I really like Leo Lewis, the Times’ Asia correspondent:

The rip-off kings

It was easy to snigger at the tale of Yasuyuki Yamada, his girlfriend and their €700 lunch in the Piazza Navona, Rome, last week. Hilarious stereotypes abounded: insouciant young Japanese far from home, naively placing the task of menu selection in the hands of a roguish waiter in full rip-off mode.

Sure enough (we read with a knowing nod) the Japanese were the perfect marks and the “expert” recommendation for an alfresco summer lunch was rapacious: a dozen oysters, a lavish plate of grilled fish, a 5lb lobster, a cauldron of pasta and a good bottle of sauvignon blanc. There followed, in quick succession, the crazy bill, the complaint to the Japanese Embassy, the prospect of a Japanese tourist boycott, official panic in Rome, the closure of the restaurant and the meek offer of a free holiday for the victims.

The thing is, Japan sends loads of cashed-up tourists around the world, so it gets this sort of thing a lot. So much so, in fact, that the Foreign Ministry has a special department that catalogues and analyses the various ways in which its travelling people are conned, fleeced, insulted and generally ransacked abroad.


Silent running

The weekend launch of Nissan’s first mass-market electric car raises again the strange conundrum of noise: it doesn’t make any, and there is a strong lobby of health-and-safety types who think that it should. Japan frets that its swelling army of old people will not hear electric vehicles gliding towards them; other countries worry about the kerbside welfare of children and the blind; governments and international bodies are getting involved.

In reality the threat is far, far more terrible. Think of the evolution of mobile phone ringtones. The proposed solution to the electric car issue is the addition of little speakers near the wheels to broadcast the purr of a conventional internal combustion engine.

Of course, it will start like that, just as the first mobile phones sounded like conventional telephones. But Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi et al are disturbingly vague over whether they will allow other noises to emerge. Soon, surely, people will want their cars to play music, and it will go from there to novelty sound effects — the clip-clop of a shire horse, perhaps, or the menacing rumble of a German Panzer division.

Oh my gosh. Car ringtones!