Paul Burrell in China as Downton Abbey effect continues

Chinese girl curtsying to Paul Burrell

One of the more interesting outcomes of the internet revolution in recent years has been China’s continued fascination with British culture.

Merlin, Silk, Hustle, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, Black Mirror, Dr Who, North and South, and The White Queen among others have all been lapped up by young Chinese viewers in their millions through digital platforms like Youku and Iqiyi. The popularity of British telly is such that Mr Bean was recently reprised for a Chinese production.

But one cultural export in particular has spawned a new trend among China’s new rich. Call it the Downton Abbey effect. Not only did the popular period drama help boost sales of afternoon tea products from the UK, it also led to increased demand for butlers.

Great Scott, Jeeves! You?

No butler has an arguably spiffier CV than Paul Burrell. Perhaps better known in UK households for appearing on Celebrity Big Brother, Paul served the British Royal Households for 21 years, becoming personal attendant to Her Majesty The Queen and later butler to the Prince and Princess of Wales.

It doesn’t get more Downton Abbeyesque than that, and Paul (or is it Mr Burrell, or even Mr Burrell, RVM?) was in China last month to share his Royal Etiquette expertise in different sessions with local audiences that included ladies, children and business people.

Paul Burrell and etiquette students in Guangzhou

The training, organised at the Ritz Carlton in Guangzhou by etiquette specialists Prestige Education Consultancy (PEC), focused on dress styling, manners and behaviour, skills gained at the very highest level by Paul Burrell and useful for mingling with the global elite.

Paul Burrell delivering etiquette training in Guangzhou

In an increasingly competitive and “globalised” world, China’s ambitious – as in any nation – will look for an edge beyond a solid grasp of English. A student in Danong today might well become a speaker in Davos tomorrow. Anyone thinking about teaching English in China ought to consider the cultural dimension on top of language tuition.

But of course, this is a two-way street. Anyone looking to make friends and influence people in China should do the sensible thing and learn from the Chinese.

That means not only taking a course in putonghua but also making an attempt to understand their culture, from guanxi to mianzi, baijiu and beyond. It’s a steep learning curve, but so is learning which spoon to use at the dinner table (I still can’t get it right).

We can and should learn from each other – that’s when the good stuff happens. Now, who is China’s equivalent of Paul Burrell?

Calls to guarantee post-Brexit residency for EU and British nationals #SharedEuropeanFuture

Brexit is showing more twists and turns than the average Shyamalan film.

While the wrangling and posturing continue, concerns remain over the EU nationals working in the UK and the “Brexpats”, the British nationals based in other EU countries. This is understandably causing anxiety and frustration.

But these are early days in the grand scheme of things, and we have the power to shape Brexit – hard, soft or bendy. As such, there are growing calls to ensure that the rights of residents are recognised.

the3million, a movement started in Bristol to preserve the rights of EU and British citizens alike after Brexit, published a new research report in July to promote reform and help allow EU citizens in the UK to continue to live normally post-Brexit.

The report shows how the “permanent residence” application process creates barriers for EU citizens to claim residence rights after Brexit.

Also in July, the British Council – an organisation with considerably more clout – addressed a set of eminently sensible recommendations to UK and EU leaders, Our Shared European Future. Among the recommendations was a call to guarantee post-Brexit residency rights for both British and EU citizens.

Other recommendations included:

  • A post-Brexit agreement for education, culture, science and research to facilitate movement
  • Cultural and educational permits to allow people to move with ease between the UK and EU countries
  • Guarantees that UK institutions and individuals remain eligible to access programmes such as Erasmus+, Horizon 2020, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions and Creative Europe
  • The preservation of opportunities to work and study abroad
  • Proactive engagement of youth in Brexit decision-making

The British Council’s recommendations are endorsed by more than 450 institutions across Europe, including the British Museum, Tate and V&A in London; the Creative Industries Federation; the National Gallery Prague; and CERN (it was CERN that led to the creation of Sir Tim Berners Lee’s World Wide Web, with the rest being history as they say).

Individuals in support comprise leading scientists and artists, including that man off the telly: Professor Brian Cox, Sir David Chipperfield, Mark Wallinger, Claudie Haigneré and Professor Iain Stewart.

And you can endorse these too, of course, by signing the British Council petition here.

It’s absolutely vital – and common sense – that EU residents in Britain and British nationals in Europe are heard and accounted for,  fairly and with respect.

