One way to tell what a government is thinking is to look where it’s spending. A freedom-of-information inquiry reported recently in The Times revealed that UK authorities are increasingly concerned about staff committing “microaggressions” – so much so that, since 2021, it has spent more than £160,000 (€187,000) of taxpayers’ money on training to avoid them.
Though hard to define cleanly, such snubs – particularly towards people who are or feel marginalised – are best avoided, of course. If you’re serving someone, don’t, say, roll your eyes or stare gormlessly at your phone or the space on the wall behind their head, says the expensive training. Be aware of how behavioural blunders can rub people up the wrong way, it continues.
While it’s an important conversation, there’s also a question to ponder. When did shoddy service and rudeness become acceptable to some groups and not others? Plus, does introducing the baggage of a new nomenclature (“victimhood”, “inclusion” and “othering”) benefit the people who this advice sets out to help? The jury’s still out but the evidence isn’t promising: according to the report, many trainees struggled to grasp the purpose of the sessions or how to implement the frothy advice on offer.
Proper training and good recruitment are vital to improving services for all. But to me, tailoring training to appease those who are most likely to take offence sounds more like arse-covering than kindness. Some tips dished out in the training, such as asking people to nod reassuringly when dealing with service users, feel rather patronising too.
Maybe a Monocle-backed common-sense service-training course could help? Modules on “smiling”, “eye contact”, “putting your phone away occasionally” and “listening” might be a start. Lesson one: your job, whether you’re a civil servant or shop assistant, will require you to try to help whoever is in line or on the line and be cordial. Don’t roll your eyes, reader – governments and businesses are paying good money for this sort of advice. Good manners cost nothing? Think again.
Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.
Plans to form a government in the Netherlands fell apart this week when Pieter Omtzigt, leader of the centre-right New Social Contract party (NSC), walked out of coalition talks. The country shocked the world in November, when far-right veteran Geert Wilders’s Freedom party (PVV) won almost 24 per cent of parliamentary seats.
Omtzigt, who assumed a kingmaker role during the November elections, said this week that he was only willing to support a minority government from the outside, due to his disappointment over the state of Dutch public finances. If efforts to form a viable coalition fail, then the country could be headed for another election. While the latest polls show that PPV still holds the majority of support, Wilders is yet to show the qualities of a unifying prime minister.
Mexico has officially surpassed China to become the biggest exporter of goods to the US. Figures released this week by the US Department of Commerce show that the value of Mexican imports rose by almost 5 per cent in 2023, totalling $475bn (€440bn), while Chinese imports fell by 20 per cent. “We haven’t seen a change like this in two decades,” Rebecca Choong Wilkins, Asia government and economy correspondent at Bloomberg News, told Monocle Radio. According to Wilkins, the diversification of supply chains by US companies has led to an increase in Mexican manufacturing, as well as higher tariffs imposed on Chinese exports. The change is evidence of the growing economic tensions between the US and China – and the global trade shift taking place across the Pacific.
Luxury Stores at Amazon has announced its first partnership with Hardly Ever Worn It (HEWI), a London-based resale platform for pre-owned designer pieces. The collaboration is an opportunity for the technology giant to expand its high-end offerings to the European market. The tie-in will give Luxury Stores at Amazon customers in Italy, Spain, Germany and the UK access to a selection of products from brands such as Prada and Valentino.
HEWI became a key player in the secondhand market after it was founded by Sharon Wolter-Ferguson and her two daughters, Tatiana and Natalya, in 2012. For the resale platform, this is an opportunity to widen its audience and take on large-scale competitors such as Vestiaire Collective. The deal reflects a change of dynamics in the online-retail sector, where established players, such as Farfetch and Net-a-Porter, are losing ground as Luxury Stores at Amazon tries to grab a bigger stake in the market. It’s unclear whether selling high-end items in such a vast virtual marketplace will be successful but HEWI’s seal of approval is a step in the right direction.
Rowers in costumes sail along the Grand Canal for the opening of the 2024 Venice Carnival in this photo by Federico Vespignani. With an estimated five million visitors attending carnivals across Italy in 2023, the event is a staple of tourism for the city. This year’s edition, which ends on Tuesday, is the last chance for revellers to enjoy free access to the event before a €5 ticket fee is officially introduced in 2025 as an effort to curb numbers.
We look to the urban spaces below our feet, exploring the tunnels, passageways and even catacombs that exist under the buildings and roadways of our cities.