Friday 23 February 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 23/2/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Image: Jake Michaels

Society / Christopher Lord

Tipping point

Mark my words: US tipping culture is on the march and might soon be coming to an after-dinner bill, factura or Rechnung near you. I have always preferred not to complain about what is an unavoidable fact of dining out stateside, even if it confounds most visiting Europeans. Yet I have started to see its influence spreading overseas: a percentage point added to the cheque in London restaurants and a growing social pressure to fork out. Most Americans recognise that tipping has got out of control and think that restaurants should pay their staff more. Gratuity has become gratuitous.

There’s a Trojan horse in this shift. Point-of-sale (POS) machines – those screens at the till on which you tap your card, digitally sign your name and then select a pre-ordained tip percentage ­– have become ubiquitous. Whereas adding 20 per cent was once a solid recognition of good service in the US, some POS machines now suggest that you add more than 35 per cent to your bill – all before you get your coffee. How do you know that the service will be any good?

Alarmingly, tipping has now bled into retail and even self-checkouts at supermarkets. We all know that this is inherently wrong but, by deferring ever more to impersonal machines, common sense is ebbing away. This is far from sticking a note in a tip jar after a humorous chat with a barista. It’s not gathering up a stack of bills from the table at the end of a convivial meal. It’s a mathematical equation, an extra that has become an expectation. There are parallels with the additional costs of plane fares, such as for carry-on luggage and being allowed to board in a timely fashion. The bedrock of customer service has now become something that we must pay for. A good tip is a pleasure to give and a recognition of service done well. Giving should never be a given.

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Briefings

Design / Los Angeles

Moment in the sun

Design Miami has announced that it will hold its inaugural West Coast edition in Los Angeles from 16 May. The fair, which was founded in Florida in 2005, has gained momentum in recent years as it seeks to establish itself as the top attraction for collectors of high-end design. The LA edition will be held in Holmby Hills, a stately neighbourhood to the west of the city. It joins must-visit fairs in Basel, Paris and elsewhere on an increasingly packed calendar of global shows. It’s also expected to provide a significant boost to the local design community. LA is home to plenty of working designers and several highly respected galleries, yet has struggled to attract the same level of recognition as cities such as New York. It can take the arrival of a big, commercially minded fair like Design Miami to finally give a scene the spotlight that it deserves.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Japan & South Korea

Tides of change

An annual ceremony was held this week in western Japan’s Shimane prefecture, asserting the country’s claim to a group of islands controlled by South Korea in the Sea of Japan. Known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, the islets have long been a source of contention between the two nations. This year’s ceremony came as representatives from both countries attended the G20 summit in Rio de Janeiro to address North Korea’s growing aggression.

Though the event sparked protests in Seoul, neither South Korea nor Japan seemed particularly keen to exacerbate the dispute. “Seoul’s diplomatic response was subdued,” Tomohiko Taniguchi, a former special adviser to Shinzo Abe, tells The Monocle Minute. “South Korea merely summoned a deputy from the Japanese embassy in Seoul and Japan refrained from dispatching a cabinet-level minister to the gathering. The protesters in Seoul are gearing up for the general elections in April and their actions are largely driven by their ambition to challenge the incumbent administration.”

Image: Reinhard Gorner

Culture / Portugal & UAE

Clicking the books

The Biblioteca Joanina at Portugal’s University of Coimbra will receive €8m to digitise its archive, thanks to a partnership with the UAE’s Sharjah Book Authority. The funding will allow the library to convert about 50 per cent of its 60,000-volume archive, which includes priceless historical documents, books published between the 16th and 18th centuries, and an extensive Middle Eastern collection.

The initiative is the latest in a series of cultural collaborations between the university and the UAE. In November, Sharjah’s ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi, received a delegation from Coimbra to mark the university’s presence at the Sharjah International Book Fair. At the event, the university showcased a collection of centuries-old manuscripts detailing Portugal’s relationship with the Gulf. Such initiatives show how culture can bring nations together. The first batch of the digital archive is expected to be online by the end of the year.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Gauri Gill and Rajesh Vangad

Photo of the week / ‘The Eye in the Sky’

Village vanguard

This week’s picture, “The Eye in the Sky”, is a black-and-white photograph of a man gazing towards a forest, layered with traditional Warli drawings and other images. In 2013, Indian photographer Gauri Gill and painter Rajesh Vangad started collaborating on a project that seeks to capture the multifaceted realities of the region where Vangad grew up, from floods and droughts to village life.

Fields of Sight (2023), a collection of their work published by Edition Patrick Frey, is shortlisted for this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize at London’s Photographers’ Gallery.

Image: Rasmus Hjortshoj

Monocle Radio / On Design Extra

‘Changing our Footprint’

This exhibition at the Danish Architecture Center in Copenhagen explores alternatives to building with concrete. Monocle’s Michael Booth meets with Eva Ravnborg, a partner at Henning Larsen, to hear more about how straw and other biomaterials can become large-scale building resources of the future.


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