Most people think that leaders have to be tall. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, like Sarkozy and Berlusconi, who supplement the height gained from their elevated shoes by standing on tiptoe for photographers. Generally, though, shortness attracts jeers. In France, for example, people may refer to a "little grump" (petit teigneux), or worse, to a person's being "short-legged" (court sur pattes). Italian expressions make broader use of metaphor. A short man is likened to a "bottle cork" (un tappo de bottiglia). The comparison is akin to the one used in sunny Spain, in which small men are seen as "basin plugs" (tapón de alberca). As for the Germans, being more accustomed to rain, their nickname for a short man is "Knirps", from the famed make of pocket umbrella.

Fortunately, size is not everything. Short people often work hard to compensate for their height handicap. In Lithuania, there's a saying that it ain't the meat, it's the motion: svarbu ne ūgis, o smūgis.So, in the end, being short can make a favourable impression. For example, as the Germans say, one may be "small but fine" (Klein aber fein), or one might "bake small rolls" (Kleine Brötchen backen). French has a concept for "small but mighty" (petit mais costaud). The English expression good things come in small packages seems to promise that short men are long on loving, to the delight of their ladies. Poles of modest height also know how to defend themselves from mockery. When they face repeated attacks, many reply: "gdy rozdawali wzrost, stałem/stałam po inteligencję." Translation, please? "When it was time to go pick up height, I went and got brains instead." Top that!

Pierre-Anthony Canovas