Offering tea and coffee to the English

The old conversation with my English gardener:
Me: Would you like a coffee or tea?
Gardener: Only if you're making it-
Me: Yes, I am.
Gardener: Oh, then a tea would be lovely. Thanks.
Me: What do you take in it?
Gardener: Milk and two sugars.

The new and improved conversation with my English gardener:
Me: I'm making tea. Would you like some?
Gardener: Yes, that would be lovely.
Me: Milk and two sugars?
Gardener: Yes, thank you.

It's a funny little social conundrum - offering tea and coffee in the UK. In the first conversation, surely it's clear that I'll only offer tea or coffee if I'm willing to make it. Yet so often guests will say 'Yes, but only if you're making it.' But perhaps those guests are the ones who only offer tea and coffee out of courtesy and would rather you said 'Water is fine, thanks.' The water pouring is easy and yet still makes the host feel like she's still doing something for her guest, but nothing as troublesome as boiling water and waiting for tea to steep or worse brewing fresh coffee (especially if the host doesn't drink coffee and feels tense about screwing it up). However if the guest replied to the drink offer with 'Nothing, thanks' that could potentially mean 'I want nothing you have, not even your free water, and I won't even act like I'm thirsty just to make you feel more comfortable.' OR 'Nothing, thanks' could be like throwing down the white flag. The host is let off the hook because she's shown willing and offered a drink and the guest is saying 'I won't make you go to the trouble, even though I may be thirsty, but thank you for your willingness to serve me. Now let's forget about this awkward drink business and get on with why I came to your house in the first place.'

It's funny how politeness can get in the way of actual communication, especially here in England. When my American friends and family come over, we just say what we mean regardless of whether it might be rude, and that way everyone knows where they stand.
For example:
My dad (American): Hey Kosh, you got any coffee?
Me: Yeah - want some?
My dad: Yes.
Me: OK I'll make it.
Nice, straightforward talk. But then that can go wrong:
Me: Hey, dad, how do I look?
Dad: That's a nice dress, but I think you should put on some makeup.

So perhaps the lesson of the day is to find a balance between English politeness and American bluntness.


Natacha said…
This is funny. Try this with the French and you get something differnet, Canadians and South Afrikaans too. I try to smile through it.

Popular Posts