Tokyo triumphs again in Monocle Quality of Life Survey

Shibuya, Tokyo

Monocle has announced its Quality of Life Survey for the 11th year running, in which 25 cities worldwide were ranked for liveability. For the third successive year, Tokyo was named most liveable city by the culture mag (here’s something for the conspiracy theorists: Tokyo-based Nikkei Group became a Monocle shareholder three years ago).

The list is a curious mix of hipster favourites such as Berlin and Portland and hyper-expensive sprawls like Hong Kong (ranked second by Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey) and of course Tokyo (ranked third in the same survey), making it a mashup that would likely appeal to both the monied elite and counterculturalists. Which begs the question: should it really be called a Quality of Life Survey?

The rundown in full:

1. Tokyo
2. Vienna
3. Berlin
4. Munich
5. Melbourne
6. Copenhagen
7. Sydney
8. Zurich
9. Hamburg
10. Madrid
11. Stockholm
12. Kyoto
13. Helsinki
14. Fukuoka
15. Hong Kong
16. Lisbon
17. Barcelona
18. Vancouver
19. Dusseldorf
20. Amsterdam
21. Singapore
22. Auckland
23. Brisbane
24. Portland
25. Oslo

Millennials worldwide still find UK attractive after Brexit vote

We might be a glass half-full bunch in the UK (not a lot wrong with that, unless it’s a pint glass), which might explain why many young Brits are less than optimistic over the impact of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, believing that people abroad will be less likely to visit, do business with and make friends with Britain. Overseas, young people’s perceptions of “Brexit Britain” are more upbeat.

These were the findings of recent surveys conducted by IPSOS Mori for the British Council that looked at perceptions of 18-34 year olds in G20 countries towards the UK before and after that referendum.

The surveys showed that the overall “attractiveness” of the UK remained unchanged after the Brexit vote, with 36% of respondents saying that the referendum outcome had made no impact on their perception. The UK as a globally attractive nations sits in 4th place worldwide behind Canada, Australia, Italy and France.

The report also showed, encouragingly:

  • 57% of G20 respondents said that the UK’s vote to quit the EU made no impact on their visiting the UK. A quarter of respondents from countries outside the UK said they were more likely to visit
  • 52% of respondents across the G20 said the vote would make no difference to their decision to do business or trade with the UK
  • Britain was mostly viewed as a global power by young people in China (80%), who also mostly agreed that Brits value diversity and cultural difference (76%)

The report, From the Outside In, is available to download in PDF and is well worth a read if you’re interested in how young people across the world – who lest we forget are tomorrow’s decision-makers – perceive Britain after the Brexit vote. There are signs of encouragement…and equally work to do. I think our continental neighbours even have a phrase for it – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Hong Kong SAR: 20 years later, it’s time for 2.0

Hong Kong Island skyline

Has it been twenty years already? 1997 was a memorable year for people in Britain, for reasons good and bad. Among other events, Hong Kong was finally handed over to China, marking a new era for all concerned – Hong Kong especially.

Much has happened in the two decades since, and of the three territories, it’s China with the glowing school report. The nation is exerting its influence from Africa to Indonesia, while domestically cities such as Shanghai are luring top global talent, eager to have a stab at the world’s biggest market.

In contrast, Hong Kong and the UK have both seen relative decline (let’s be honest), becoming increasingly divided and unsure of themselves. The parallels between the two are obvious.

But life goes on, as they say, and Hong Kong is the ultimate embodiment of life. No matter who calls the shots; the territory remains a supreme machine, where 7 million people combine efficiently and tightly to keep its wheels turning.

This is hustle and bustle on steroids (if you’re looking for balance, you’ve come to the wrong place), with Hong Kong operating with an intensity and impatience that makes London feel like a country club in comparison.

Yet despite the blistering pace, Hong Kong feels remarkably risk-averse. If Silicon Valley’s mantra is “move fast and break things”, Hong Kong’s spirit can be better described as “move fast and keep things unchanged”. From tech to housing and public light shows, the city now trails behind Shanghai, Singapore and even neighbouring Shenzhen.

There is, mercifully, a growing appetite for disruption. Call it what you want: fintech, regtech, wealth tech, biotech, travel tech, the movements are out there, eager to cement Hong Kong’s “hub” status in the region, leveraging on the city’s strengths.

To get “there” – frankly there is no final destination, as this is a process of constant reiteration and reinvention – Hong Kong will need to overcome its biggest adversary. Not Singapore, not China, but itself. It won’t be easy.

As Hong Kong enters its third decade and adulthood since the handover, new opportunities (and challenges) await that will better serve the “intrapreneurs” and change makers among us. We could be witnessing the start of a new era altogether. And if anyone can help put an end to the city’s whopping cost of living, beers are on me…