Skip to content

Sunday 19 June 2022 – The Monocle Minute

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brule

keeping the peace

Do you recall the 1990s BBC comedy series Keeping Up Appearances, starring Patricia Routledge as the status-obsessed Hyacinth Bucket? If you’re not familiar with this occasionally sharp commentary on the British class system, then there’s your Sunday evening viewing sorted. On Monday afternoon I experienced something resembling a live episode of the program – albeit in a mix of German and French on a Swiss train between Geneva and Zürich.

On entering the First Class “silence carriage” at Geneva Cointrin, I spotted a rather buxom older woman seated 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 perhaps she was going to Gstaad to escape the temperatures (more on the Alpine resort in a minute). I didn’t really think it was her but it was a nice little fantasy to add a bit of color to this otherwise hot and stuffy afternoon. Despite it being a busy carriage, I managed to secure a two-seat arrangement to myself and set about organizing things for the more than two-hour trip back to Zürich. Given that it was the end of the day, it was toasty and there were a lot of commuters who had skipped out of the office early, I was aware that the “silence carriage” wasn’t going to be all that quiet and wondered what dirty looks and tellings off were being warmed up for potential offenders. The first 15 minutes were quite civilized as everyone was happy to be cool on a train rather than patched on a platform. Beers were opened, water bottles glugged and it felt as though many might doze off rather than catch up on emails.

Somewhere outside Morges the gent across from me was startled by his own phone, which went off with a flash of light and a squawk. He answered immediately and fumbled with his earphones while listening to the seemingly important person at the other end of the line. As he looked for a pen and his tablet, he managed to regain his composure and got on top of the call. Was he going to excuse himself or discuss his order backlog for the next 10 minutes? When he glanced my way I gave a gentle nod to the sign on the window beside him – the all-important, globally recognized “Don’t talk” icon (massive sealed lips with an index finger pressed up against them) alongside imagery with red strike marks across a mobile phone and a long-obsolete audio device with accompanying headphones. If that’s not clear enough, there’s further reinforcement with the words: Ruhezone, Space Silence, Silence Zone, Quiet Zone. The gent offered an embarrassed smile, made an apologetic nod and ducked out of the carriage to continue his call.

She gave me a knowing little wink and grinned. She’d done her civic duty from her. Order was restored, the carriage was properly silent

As I watched the automatic glass door close behind him, I noticed an older couple in bucket hats chattering away in French. They were taking in the scenery and seemed to be enjoying the passing vineyards and well-manicured lawns surrounding various multinational HQs. She had more to say than he did and, as this was turning into a running commentary, I could only assume that they were French-French and not Swiss-French. I’d already done my bit of regulation enforcement so I felt that I needed to take a break; I occasionally glanced in their direction but they were too taken by Lac Léman to pay me much notice. Shortly after, I could hear and feel someone striding my direction – it was fantasy Ms Routledge in a belted poppy-and-white-print shirt dress, sensible summer sandals and a hairdo that was so set that it would withstand 100 per cent humidity, a tropical downpour and an accompanying hailstorm. She strode past and stopped in front of the French couple. This was going to be good.

“Hello,” she said and pointed to the sign.

The French couple looked at the sign, looked back at fantasy Routledge and made that face that only the French know how to pull – the slight puckering of lips that turn down at the edges; essentially the facial version of a shrug.

Nein, nein; non, non,” scolded Swiss Routledge, who was clearly from the German side of the country and wasn’t going to be taking any Latin guff. She gestured around her, arms wide and went back to the sign. “Espace Silence, oui?” She then made the unmistakable “zip it/shut your trap” motion across a gentle smile, pointed to the pair and then turned. As she passed, she gave me a knowing little wink and grinned. She’d done her civic duty from her. Order was restored, the carriage was properly silent and Hyacinth Bucket would have been proud.

I returned to reading Elliot Ackerman’s 2034 and, while we’re speaking of geopolitical flare-ups, if you happen to like his work and want to hear from him, make your way to Gstaad next weekend for the World of Words literary festival. Monocle 24’s Georgina Godwin will be on hand to interview Martin Suter on Saturday evening and Elliot Ackerman will be joining us for a special edition of ‘Monocle on Sunday’. Hope to see you there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.