Next time you are traveling in the UK or elsewhere in the current or former British Empire and a friend or colleague invites you “to tea” will you know what he or she means?
Even ABC News got this one wrong recently in a segment about quarterback Andrew Luck learning British manners.
“Tea” can refer to any of several different meals or mealtimes, depending on a country’s customs and its history of drinking tea.
“Afternoon tea” is likely the meal most Americans think of when they hear the term. It’s not high tea! Afternoon tea is taken between 4 and 6pm and involves tea, scones, clotted cream, finger sandwiches, stacked plates, sweets (see photo) and good manners. It’s the type of tea you’ve likely seen in grand London hotels like the Langham or The Ritz. It’s also what you get on an afternoon flight back from the UK on British Airways.
Important: Afternoon tea is NOT high tea. High tea, or just “tea” is the typical hot, heavier evening meal served between 6-8 pm. (What most Americans think of as dinner or supper.) Americans tend to think of high tea as the fancy one…but it is not.
Of course, usage varies by class and location, so if confused by an invitation “to tea,” just be sure to clarify.
Here’s some more info on afternoon tea etiquette from The Langham Hotel’s Palm Court.
Still not convinced? This Google search should help you out.
What else do Americans get wrong about the UK? Please leave your comments below.