Gerry’s News Digest 182: Predictions, leadership problems, alcohol and Swiss tipping (15th January, 2016)

Hi, this is Gerry. And welcome to my News Digest for Friday 15th January 2016. The start of another year! I hope you all enjoyed the celebrations on New Year’s Eve, and that 2016 has started well for you. For the world as a whole, I think it would be fair to say that it hasn’t been the best of beginnings, and I’m going to start off today with a look ahead to the coming year. It’s a story that shows how difficult it is to predict the future. After that, we’ll hear how our political leaders haven’t had a good start to the year, either. This is also a time when we think about eating and drinking less. The British have new guidelines about the latter [1]. And finally, some impressions of service in Swiss restaurants and how it’s rewarded.


Every year at the beginning of January there’s a discussion on the radio among a group of the top BBC diplomatic and foreign correspondents. They try to predict what will happen in the coming year. This year the discussion took place on January 2nd. They started, as you might imagine, with the Middle East. They were reasonably optimistic that some progress would be made in 2016, but not much. Nobody expected the war in Syria to end, nor the refugee crisis to get any smaller. One of the journalists with huge experience of the Middle East predicted, however, that 2016 would see some kind of improvement in the relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. A few days later the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr took place in Saudi Arabia, and the whole region divided along sectarian lines – Sunni versus Shia. It goes to show [2] how difficult it is to predict world events. It sometimes takes a relatively small event to change everything – small that is compared with the thousands of deaths that the region has suffered. We can but hope that cool heads [3] will stop things getting totally out of hand [4]. But if you’re a pessimist you might be thinking that it was a single death in 1914, that of the Austrian Archduke in Sarajevo, that sparked the conflagration [5] of the First World War. In this case, it’s religion rather than nationalism that’s firing people up [6]. A local theologian here in Wales commented recently that religion is a warming thing. It can warm and comfort people, but, he said, it can also burn. It can be a force for good [7] but also for bad.


We’re witnessing a strange spectacle in our political life in the UK. Neither leader of the two main political parties in this country seems to have control over [8] their own Members of Parliament. British party leaders can usually make sure that their MPs all vote the same way. But not at the moment. Mr Cameron, the Prime Minister, is in the middle of negotiating with the EU ahead of the referendum that he promised us. It was always clear that a minority of his party will want to leave the EU regardless of what deal [9] Mr Cameron obtains, but last year he made it clear that his ministers, the members of his government, would be required to support him. This is no longer the case [10]. He’s now announced that ministers in his government will be free to campaign [11] against him in the forthcoming referendum. A number of them are now sure to do this, so there’ll be a split [12] not only in the party but also in the government. It’s more or less certain, by the way, that Mr Cameron will, in the end, be in favour of staying in, and the referendum will probably take place later this year.

Meanwhile, there are splits in the Labour Party, too. The new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, never had much support from Labour MPs. He became leader thanks to the votes of ordinary party members. As leader of the official opposition to the government he has had to put together a “shadow” government with shadow ministers [13] whose job is to question and criticise the corresponding government ministers. The problem is that Mr Corbyn has taken over a party with a number of policies that he, personally, does not support. The main areas that he has problems with are defence and foreign affairs. He wants Britain to give up its nuclear weapons and, as I explained last time, he’s against interventions like the new bombing campaign in Syria. His shadow Foreign Secretary, however, both spoke and voted against him in the recent Syria debate, and his first shadow Defence Secretary wanted to keep Britain’s nuclear weapons. Jeremy Corbyn has managed to change his shadow Defence Secretary, who was by the way one of two twin sisters who are both MPs and shadow ministers [14], but Mr Corbyn hasn’t been able to get rid of his shadow Foreign Secretary. He’s too popular. So, as in the Conservative Party, on certain issues there’s no clear party position.


After Christmas and New Year a lot of people think about eating and drinking less, and that’s probably a good thing for the nation’s health. Too many people are overweight, and alcohol is also a serious health risk. As people have got better off [15] alcohol has become more affordable [16]. People drink more these days than they used to and they drink more often. The Chief Medical Officer for England is Dame [17] Sally Davies and she’s been conducting a survey of English drinking habits for the last couple of years. This has led to new guidelines concerning how much and how often we should be drinking. Until now there were different guidelines for men and for women. Men were told that they shouldn’t drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol per day while for women the daily maximum was 2-3 units. A unit is 10ml (millilitres) or 8g of pure alcohol. That’s what you get in a 25ml shot of normal whisky, or half a glass of wine that’s 12% alcohol. So the daily maximum was about a pint of beer for a man or one small glass of wine for a woman. That’s not very much for most people today. The new guidelines are stricter. Men are recommended to drink no more than women. But the big change is that we’re recommended not to drink anything for at least two consecutive days [18] a week. In other words, no more than 14 units a week spread over five days. And there’ll be more education about the risks of drinking alcohol. In the same way that we learnt that smoking can not only cause lung cancer but also a lot of other medical conditions, we need to be aware that alcohol can do more than just harm your liver [19]. The problem is that drinking alcohol is so much a part of our culture, even more so than smoking was (or is), that it’ll be difficult to persuade people to change their habits.


