Tuesday. 3/12/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Making a habit of it

When I moved to Germany seven years ago it didn’t take long for someone to mention the TV comedy Dinner for One. “You must watch it,” they would say. “But be sure to wait until New Year’s Eve.” I naturally assumed it was a German-language programme and enquired as much. “No, it’s in English,” came the response. “Don’t they watch it in the US or the UK?”

As the comedy – really an extended sketch – begins, a German announcer appears to explain that you are about to watch a play about an old lady, Miss Sophie, and her butler James, who every year throws her a birthday dinner where he plays all four guests: long-perished friends of the 90-year-old hostess. James gets increasingly drunk as he shares several toasts and eventually – suggestively – takes Miss Sophie to bed. Now here’s the strange part: this sketch originally played in UK seaside-town theatres but only became beloved in Germany after a producer invited the two British actors to record it for a TV show in 1963. It has since become a new-year tradition. Meanwhile, most people in the UK (where it was aired on TV for the first time in 2018) have still never heard of it.

As someone who has moved from country to country throughout my life, I enjoy stumbling across quirky traditions such as Dinner for One and eventually working them into my own life. That’s what integrating is all about: not replacing your own traditions but adding new ones to your repertoire. Other habits I picked up in Germany include a love of apple wine and the Grüne sosse (green sauce) of the central Hesse region. Now that I’ve moved to London it’s time to add new ones – and I don’t just mean the extra weight that comes from eating mince pies.

Geopolitics / China

Beijing backlash

When Donald Trump signed a bill in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrators last week, it was only a matter of time before China’s countermove. That retaliation came yesterday with the suspension of US Navy visits to Hong Kong, sanctions on several US NGOs operating in the country (the specifics of these are unclear) and a demand from the foreign ministry for the US “to correct the mistakes and stop interfering in our internal affairs”. China’s response won’t necessarily have a practical impact; there are many other naval bases in the region used by the US and NGOs are unlikely to be bullied into changing their ways. “Rather than target organisations that seek to defend the rights of people in Hong Kong, the Chinese government should respect those rights,” says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. The signs are ominous that tensions between the US and China could well get worse before they get better.

Protests / Chile

Out in the cold

The world’s attention is focused on the COP25 climate summit in Spain this week but there is one leader – Chilean president Sebastián Piñera – who has stayed back to deal with bigger troubles at home. Piñera (pictured) had originally hoped to host the summit but ongoing protests forced it to be moved to Spain. Chile, meanwhile, remains in a state of social convulsion as the latest polls show that the vast majority of Chileans – 67 per cent – still support the anti-government protests.

Even worse news for Piñera is a pitiful 10 per cent approval rating (the lowest of any president in Chile’s history) that could be hard to revive, even with recent measures such as halving the salaries of all politicians. With anger and dissatisfaction among Chileans continuing unabated, it will take more than token measures by the government to fix the problem.

Transport / Denmark

Get the trains rolling

Denmark’s transport ministry is joining the battery-powered locomotive revolution with plans to trial new trains on two rail lines in 2020. The batteries will allow electric trains to operate on older rails with no overhead electric lines (while charging up on those that do have them), making the move an integral part of developing a future-facing rail network that can span the whole country. Denmark’s tests are part of a wider shift towards electric train travel. Austria and Germany are currently running their own trials, with the latter’s proving particularly successful: a regional German transport authority has recently placed an order for 55 Swiss-made battery-powered trains due to be rolled out in 2022. Now Denmark says that its electric rolling stock could be ready as soon as 2023 if the trial is successful. For northern Europe’s electric rail ambitions, it’s full steam ahead.

F&B / USA

Cheers to that!

A suburb of Cincinnati is saying cin cin to drinking in the street this Christmas. Bellevue, a municipality to the east of the city, is allowing alcohol to be consumed on footpaths in its designated entertainment district. Patrons are now permitted to carry drinks between participating venues (in city-approved cups) between midday and 22.00 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It’s a sober move at a time when other cities and local governments – in the US and abroad – are relaxing alcohol and nightlife regulations. Both Sydney and Brisbane have recently rolled back their heavy-handed licensing and drinking laws after they were blamed for the closure of venues and the deterioration of life after dark. For further inspiration, the US and Australia could both look to Europe, where drinking straight out of an off-license has long been the norm.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

The Street

We take a walk down Hoxton Street, the focus of Zed Nelson’s new documentary, 'The Street', which tells the story of a gentrifying London community over the course of four years.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: Forecast 2020

If the dawning of a new decade is leaving you with more questions than answers, a copy of The Forecast should be an immediate purchase. We’ve got advice on where (and how) to live in 2020, as well as inspiring stories from Indonesia, Greece, India and more. Ready? You soon will be.

Available now at [The Monocle Shop (https://monocle.com/shop/product/1622580/the-forecast-2020/)

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