No one knows why the Germans are obsessed with watching a 1963 short comedic film called “Dinner For One” on New Year’s Eve, and yet the tradition remains wildly popular.
I observed it first hand last year in Cologne, with a group of Germans who planned our evening (including traditions like raclette and telling fortunes with melted lead) around which of the many broadcasts of the film we would watch.
Starring Freddie Frinton and May Warden, the film shows an old woman and her butler at a dinner table where they pretend her deceased friends are sitting. The butler asks, “The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” The woman replies, “The same procedure as every year, James!” Then the butler proceeds to pour many rounds of drinks for the table, impersonating her friends giving toasts, and drinking all of the alcohol himself. The film ends as the very drunk butler walks the woman to her room and asks, “By the way, the same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” She responds, “The same procedure as every year, James!” He says, winking, “Well, I’ll do my very best!”
Why do half of Germans watch this movie every year, gleefully reciting lines as they happen? The group I was with could not have a good answer.
A short chat with German colleagues revealed a variety of reasons: it debuted in Germany in a time when items from the English-speaking world were very popular. Also the English dialogue is so simple that it allows even those with limited English skills to understand what’s going on.
Another colleague pointed out that Germans’ affinity for the show is linked to a nostalgic longing for a more secure past. The “same procedure” means, obviously, that nothing will change as James stumbles and spills, Germany can remember an allegedly happier and simpler time. The action is also so at odds with “normal” German activity that it gives people an escape valve from everyday life, said another co-worker.
“Dinner For One” has become popular in other northern European countries and various parts of the world, becoming the most frequently repeated TV show ever despite not being broadcast in the U.K. or the U.S.
The film has also generated some controversy regarding the butler’s heavy drinking, leading to censored cuts in some areas. I would not be surprised if someone has turned the original into a drinking game.
Here is a version of this strange and wonderful movie:
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