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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Angela Merkel's body language steals the show at G20

On the occasion of the G20 summit in Hamburg,  the host, Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany would have made a fascinating study for any body language expert. 

A smiling Angela Merkel at the final press conference on the second day of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017. Patrik Stollarz / AFP
A smiling Angela Merkel at the final press conference on the second day of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017. Patrik Stollarz / AFP

HAMBURG // Oh, how our bodies betray us! However hard we try to mask our innermost emotions, they will find their way out somehow.

On the occasion of the G20 summit in Hamburg - coincidentally the city of her birth - the host, Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany would have made a fascinating study for any body language expert.

Ms Merkel comes across as a strong but self-contained personality, possessed of a cool reserve that seems to say,"You will know me only as much as I allow you to know me." She grew up in what was then staunchly communist East Germany, a country where it was unwise - not to mention dangerous - to speak one's mind or show one's true feelings, so people learned not to from an early age.

And after 12 years as Europe's most powerful leader, she has honed that ability even more. But even an Ice Maiden can occasionally be vulnerable to the odd chink in the permafrost. And that's when the a trickle of candour can seep out, undisguised and unmistakeable.

Such a moment came during an absorbing conversation she had with Russian president Vladimir Putin.The chancellor made a gesture with her hand, as if mimicking the downward trajectory of a missile. Or perhaps she was describing the progress in her relationship with US president Donald Trump, which did not get off to the best start in March when he seemed to ignore her suggestion that they shake hands for the camera.

Whatever it was, Mr Putin appeared to listen. The appearance of listening is key here because one would not call it attentive listening. It looked more as if he were waiting for her to stop talking, so that he could start again.. He seemed to know exactly what she was talking about, even though his eyes were not on Ms Merkel or her hands. because when she paused, he seized the moment and plunged in, shaking his head and making his own hand gestures.

Ms Merkel reacted in a way that any woman, anywhere will surely recognise. She sighed and rolled her eyes. It is the common response to what's known as "mansplaining," when a man begins explaining something to a woman that she already understands perfectly well because she just explained it to him.

There was no question of a misunderstanding or anything being lost in translation in their case. Each speaks the other's language fluently.

As the leaders lined up for what's known as the "family photo," Ms Merkel was caught shooting a glare at Mr Putin. Her eyebrows were down, her lip curled - a full-on frown of deep disapproval. Mr Putin looked suitably chastened.

A good deal can be said in a handshake.In the formal greeting at the beginning of the summit, British prime minister Theresa May was granted the briefest contact, which was not even maintained for the obligatory photograph. As Mrs May stepped away, Ms Merkel was already facing the other way - one alpha female dismissing a pretender to her power.

On the other hand, French president, Emmanuel Macron - the newbie at the summit, since he was elected only two months ago - gave and received the full Gallic kiss on both cheeks, with hands on shoulders, and the handshake that followed for the official photo was warm and prolonged.

But the image that went viral was one showing Ms Merkel with her face in her hands as Donald Trump looms over her. Sometimes, emotions will get the better of even an ice maiden.

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