I never really understood tea culture before. I mean, we all know that British and Irish people supposedly drink a lot of tea, but I never really considered it very seriously. Then I learned from an English roommate that “tea” in Britain also means “dinner,” so I kindof dismissed the whole tea-drinking idea for a while. I figured we’d just fabricated that stereotype about the UK after years of hearing British people talk about their dinner plans, and then we just went ahead and lumped Ireland in, as we always do. Stereotypes are so inaccurate, right?
Wrong. I went to Ireland with all my preconceived tea-drinking notions behind me. I wasn’t going to mention tea to anyone until dinner; I’d show them who was an uncultured American! I’d show them who knew the difference between tea and tea! So what was the first thing I was offered to drink when I got there? Tea. And I was worried about being uncultured!
It didn’t stop there, either. It seemed like everywhere I went there was tea to be drunk. I’d barely had enough time to run to the bathroom after the first cup before I was given a second…and a third…and a fourth. In my entire life, I’ve never been offered as much tea as I was during the eight days I spent in Ireland. They just kept giving me tea, offering it up the way Americans might present guests with Coca Cola, Miller Light, or diabetes. It was served with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then poured again after dinner. It was served when it was raining (so – basically – everyday, right?) and when it was sunny. It was served in restaurants, in homes, and I swear I even saw a group sipping cups in a bar once. I finally understood the Boston Tea Party. It wasn’t really about taxes or British rule – these people were just tired of drinking tea!
People would say the American lifestyle is too harried and rushed to support a tea culture – which would be why we don’t understand it – but it’s not that we don’t have time for it (more likely, we don’t have time to spend all day in and out of the bathroom). Americans take time for a lot of things – things that are way more important than just drinking tea. We take time to stay late at the office, catch up on the news, run to the grocery store, and hit the gym. We take time to remodel the house, wax the car, email the family, and plan the vacation. We take time to text friends, clean the kitchen, pay the bills, and finish that presentation. We may not take time for tea culture, but I don’t even understand why tea culture is supposed to be so special. So they take time to drink tea? Americans take time to eat a lot of McDonald’s, and nobody finds that very laudable.
So I asked the Irish people: “What’s with all the tea?”
They responded: “It’s not about the tea, really. Tea is just an excuse to get together and catch up with people.”
And that’s what I still don’t get about tea culture. I can understand drinking tea – maybe while you’re driving, answering emails, or doing something else important. But using it as an excuse to get together and catch up with people? Who has time for that?