Sunday, June 19, 2022 – La Minute Monocle

The fastest way / Tyler Brule

keep the peace

Do you remember the 1990s BBC comedy series Keep up appearances, starring Patricia Routledge as the status-obsessed Hyacinth Bucket? If you’re unfamiliar with this sometimes pointed commentary on the UK class system, then your Sunday night viewing is sorted. On Monday afternoon, I experienced something that felt like a live episode of the show – albeit in a mix of German and French on a Swiss train between Geneva and Zürich.

As I entered the first class “Car of Silence” at Geneva Cointrin, I spotted a rather buxom older woman sitting on the left side (direction of travel) and immediately thought, “Oh, Patricia Routledge must have boarded at the airport and is on her way to visit friends in Montreux. Or maybe she was going to Gstaad to escape the temperatures (more on the alpine resort in a minute). I haven’t really I think it was her but it was a nice little fantasy to add some color to this otherwise hot and sultry afternoon. Although it was a busy car, I managed to secure a two-seater arrangement and organize things for the 2+ hour trip back to Zurich. Since it was the end of the day, the weather was hot, and there were a lot of commuters who had jumped out of the office earlier, I was aware that the “car of silence” was not going to be so quiet and wondering what the dirty looks and scoldings were prepared for would-be offenders. The first 15 minutes were pretty civilized as everyone was happy to be cool on a train rather than parched on a platform. Beers were opened, bottles of water slurped and it looked like many might doze off rather than catch up on their emails.

Somewhere outside Morges, the gentleman across from me was startled by his own phone, which went off with a flash of light and a scream. He answered immediately and fumbled with his headphones while listening to the seemingly important person on the other end of the line. As he searched for a pen and his tablet, he managed to regain his composure and got the better of the call. Was he going to apologize or discuss his backlog for the next 10 minutes? When he glanced my way, I nodded kindly at the sign on the window next to him – the all-important, world-recognized “Don’t Speak” icon (massive sealed lips with a index fingers pressed against them) alongside images with red tap marks on a cell phone and a long-obsolete audio device with headphones. If that’s not clear enough, there’s additional reinforcement with the words: Ruhezone, Quiet Space, zone of silence, Quiet zone. The gentleman offered an embarrassed smile, nodded apologetically, and ducked out of the car to continue his call.

She gave me a knowing wink and smiled. She had done her civic duty. Order was restored, the car was properly silent

As I watched the automatic glass door close behind him, I noticed an older couple in bucket hats chatting in French. They admired the scenery and seemed to enjoy the passing vineyards and manicured lawns surrounding various multinational HQs. She had more to say than he did, and as this turned into a running comment, I could only assume they were French-French and not Swiss-French. I had already done my share of enforcement, so I felt I needed to take a break; I occasionally glanced in their direction but they were too caught up in Lake Geneva to pay attention to me. Shortly after, I could hear and feel someone walking in my direction – it was Mrs Routledge’s fantasy in a poppy and white print belted shirt dress, sensible summer sandals and hairdo so well adjusted that it would withstand 100% humidity, a tropical downpour and an accompanying hailstorm. She strode past and stopped in front of the French couple. It was going to be good.

“Hello,” she said, pointing to the sign.

The French couple looked at the panel, looked back at the Routledge fantasy and made that face only the French know how to do – the slight puckering of lips that fold over the edges; basically the facial version of a shrug.

Nein, nein; no noscolded Swiss Routledge, who was clearly on the German side of the country and not going to get carried away with Latin. She gestured around her, her arms outstretched, and returned to the panel. “Space Silence, yesShe then made the unmistakable “zip it / close your trap” motion through a sweet smile, nodded at the pair and then turned around. Passing by, she gave me a little wink She looked knowingly and smiled. She had done her civic duty. Order was restored, the car was cleanly quiet and Hyacinth Bucket would have been proud.

I resumed reading Elliot Ackerman 2034 and, while we are talking about geopolitical conflagrations, if you like his work and want to hear from him, go next weekend to Gstaad for the World of Words literary festival. Monocle 24’s Georgina Godwin will be on hand to interview Martin Suter on Saturday night and Elliot Ackerman will join us for a special edition of “Monocle on Sunday”. Hope to see you there.

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