January 02, 2004

"Same procedure as every year, James"

Traditional end-of-year video experiences: in the U.S., It's a Wonderful Life; in Germany, Dinner for One.

Both are heart-warming and sentimental, both involve reliving the past, but in very different ways. It's silly (but tempting) to generalize about cultural differences from two samples with N=1 ...

There are two bits of linguistic relevance.

First, Dinner for One is doubly ritualistic. Within the sketch, the conversation conveys no new information to the participants -- "Same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?" "Same procedure as every year, James". In the real world, the sketch also conveys no new information to most of its viewers, since it has apparently shown repeatedly over the last few days of every year for the past 40 years, and Jürgen Meier-Beer, NDR's head of light entertainment, is quoted as saying that "one in every two viewers in our area will watch it at some point on New Year's Eve."

Second, it's extraordinary that this end-of-year tradition in Germany -- which is hardly known in the UK, and I think even more completely unknown in the U.S. -- is in English!

[I learned about Dinner for One from Margaret Marks at the always-interesting Transblawg.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 2, 2004 10:26 AM