Sunday, 19 April 2015

Lost in Translation: Fancy a Brew?

When I first moved to England, I was very lucky to share a house with absolutely lovely people (I had never met them before, but more on that another time). They introduced me to their friends, took me out and organised my birthday (even though it came hot on the heels of my just moving in, so they barely knew me). In short, they did all they could to make an isolated foreign girl feel welcome.

However, it was still a steep learning curve.

The thing is, I spoke English just fine, so understanding wasn’t a problem at any point, but some things are not just about the meaning of the words (or lack thereof: it took me a couple of months before I gave in and just asked my housemate WHAT ON EARTH he was saying every time he came back home –‘ey up, was the answer, welcome to the North ‒)

Tea, for example, was a problem.

It is fairly well known that the Brits are obsessed with tea (although, no matter what you think you know, until you move in with some of them, you really have NO IDEA!) So I came fully prepared to drink a lot of it.

And indeed, every time I met someone in the kitchen, they would almost inevitably ask me “Fancy a brew?” And I would be very touched, because in my French mind, that meant: “Shall we share a hot beverage and have a little chat, and be very civilised?” So I would say yes. Then I would maybe go to the bathroom or do whatever I had come down to do, then return to the kitchen to share that brew.
But invariably, I would find a lonely mug, abandoned on the counter, and no housemate.

Lonely abandoned cuppa

And I would puzzle a bit, worry that they thought I was rude, agreeing to share a brew and then, I don’t know, doing something else for a second. So I tried it the other way round, offering to make THEM a brew. They would say yes, come and grab it, and disappear. It was very confusing.

After a few months though, I finally got it.

You see, for most Brits, tea is a necessity of life. They have need of it at regular intervals during the day. So when they say “fancy a brew?” they have no particular socialising in mind. In fact, were they to stop and chat every time they made a cup of tea, they would get nothing done during the day. When they offer to make you one, it is more like someone saying “shall I turn the heating on?” or, “you are clearly choking, shall I perform the Heimlich manoeuvre so you don’t die?”

They are simply acknowledging a shared need. They are willing to help you in your natural endeavour to meet this most basic of requirement. They do not think you also need assistance drinking it. That would be ludicrous.

They would weep if they knew how much precious tea I poured down the sink before I finally got it.

Because, really, I don’t ACTUALLY fancy a brew at any point during the day.  I like tea, I will drink it, but not waste a single thought on it when it is not directly in front of me. In fact, to think about tea and make myself one, I would need to be in one of these two situations: “Is it breakfast?” or “Is there someone in my house I have to socialise with? We need something to do which is highly regulated and warrants at least a few minutes of pre-arranged conversation (Fancy a brew? How do you take it? I’ll just go to the kitchen then!) so that I have some respite before I need to come up with my own chit-chat!”

Six years down the line, and still, if I am alone in the house, at no point will I think “hmmm, I know what I need, right now, it’s a lovely hot, cup of tea!”

Shocking, I know. I apologise. It’s because I come from Foreignia.

I frequently fancy High Tea, though. Nom nom nom.


  1. Super! A quand la version française ?

  2. Canon! La suite la suite!!!

  3. I for one think that this should be translated into French.

    Very witty though, my darling. :D

  4. Love this! I followed your link in the St Greg's pocket fb page, and am definitely enjoying your blog. As a fellow foreigner in this fair land (from the US), I agree that the amount of tea drunk here is just baffling. But I know now that I have truly assimilated to the culture, because when I have a stressful day with the children I think, "I know just what will help: a cup of tea!"

    1. Thanks Amy! Turns out I have assimilated to, because a few days ago, I did request a cup of tea from my SIL of my own volition :-D
      I'm glad you're enjoying the blog!