Tea continues to be the national drink, despite the emergence of coffee as a serious competitor. The average daily intake is about 5 to 8 cups a day of the stuff. It has evolved its own rites and myths. Should milk be added before or after? Sugar, sweetener or honey? There is even a certain amount of snobbery over which tea. Earl Grey is certainly upmarket, while China tea is more elegant than Indian. Tea after lunch or dinner is more socially inferior than coffee.
Tea has been a social catalyst for over three hundred years, even though the first traditional teashop opened in the 1880s when an adventurous manageress saw that her friends came to the back of the shop for a cup of tea and decided to put a table in the front, so starting a nationwide fashion. Teashops are now just a part of British culture as pubs, only varying in their opening hours.
The early morning cuppa is still a ‘must’ for most Britons despite a growing preference for coffee and has helped to calm many a confused head and early morning hangover. General Montgomery sipped a cup while working out his battle plans to defeat Rommel in the Second World War despite the heat. Few would enjoy a cold cup of tea even today. The hotter the better and always seated of course.
A cup of tea, please, thank you. British politeness knows no limits. Four ‘thank yous’ are needed to purchase a bus ticket. First, the bus conductor will say ‘thank you’ (I am here). The passenger will hand over his fare with ‘thank you’ (here is the money). Then the conductor will give the passenger a ticket with a ‘thank you’ and finally, the passenger will reply with another ‘thank you’. ‘Thank you’ and ‘Please’ are probably the most commonly-used English words. Americans would certainly condense all this procedure with just one ‘thank you’. You will hear ‘thank you’ buying your pint of beer in a pub and on leaving. As we say, “good manners maketh man”. Bristish Rail employees, airline pilots and traffic police on handing over your parking ticket will all say “thank you”.
The obvious reply that is still taught in language schools is “you’re welcome”, which is terribly American and quite un-British. All you need to say is another “thank you”. It’s that easy.
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Happy English learning!!