Nationali-tea?

Published January 17, 2012 by Kim

I’m a Southerner–bred, born, and raised in the South–and if there’s one thing we love down here, it’s tea.

Yes, we drink it cold. Brew it, jug it, cool it down (or pour it over ice, if we’re in a hurry). The colder the better (and I suppose I should admit ice is in there, anyway). I’ve always been a Lipton girl, myself; Luzianne never tastes quite right. I’m also a fan of Harney & Sons Cinnamon Spice tea, as well as a good English Breakfast. I still need a bit of sweet, though.

For the record, “instant” tea is anathema, and should be outlawed. Brew it, or don’t drink it at all.

~*~

Back in 2002, my husband and I went on an Alaskan cruise. I think we were the youngest guests on board, and probably the only ones from below the Mason-Dixon line. Here’s how our first night at dinner went (bearing in mind soft drinks cost extra, while the dinner was included in our fare)–

Waiter: “What would you like to drink?”

Us: “What do you have, other than soft drinks?”

Waiter: “Bottled water, tea, milk…” (the rest we didn’t hear)

Us: “Tea.”

Waiter: “Okay, tea.”

Us: “Wait–is it sweet?”

Waiter: (looking as if we’d sprouted third eyes in the middle of our foreheads) “No, but you can add sugar.”

(Now, anyone who knows anything about sugar knows it will not dissolve in cold tea.)

Us: “Oh, no–can we get it hot?”

Waiter: “Absolutely.”

Thus was set a precedent for every meal of the trip. We came to dinner, our waiter (Rue? Rui? I forget) brought us these adorable little teapots and cups. We steeped, we poured, we sweetened, we drank. Rinse and repeat, feel wonderful from all the delightful flavonoids.

Here is what happened about midway through the trip, after some introductions to a couple absent from the table those first few nights–

Table Guest 1: “What are you drinking?”

Us: “Tea.”

Table Guest 2: “Are you English?”

Us: (dumbfounded) “Uh, no. We’re from North Carolina.”

Table Guest 2: “Do you always drink hot tea?”

Us: “No, we usually drink sweet tea–iced tea. But we like hot tea, too.”

Table Guest 2: “Oh.”

Now, if I may point out again, we are from the South. The American South. We sound, in no way, as if we are from any part of Great Britain. I was amused (mightily) at the assumption that tea drinker = English. It made me wonder if, by enjoying biscotti, they would’ve assumed we were Italian. Would I also be French if I publicly confessed my love of crêpes? Does a fajita craving make me Mexican?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a kettle to put on to boil. Oh–if you’re wondering, I do have a whistling kettle, but I use my electric one more often. A Southern girl can have her tea in a thoroughly modern way, you know.

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3 comments on “Nationali-tea?

  • Here’s a little fact you may not know about English people: we are so obsessed with tea that when we travel abroad, *we bring a little bag of teabags with us*. Usually a freezer-bag, although sometimes they go in their own little washbag.

    Each teabag stash will typically have two teabags per day for each day we’re planning to travel, plus a couple over, Just In Case. Think about all those Brits you’ve seen going through airports, looking just like everybody else. Now picture their secret teabag stashes. It happens so often that customs officers don’t even bat an eyelid any more.

    Sometimes we do this even if we’re travelling in the UK and we’re just not sure if the place we’re going to will have *our* tea.

    This is really true.

  • Oh oh oh – and, also – learning how everyone takes their tea. Everyone has their own individual preference about tea-strength, quantity of milk added and amounts of sugar. You know how James Bond wants his Martinis shaken, not stirred? Imagine that, but with tea, and with every. Single. Person. In. The whole office. Having their own special requirements. That’s the minefield that is the Office Tea Round. Learning how someone takes their tea is a major milestone on the scale of social acceptance.

    There is also a whole special vocabulary to describe these variations that British children absorb naturally, without noticing, and nobody outside of Britain can make head or tail of. “Builder’s tea” is a very good example. All British people know instantly what Builder’s tea looks like, to the extent that we just assume this is a word used by everyone in the world, everywhere, always. It’s only when we try it out on someone who’s Not From Round Here that we discover it only makes sense in the UK.

    I swear, there is simply no end to how weird British people are about tea. It never even dawned on me until I started talking to non-British people just exactly how strange we are about it.

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