The opener - Issue 125 - Magazine | Monocle

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Opinion: In praise of dimming the lights

The new dark age:
We’ve been turning our attention to the delights of the table at monocle. For our Drinking & Dining Directory, on newsstands from 27 June, we surveyed our 50 favourite restaurants and dispatched hungry reporters to six continents. Their culinary exploits serve to prove that restaurants’ tedious preoccupation with social media is receding and restaurateurs are turning back to what they ought to be doing: providing places to break bread with one another. In doing so they are prioritising the human touch and it’s this that our new annual is celebrating. Here’s hoping this dark age, with candles, curtains and privacy, is here to stay.

Making a mark:

The punctuation upgrade

Ever find that one exclamation mark isn’t enough? If so, the “extramation mark” is for you. The glyph – a full stop with three lines fanning out above – is among the new punctuation proposed by London-based agency Here Design in its book Missing Marks. Others include the “anti-asterisk”, indicating there’s no small print, and the “mic-drop dot”, reserved for an end-of-argument put down. The pamphlet is in response to punctuation rarely changing even though new words are added to the dictionary every year. Here Design will hope that its suggestions avoid the fate of the interrobang, a glyph mooted in 1962 that combined an exclamation mark and a question mark to express incredulity. It’s tempting to use Here Design’s “obvs mark” to say, “It didn’t catch on.”

Fast food nation:

Few things rouse the anti-American snob like the colonisation of European streets by US fast-food outlets – and one fast-food outlet in particular. In apparent confirmation of suspicions that the golden arches are interchangeable with the stars and stripes, it is now possible for US citizens visiting Austria to request a side of consular assistance with their Big Mac. Distressed Americans in Austria who are unable to access a US embassy will be able to ask for help at any of the country’s 194 McDonald’s outlets. Staff have been trained in processing difficulties such as lost passports, while tourists will be given relevant contact numbers and access to a telephone if required.

McDonald’s is not being paid for the service and assures that consular assistance is not contingent on the purchase of burgers. It’s unclear whether there are any plans to roll the scheme out worldwide, or how staff plan to respond to the first opportunist glutton who attempts to claim asylum.

Hong Kong

“The Cantonese have a penchant for silly number plates”

Highway codes:
Earlier this year a driver in Hong Kong paid hk$6m for a personalised number plate that read “PP”. Their initials? Not necessarily. The Cantonese have a penchant for silly number plates and anyone walking through town in recent weeks may have seen the word “BANANA” on a black Mercedes C-Class, “FAST CAR” on a red taxi or “GOODTIME” on a purple Scania tour bus. To obtain these novelty licences, people submit names for consideration (eight characters maximum) and a government-approved list is then put up for auction to the highest bidder. “G1GGLES”, “ERROR404” and “OH YEA” are currently up for grabs.

Hot shorts: Boozy cruisers and greasy polls


In the drink

by Annabelle Chapman

From 2020, Swiss boaters will no longer have to keep track of how many beers they’re putting away while messing about on the water. In May the country’s Federal Council decided to scrap the drink-drive limit of 0.05 per cent blood-alcohol concentration for small leisure boats (the same level as for cars). Paddleboaters, windsurfers and dinghy-goers are relatively harmless, it admitted, adding that it’s difficult for police to chase people down and breathalyse them on the water anyway.

Those with thirstier tendencies would still be wise to exercise some caution. Though there is no official limit for alcohol in the blood, drink-related tomfoolery will still result in crapulent boaters being beached. Even so, not everyone is pleased with the council’s decision. The Swiss Advice Center for Accident Prevention and the Swiss Life-Saving Society believe anything that relaxes alcohol rules on the water is irresponsible. But few are likely to heed these calls of caution – when the lake beckons on a hot day, the council’s decision should be toasted with bottles of champagne on the water.


Democracy sausages

by Andrew Mueller

Australians shouldn’t require enticement to visit a polling station on election day – voting is compulsory, on pain of a au$20 fine. Nevertheless, on 18 May, as at all Australian elections, many polling stations laid out a lure: the rudimentary barbecue known as a sausage sizzle.

The phenomenon of the “democracy sausage” has grown to the point where newspapers publish lists of which polling stations offer them – information also available from an app ( The ingestion of the sausage has become a staple photo op. During Australia’s previous federal election campaign in 2016, opposition leader Bill Shorten prompted consternation by eating a sausage sideways. He duly led the Labor party to defeat – as he did again, to the surprise of many, at the recent election. The possibility that Australian voters are yet to forgive his poor sausage etiquette has been under-considered by analysts.

Liberté, égalité... sobriété?

By Sophie Grove

“Never more than one litre of wine per day,” urged a public ‘Santé Sobriété’ campaign that graced the walls of Parisian cafés in the 1950s. The French have come a long way since then (studies show they drink 60 per cent less) but not far enough says the country’s Académie Nationale de Médecine. It recently announced that alcohol consumption had stopped falling for the first time since the Second World War and called for government action. France’s powerful wine industry hit back, accusing doctors of launching an “anti-wine crusade” against the sector.

Represented by the trade body Vin & Société, the wine industry’s counter-strategy promotes the “traditions et valeurs” of wine in French society with campaigns and events that highlight the cultural importance of viticulture. In April it hosted a conference led by the social anthropologist Catherine Le Grand-Sébille, which looked at taste, heritage and sharing of wine. Vin & Société even runs programmes to educate children about the history and production of wine.

Doctors insist that promoting the idea of wine as the nobler tipple is misleading consumers. Yet it’s a notion that persists in the minds of many; certainly in that of minister of agriculture Didier Guillaume, who declared in January that wine was “not like other alcohol” and that kids weren’t bingeing on bottles of Crozes-Hermitage or Costières de Nîmes.

Ninety per cent of French citizens say they conform to government guidelines on drinking wine, which advises no more than 10 glasses a week. A glass of vin rouge is still seen as fortifying and good for digestion – fuel to the national psyche. It was Charles Baudelaire who said, “Boire du vin, c’est boire du génie.” Many French citizens agree, no matter what the doctor orders.


Toronto-based kpmb was c0-founded by Bruce Kuwabara in 1987. His fingerprints can now be found all over Canada, from Saskatoon’s Remai Modern to a ferry terminal on Lake Ontario. Here are three ways he’d like to fix cities worldwide.

  1. Outlaw glass buildings
    “We shouldn’t build any more. Even New York mayor Bill de Blasio put out an edict for no more glass buildings. Instead I’m interested in buildings that have super thick walls to regulate the temperature.”
  2. Slow down
    “Everyone needs to think before building. I’d put a moratorium on development in Toronto. The fix is to have a serious conversation about the future – and to have it again and again and again.”
  3. Build smaller
    “Too many buildings are too big. Jane Jacobs said that to kill a neighbourhood, put in a convention centre. It has a huge footprint, a single occupant and sterilises everything on its edges.”

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