I had some tea, I say, if asked whether I’ve eaten, or want something now. But what did I actually have?

For me the tea will have been either a cup/pot of tea only. Or maybe with toast or cake or similar. I.e. I’ve had something, but not a full meal. Means I’m not desperate, but will have some interest in more food later, please.

Years of interaction with ordinary residents in England have taught me that when they report having had tea, they mean the cooked meal at the end of the day. Dinner, to me. They don’t mean just a cup of tea, nor do they mean Afternoon Tea. Or High Tea, or Five O’Clock Tea, as we foreigners have fondly come to think of what the English eat. In fact, often their meal does not actually involve tea, the beverage, at all.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the famous five o’clock tea might not exist. I’m not sure. But it feels like a term that got misunderstood by outsiders and romanticised and spread by those who don’t eat, or drink, five o’clock tea.

When I shout the single word ‘tea’ to the Resident IT Consultant, he knows to expect a pot of it, usually served with a slice of bread or toast with butter and jam. It’s the mid-afternoon snack that tides us over until dinner, i.e. other people’s tea.

And when you ask me if I’ve had anything to eat, I daren’t say afternoon tea, because that sounds way too grand.

I like inviting people to Afternoon Tea, because it’s simple. Just tea (or coffee) with something bready and something more cakey, which can be eaten almost anywhere; kitchen, living room or garden. But I rarely do, because of the misunderstanding bit. They might expect something far grander than I have in mind, or the full meal, or simply a cup.

Far easier to suggest they pop in for a coffee mid-morning. Even though I don’t actually drink coffee, and possibly they don’t either. There can be a biscuit with it. Or not. And no one will mistake it for dinner.

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