Published: July 29th 2012July 29th 2012
Below is a short paper I wrote for my course in "exploring my host culture."
In England, tea is a way of life. Even in the heat of 30 degrees Celsius, Brits will be drinking hot tea. Although I had previously heard this, I did not expect it to be as prevalent as it truly is. Many of my co-workers will always drink tea over coffee and continue during all hours of the day; however, tea time is technically only between 2:00-5:00PM.
To celebrate this British phenomenon, I decided to see what all the hype was and spend tea time actually drinking afternoon tea. Honestly, I had not expected that much from the experience, but once I tried the afternoon tea tradition the first time, I had to go back!
In short, afternoon tea is a snack of small sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, pastries, and, of course, unlimited pots of tea. Each time I went, the food was served on towering plates nestled within a tiered tray. The atmosphere is fancy; the table cloths, plates, and décor are all white, and the waiters are dressed formally – generally in suits. Others in attendance were dressed up and eating all of their food with utensils, including consuming their sandwiches and scones with a fork. Even though I knew that afternoon tea was a classy affair, I did not realize the extent to which the sophistication of this custom went. On the other hand, there was one aspect of tea drinking I had anticipated but not seen: raising one’s pinky whilst drinking. This may be a tired stereotype, but I was still hoping to see it happen.
The tradition of tea drinking is very reflective of European culture in my mind because it is a small, slow-paced meal. The slower nature of many parts of Europe makes way for building relationships and bonding with people, even over something as elegant as afternoon tea.
Unfortunately, I have not seen this activity anywhere in the U.S. I have never heard of people spending two hours at a restaurant drinking tea, eating sandwiches and pastries, and chatting, but it is something I am hoping to bring back with me. I think the lack of this tradition in the states is due to the fast-paced, non-relationship-based aspect of our culture. As I said before, it is nearly unheard of to willingly spend 2 hours at a restaurant without getting frustrated and asking for the bill in the U.S., but that is exactly how meals are in the UK.
I never used to be a tea drinker, but afternoon tea changed that for me. I have to recommend that everyone try afternoon tea at least once while in London, and I wish I had thought to put it on my Top 10 list before arriving. I am glad I ended up trying afternoon tea, and I cannot wait to have my own British tea parties at home – sandwiches, scones, and all.