(For Sunday Scribblings, ABC Wednesday and Magpie 62)
"N" as in "No, thank you."
This week’s Magpie prompt reminded me of a much-needed meal I nearly missed a few decades ago.
I was waiting about for a couple of weeks in Sydney, Australia, while they repaired a huge hole in my ship that resulted when my vessel ran smack-dab into the Great Barrier Reef.
Being young – yes, this was some time ago :-) – my main interest was in meeting a nice Australian girl. And I had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of just the right person, an attractive and intelligent young lady named, IIRC, Mabel.
We got along well. So well that after a week or so she invited me home for a meal and to meet her mum and dad. I resolved to be on my best behavior.
Things didn’t work out as well as I had hoped.
I believe it was Winston Churchill who famously said that Britain and America are two nations separated by a single language. Well, Yanks and Aussies were separated in the same way and I imagine they still are. Mabel and her family spoke English, but they had their version and I had mine.
Here’s what happened.
As I sat in the living-room, attempting to look respectable, Mabel’s mom – er, mum – looked in from the kitchen and asked, “Will you take tea?”
I was hungry, but I don’t usually have tea with my meals, so I said, “No, thank you.”
I continued sitting there, like a lump on a bog, and as time went on the unmistakable sounds of people eating came from the next room. I couldn’t believe it. They were going ahead with the meal without me!
I gradually realized what had happened.
When we say “tea,” we picture something like the above.
But throughout greater Britain, “tea” often meant that kind of tea, yes, but it also meant a light afternoon or evening meal, usually served around four o’clock.
The above, for us, would be a couple of eggs, sunnyside, with toast, a breakfast. To Australians, perhaps more in those days than today, it could also be “tea.”
So when the lady of the house had looked in on me to ask, “Will you take tea?” she wasn’t asking if I liked a cup of tea with whatever I was going to eat; what she was actually saying was, “Please come in and sit down; we want you to join us for our afternoon meal.”
And I had said no. Here I thought I was going to shine with this family, but they probably were saying to themselves: h'mm -- another of those weird Americans they had heard about. Poor Mabel must have been embarrassed that she had brought home such a bone-head to meet her folks. I finally got up and went quietly in to sit at the table, trying not to look too foolish.
I am pleased to get a lot of friendly U K and Australian visitors to my blog, and I’m sure they all have their own stories about Americans and the English language that separates us. :-)
1 year ago