30 December 2005

Deutsche sind Merkwürdig

We all know that Germans love David Hasselhoff, but Slate highlights another German quirk -- their New Year's Eve obsession with an old British comedy sketch, "Dinner for One", known as "Der 90 Geburtstag" in zany Deutschland ("The 90th Birthday"):
Every New Year's Eve, half of all Germans plunk down in front of their televisions to watch a 1963 English comedy sketch called Dinner for One. Walk into any bar in Bavaria and shout the film's refrain: "The same procedure as last year, madam?" The whole crowd will shout back in automatic, if stilted, English: "The same procedure as every year, James." Even though Dinner for One is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most frequently repeated TV program ever, it has never been aired in the United Kingdom or the United States, and most of the English-speaking world is ignorant of its existence. When Der Spiegel probed the mystery last New Year's, it found that the BBC had not only never contemplated broadcasting this veddy British nugget in the United Kingdom, the BBC's spokesperson had never even heard of it.

Dinner for One . . . has rattled around the cabaret circuit for decades. Written by British author Lauri Wylie in the 1920s, it presents a morbidly funny story in miniature—(just 11 minutes on TV): Elderly Miss Sophie throws her birthday party every year, setting the table for her friends Sir Toby, Mr. Pommeroy, Mr. Winterbottom, and Adm. von Schneider, while conveniently ignoring the fact that they've all been dead for a quarter-century. [ ] Her butler James manfully takes up the slack by playacting all of them. He serves both drinks and food while quaffing toasts on behalf of each "guest," a bevy of soused British noblemen and von Schneider, who toasts Miss Sophie with a heel-click and a throaty "Skål!" [ ] James waddles to and fro, trips repeatedly over the head of a tiger-pelt rug, declaims each guest's pleasantries boozily, spray-fires the table with mispoured drinks, and downs a little water from a flower vase. Each course begins with the signature refrain: "The same procedure as last year, madam?" "The same procedure as every year, James." The sketch ends with James' final "procedure": bedding the old lady himself.

. . . .

The show's popularity spread to Scandinavia, where it is typically watched on December 23, as well as Switzerland, Austria, South Africa, Australia, and Latvia. The show has been broadcast more than 230 times. You can watch it dubbed in Plattdeutsch, a northern German dialect (with or without a German introduction), ponder its scholarly depths in a Latin translation, take in live Dinner for One supper theater, cook up Miss Sophie's traditional meal, or just drink briskly along with the actors, and the rest of northern Europe.

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