Germans frown on finger gesture by Merkel's election rival

Fri Sep 13, 2013 9:46am EDT
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By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - In a country where flashing the middle finger can cost motorists a heavy fine and ended one soccer star's international career, Peer Steinbrueck may have hurt his slim chances of becoming Germany's next chancellor by showing the "Stinkefinger".

Angela Merkel's Social Democrat (SPD) challenger has had to defend himself over a magazine cover picture in which he points his left middle finger into the air, in a wordless response to a question about his campaign gaffes.

"It's hard to imagine all the things that you can do wrong," he said unapologetically in response to the strong reaction to the picture, published nine days ahead of the September 22 election.

Steinbrueck, who had risen slightly in opinion polls - though still lagging way behind the popular Merkel - insisted the gesture was meant as a joke as part of Sueddeutsche Zeitung magazine's weekly series of wordless picture interviews.

"You're asked a question and supposed to answer with gestures and emotions. So you act. I hope this country has enough of a sense of humor to understand the gestures in the context of the question. Without humor, where are we headed?"

The gesture looked especially incongruous from a bespectacled and balding 66-year-old former finance minister, who usually appears in a sober dark suit and tie.

Rude gestures and four-letter words might be part of everyday life in some countries, but Germans are remarkably restrained when it comes to obscenities. Motorists can be fined up to 4,000 euros for making the finger gesture.

Stefan Effenberg was thrown off Germany's international soccer team in 1994 after he flipped a middle finger to a group of jeering fans as he left the pitch during a World Cup match.   Continued...

Peer Steinbrueck of Social Democratic Party (SPD), a challenger of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, addresses an election campaign rally in the western German city of Essen September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay