The Annals of Cultural Relativity, Vol 12: Christmas Giving in Different Countries…
Why do kids wish that their parents behaved like Luxemborgers, while parents wish their kids had more Dutch expectations? The Economist explains it all:
When it became an independent nation in the seventeenth century, the Netherlands pioneered what today would be called austerity chic: think of the plain interiors painted by Vermeer or ruddy-faced merchants in their black smocks by Frans Hals. Today’s chart, which shows a correlation between Christmas spending (culled from various sources) and wealth (in purchasing-power parity terms), suggests that the disapproval of those Amsterdam merchants still has some sway over their descendants. Lightly-taxed Luxemborgers, by contrast, are exceedingly generous outliers. Footloose readers would be well advised to head there for December 25th.
As we reach for the wrapping paper, we might recall that it was on this date in 1932 that the world received a gift from Britain: The BBC World Service began as the BBC Empire Service operating on shortwave frequencies. Its broadcasts were aimed principally at English speakers in the outposts of the British Empire, or as George V put it in the first-ever Royal Christmas Message, the “men and women, so cut off by the snow, the desert, or the sea, that only voices out of the air can reach them.”
Expectations for the new Empire Service were kept low. The Director General, Sir John Reith (later Lord Reith; see almanac entry here) said in the opening program: “Don’t expect too much in the early days; for some time we shall transmit comparatively simple programmes, to give the best chance of intelligible reception and provide evidence as to the type of material most suitable for the service in each zone. The programmes will neither be very interesting nor very good.” (As recording hadn’t yet been mastered, Reith had to read the same statement, live, five times over a 7 hours period to account for different time zones.)
From that modest beginning, the politically-independent, non-profit, commercial-free Empire Service, now the World Service, has become the world’s largest international broadcaster, operating in 32 languages to bring current affairs, culture, education, and entertainment via shortwave, internet streaming and podcasting, satellite, and FM and MW relays to over 188 million listeners the world over.
Alistair Cooke reading “Letter from America” on the World Service (source)