Many have struggled to define Englishness. The anthropologist Kate Fox and the broadcaster Jeremy Paxman have book length studies on the subject. A fondness for village greens and cricket may be invoked, as might: picnicking at the seaside, a tolerance for queuing and a national obsession with tea. It has been remarked before that you can tell a true-hearted Englishperson, because they will make you tea once and then always remember how you take it. Never lie about how you take your tea, you may not get a chance to revoke it. I speak from experience.
For reasons apparently mysterious to anyone else who has ever tried it, I drink only very weak gunpowder green leaf tea made with the first pour of a still boiling kettle into a warmed porcelain mug. To me, this method makes a beautiful golden-coloured brew that tickles the tongue with a peppery freshness and leaves a lingering honey-sweetness on the palate. However, an ex-girlfriend of mine always described it as “...that fucking pondwater you drink...” so: to each their own.
|The perfect cuppa?|
Obviously, the last thing a person should do when attempting to ingratiate himself with his new colleagues who have kindly offered to make him a cup of tea is announce that they all have to learn a new method of making tea. So my plan was to get in first with the offer to make a round of teas, memorise how everyone took theirs and then just have hot water top-ups for the rest of the day. However, as I was settling in, someone else got their offer of making tea in first. When asked how I take mine, I panicked and said ‘white no sugar’.
Naturally, the kindly man who was making the tea committed this to memory and for the next two months I either had to decline his offer of tea or pretend I was so engrossed in my work that I had forgotten about the brew he made me so I could surreptitiously pour it away and make my own. He left the company after I’d been there two months so fortunately neither of us had to go through the embarrassment of me owning up to my nervous lie.
The reason behind the lie was of course the clash created by an intensely individualistic person trying desperately not to seem different from anyone else - and ,if you’re still looking for a defining characteristic of Englishness, it might be staring you in the face.