Tuesday. 26/11/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Venetia Rainey

Shop smarter

You’ve probably seen the social media posts by now. The banners on the websites are hard to miss. And I know you’ve been getting the emails. That’s right: Black Friday is nearly upon us. Once a strictly American affair timed to kick off the Christmas retail period post-Thanksgiving, this annual shopping extravaganza has gone international, inspiring discounts and rival events (see Alibaba’s Singles Day earlier this month) around the world. I love a sale as much as the next person but is this feverish orgy of impulsive consumerism really what we want?

For starters it’s bad for physical retail. These days, in contrast to its original aim of boosting footfall in shops, people are increasingly migrating online for the best bargains, not to mention shorter queues for the checkout. Nearly two thirds of US consumers are planning to avoid the high street this year, whether to shop via websites or not at all, according to a report by customer-experience firm Genesys. Further, the big winners are usually the large companies. The majority of Black Friday spending in the UK last year was online, with Amazon emerging as the top performer, according to GlobalData retail analysts. There’s also the impact on the environment of all those deliveries and returns – some 30 per cent of goods bought online are sent back – and the frenzied grabbiness of buying the item that you, your partner or your dog never really wanted. The whole thing leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

This year, how about putting a sense of occasion and purpose back into your festive shop by ditching Black Friday and making time to check out your local high street’s seasonal offerings. Oh, did I mention that Monocle is doing its annual Christmas market in [Zürich(https://monocle.com/events/the-monocle-christmas-market-in-zuerich-2019)] and then [London(https://monocle.com/events/the-monocle-christmas-market-in-london-2019)]? We’ll see you there.

Politics / Uruguay

Out at the count

Uruguay appears to be on the cusp of a major political change as voters seem to have edged out the party that’s been in power since 2010. In a second-round presidential vote held on Sunday, the incumbent party’s candidate Daniel Martínez gained 47.5 per cent of the vote, while the rival Conservative National party candidate Luis Lacalle Pou squeezed over the line with 48.7 per cent. The initial neck-and-neck numbers mean that the winner won’t be officially declared until a recount has been completed. Compared with neighbouring Brazil and Argentina, both fraught with controversial characters and radical policies, and Chile and Colombia, both beset by violent protests, this change in tiny Uruguay is unlikely to cause any ructions. For more on this story, listen to Monocle 24’s Latin American expert Fernando Augusto Pacheco on The Briefing.

Society / Japan

Home truths

As rural areas in Japan experience alarming levels of depopulation, Daisuke Yamanaka has set himself a mission to turn things around. “There is a lack of self-awareness in society,” he says. “Everyone thinks someone else will sort it out one day.” Not Yamanaka, who founded Yamagata Design in a bid to arrest the decline of Shonai, a fertile part of Yamagata (about an hour’s flight north of Tokyo). The prefecture has seen an exodus of young people who are less interested than their elders in agriculture and the rice fields that are abundant here. Among Yamanaka’s creations are the Suiden Terasse hotel (pictured), which caters to tourists and residents alike, and an innovative children’s centre to attract young families back to the area. For more of his tips on rural regeneration, read Yamanaka’s story in issue 129 of Monocle, which is on newsstands now.

Transport / Brisbane

Move in the right direction

There’s a buzz around transit in Brisbane after mayor Adrian Schrinner announced that the city will invest AU$194m (€119m) in a new fleet of 60 all-electric public-transport vehicles – the first city in Australia to do so. It’s reflective of a wider global trend where local governments are proving to be nimbler than their regional (or even national) counterparts when it comes to introducing sustainable transit options. But with significant up-front costs and smaller coffers than regional governments, cities have to get creative when it comes to funding new infrastructure associated with electric mass-transit vehicles. Schrinner – whose opponents have already cited concerns over the cost of the new fleet – could look to the US for inspiration; there local authorities have partnered with private utility companies to defray the cost of power-grid upgrades and new charging stations required for electric buses. Now that’s a good public-private partnership.

F&B / Norway

Strength in numbers

Juleøl, Norway’s special yuletide ale, is being produced in many forms this year: almost 250 varieties of the festive brew are available in the weeks approaching Christmas and New Year. The beverage – characterised by its rich flavours, dark colours and lengthy shelf life – has been a traditional Norwegian winter warmer for more than 1,000 years. However, new approaches have expanded the scope of the tipple and today you can pick up wheat beer, stout, bock or barley-wine varieties (among others). Brewers are also experimenting with festive flavours including cinnamon, cloves, citrus peel and cardamom. It pays to go to the government-approved off-licences, which are allowed to sell traditional juleøl with much higher alcohol content than those found in supermarkets.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

The Crown

Sarah Carson and Scott Bryan binge on the latest series of ‘The Crown’, which sees Olivia Colman take over the role of Queen Elizabeth II from Claire Foy. How does the hit Netflix show fare with a new cast in a new era? And how easy it is to watch alongside the ongoing Prince Andrew scandal?

Monocle Films / Italy

Italian industry special: The fabric mill

From cotton fields in Egypt to state-of-the-art laboratories in Bergamo, our search for quality “Made in Italy” textiles focuses on the fifth-generation Albini Group.

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