The opener - Issue 139 - Magazine | Monocle

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value for money

In Switzerland, cash reigns supreme. It affords its spenders (and hoarders) a freedom from interference that the Swiss – ever the private individuals – characteristically cherish. But has a recent move by the country’s parliamentarians to support cryptocurrency trading sounded the physical franc’s death knell? We’re not so sure. While affording total anonymity, cryptocurrencies are still unstable, inconvenient and not widely accepted, which makes using them largely impractical. This is good news for Zürich-based banknote printer Orell Füssli, which supplies Switzerland and other countries. Some experts are even saying that demand for fresh banknotes will increase following the pandemic. It’s also good news for criminals (yes, even Switzerland has them) who prefer to use cash to do their dodgy deals.

In the charts

Less is more

Given that a third of the human brain is devoted to making sense of what we see, it’s unsurprising that graphs often feature when we present information. What is surprising is that, despite maths going back millennia, it wasn’t until the 1700s that the graph was invented by Swiss physicist Leonhard Euler. To settle a debate in Königsberg (about whether you could walk a circular route across the Prussian river town’s four islands by crossing each of its seven bridges just once), Euler created the world’s first network diagram – and the science behind the graph was born.

Today, however, its power to transform detailed relationships between numbers into simpler visuals is often abused. Watch out for the crafty use of scales: tiny differences can be exaggerated to emphasise a point, or losses shrunk into invisibility to mask an inconvenient truth. At their best, graphs are simple: they contain only crucial pieces of information, have a clear scale and use few colours to make important trends apparent. 


Not for our eyes

by Sonia Zhuravlyova

Don’t all writers want their work to be read in 100 years’ time? Vietnamese-American author Ocean Vuong can rest easy: he is the latest to submit a manuscript to the Future Library in Oslo. The project was launched in 2014 by artist Katie Paterson. Every year an author is invited to contribute a script before sealing it away to remain unread until 2114. She has also planted 1,000 trees outside the city to supply the paper on which the 100 unread manuscripts will eventually be printed. “Norway felt like the perfect place for it to exist and grow,” she says. But will there be anyone left to read the texts? We do love a cliffhanger.

Sense of humour

Read the room

The value of a good government PR campaign will continue over the next year, as states try to keep people onside when introducing new – and likely unpopular – rules or perhaps enticing them to get a vaccination. A little levity here can go a long way.


For inspiration, look to Indian advertising agency fcb, which wrapped 2020 with a host of awards for its tongue-in-cheek campaign on behalf of Mumbai’s traffic police. Aiming to curb noise pollution in the city, it made a short mockumentary-style video advert where sound meters were hooked to traffic lights that stayed red if too many drivers pressed on their horns. Viewed millions of times online, it was an instant hit, balancing irreverence with an important message. Their success now begs the question: what problem should the city’s police, who commissioned the campaign, satirise next?

Better luck next time


According to Chinese astrology, 2020 was always unlikely to be good. In the ganzhi calendar it is the 37th of its 60-year cycle – a year pronounced “geng zi”. “Geng” means change and, though the science is woolly, you’ll see that it’s always been a bad change: in 1840 the UK was waging the First Opium War with China; in 1900 a rebellion was underway; and in 1960 the Great Famine killed millions. A good year? Well, 2007 was the year of the Golden Pig, which promises healthy, wealthy babies. But it comes around once every 600 years, so don’t hold your breath for the next one.

Smash hits

Here are three of our favourite country-specific traditions for ringing in the new year. 

  1. If you’re Danish, breaking crockery on a family member’s doorstep is an acceptable way to welcome the new year. From experience, we don’t recommend trying this in another country.
  2. Some Peruvian villages bring in the new year with a fistfight to settle differences. The US election debates would have been far more interesting if the candidates had taken a similar approach.
  3. Greek parents wake their children on New Year’s Day by tapping onions on their heads. We’re not sure whether this is actually a way to bring good luck or just a great means of punishing teens who broke their curfew.

Light relief

Throughout most of the 20th century, lighting up a Sullana would give you an edge. Made in Switzerland and packed into immaculately designed cartons, the high-end cigarettes typified all the seductive allure of the tobacco industry at its height. But in the 1990s the brand collapsed, as did many of its peers. A twist of fate has now changed things, however. While researching an old advertisement, Zürich design enthusiast Stefano Pibiri discovered that nobody owned Sullana’s naming rights. Some paperwork and chf500 (€470) later and the cigarette brand was reborn in 2020.


Pibiri and his friend Beat Geier designed new packaging and advertising in collaboration with Michel Casarramona, riffing on the old aesthetic by adopting the original logo but recrafting the font. The tobacco is grown near Zürich and treated in an additive-free process. Stocked in a few select Zürich bars and kiosks, Sullana’s quality and high price point position the brand to step into the gap that premium tobacco companies vacated. The 20 pack is so beautifully made that even non-smokers might want to pick one up.

intensive care


Swapping city life for sand between your toes doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye to quality healthcare. When a medical emergency strikes on Cheung Chau, one of Hong Kong’s 250 or so islands, three of its nine paramedics come to the rescue. They arrive in one of the few motorised vehicles that are allowed on the island: the village ambulance. Saving lives is, of course, a serious business. But driving ambulances can be fun. “One of the greatest satisfactions lies in swerving through the narrow streets with tourists gazing at the ambulance in amazement,” says Yuen Ka-man, one of the island’s paramedics.

From the makers of Monocle

Konfekt, our stylish quarterly sister publication, is packed with the best in drinking, dining, fashion and travel from Mitteleuropa and beyond. Issue one is on newsstands from early December or available to order at

Issultrator: Raphaelle Martin. Photographer: Jimi Chiu. Images: Alamy, Michel Casarramona

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