator) he gave me a list of unmentionables. I can only remember one. He told me to say 'eraser' rather than 'rubber', which means something quite different.

However, I got into trouble in my talk by mentioning 'a young girlie of 35', and was harangued by a female in her twenties who seemed to lack both what is demanded of a host towards a guest and an appreciation of cultural differences.

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