Last year I spoke to you about tipping. I was saying that the rules for tipping [20] in UK restaurants don’t seem to me to be too clear, and that there are more and more voices saying that it’s not a good system for paying for service. Well, at the end of last year I had a brief visit to see my son in Zurich, and I talked to him about tipping. He told me that the basic rules for tipping in Switzerland are how I remember them – a system of rounding up [21] – but if it’s a good restaurant there’s still an expectation by some people that you add on something like 10% to the final bill. In his opinion, this may be fine if the service is very good, but often if the service isn’t so good not enough people follow through by not tipping or by tipping less. I ate out with him three times. We were very pleased with the service the first night. It was a classy [22] restaurant in Zurich and the service was friendly, quick without being rushed, and professional. Full marks [23] in other words.

The next night my son and I were in the Grisons (Graubünden). It was November, a quiet month for tourists there, and the restaurant was nearly empty. The waiter-manager of the hotel was friendly. A little too friendly perhaps – he liked to make jokes. Not very good jokes. We had our main course, and it was OK. He cleared the plates and left us to drink our wine. The next thing that happened was that the waiter arrived with the bill. No enquiry as to whether we wanted dessert or coffee. Just the bill. “I have to get up early in the morning,” he said. Not the best service, therefore. Worth tipping?

The final night, I was back in Zurich, and we went to quite a fashionable pizza place. It’s one of those alternative-type restaurants in an old industrial building. The waiters were young, with tattoos and beards (for the boys) – hipster types. Well, we managed to order a starter and a main course and a nice bottle of wine. And everything was very good. I wasn’t quite sure who was responsible for our table – we seemed to have two or three different people serving us. Anyway somebody cleared the main course, and that was it. We never saw anybody again. Nobody came to take orders for desserts or more drinks – nothing. It was very difficult to attract anybody’s attention. In the end, when one of the waiters was serving the table next to ours, I asked for the bill. “Moment, bitte!” was the reply. As my son pointed out, these hipster-type waiters can be a bit arrogant. They probably don’t like to think of themselves as being the servants of their customers. In that case, perhaps they don’t approve of tipping. I’m not sure of that, though. When in the end I managed to get the bill and I was paying it, the waiter who brought it apologised, rather obsequiously [24] and not very convincingly [25], for the fact that we had to “wait a little” for our bill. I think the tip that night was just a bit of loose change [26]. What would you have done?


Don’t forget the vocabulary trainer on our prize-winning PodClub app. And remember if you’ve got any comments or questions, do write to me via the website: Or use Twitter: my Twitter address is @Gerrypod. My next News Digest will not be in two weeks, as usual, but in a month. From now on my News Digest and my Diary will alternate. So my next News Digest will be on February 12th. I look forward to talking to you then. But for now, take care!

[1] the latter: the second of two things that have been mentioned (the opposite of “the former”)
[2] it goes to show: it proves, demonstrates
[3] cool heads: here: rational people (not motivated by emotion or irrational ideology)
[4] to get out of hand: to go out of control
[5] to spark the conflagration: to light the big fire
[6] to fire up: to motivate (in a strong and emotional way)
[7] a force for good/bad: something that helps to make things better/worse
[8] to have control over (somebody): the power to make (somebody) do what you want, for example a teacher making children behave well in class
[9] deal: agreement (for example between two business people)
[10] no longer the case: not true anymore /any longer
[11] to campaign: here: to participate in the attempt to win a political fight (a referendum, an election, etc.)
[12] split: a division (of a larger group, for example a political party, into smaller groups)
[13] NB A shadow is the darkness that is created by an object when it blocks the light of something, for example the sun. In the same way that a shadow never leaves its object, a person who shadows another person stays close to that person. A policeman may shadow a criminal, for example, following them to see where they go, what they do, etc. In British politics, the shadow minister has the job of checking everything that the real minister does.
[14] Maria and Angela Eagle are the twin sisters.
[15] better off: richer
[16] affordable: If something is ~ you have enough money to buy it.
[17] Dame: the female equivalent of “Sir”
[18] two consecutive days: two days that follow each other, for example Monday and Tuesday
[19] liver: the part of your body that cleans your blood
[20] to tip: to give a small amount of extra money to people like waiters or hairdressers
[21] to round up: for example: to give Fr.5 when the bill is for Fr.4.85, or Fr.100 when the bill is Fr.96.
[22] classy: good quality
[23] full marks: 10 out of 10, 100% (perfect)
[24] obsequiously: in a way that is too polite, trying to please in a way that is not sincere, sycophantically
[25] convincingly: believably
[26] loose change: coins (the money that you carry in your pocket, if you’re a British man)


Sr. Raphaela 19-01-2016 11:54
Hi Gerry
Thanks for continue your podcasts through the New Year 2016. I hope you and your families (daughter and sons) could start this year with many positive predictions and with hope and confidence! May all of us have happy moments, so that we’ll be able to deal with the turbulent times!
Your experience with the service in Swiss restaurants is unfortunately more and more common. Therefore, you’re free to decide if you’ll give tips or not.
Many greetings from Graubünden!
Sister Raphaela