As you may already know, I talk about culture…a lot. Matter of fact, it’s the basis of everything I blog about. Never a time did this become more ironic, as now.
We needed some ‘niggly’ (trivial) work done on our flat and called in a handyman to help. Seems benign enough,right? We got chatting (having a ‘natter’ as the English say) and our handyman asked where I was from and then began as most do, talking about their trips to the US and comparing notes. I asked him, ‘do you really think there is a big difference between the English and American cultures? He was very quick to say, ‘Oh yes, definitely.’ He said that he felt Americans are much more open when speaking about themselves, and their thoughts, both good and bad. During our natter, I asked if he’d like a coffee or a ‘cuppa’ (cup of tea). He gave a big grin and said, “A cuppa would be lovely, cheers.” The word, ‘cheers’ in England is used in many ways: such as a greeting, as a thank you and the same as we use it in the States, as a toast.
As an American, I find it a bit intimidating to serve tea to an English person. It’s like serving your best homemade meal to a chef. You feel certain it can never be as good as what they can do and they can only judge it in degrees of badness. As an US Southerner, we do pride ourselves on our sweet tea, but an English tea is a different matter.
So, I watched him with hopeful eyes, as he took his first sip, staring ahead in anticipation of my colonial attempt. He blew on it gently, displacing the bit of steam that slightly fogged his square glasses. I noticed an ever so slight flinch at his temples. He was gracious and I apologized quickly, as I knew it couldn’t be very good from his covered reaction. Only later, did I find that I had actually put curdled milk in this nice man’s tea. Nothing says welcome like a cuppa full of friendly bacteria with a side of, ” I’m so sorry I gave you curdled milk” biscuits. I felt like Bridget Jones with a southern drawl!
Given our previous conversation on the differences between English and American culture, the experience solidified one of the differences perfectly; in the English culture, it seems to be that mentioning that your tea has curdled milk in it is worse than actually having curdled milk in your tea to start. I think as a southern American, we may find an overly nice way to tell you that the milk is curdled, but the point being, we would say something and not grin and bear it, as my brave English friend did.
To bring this full circle, I guess to become ‘cultured’, you have to drink your share of curdled milk though the process of making mistakes and learning from them. Although curdled milk won’t kill you, I still wouldn’t recommend it with tea 😉 Cheers!