It’s raining – so naturally I make a cup of tea because that’s what Brits do. I would even drop an ‘awful weather, innit‘ if there was someone else in the room.
But there’s no British soul in the room. No one who I need to impress with my sophisticated tea knowledge – so I choose green over black. No milk. Just a plain, very European cup of tea.
It was a few months ago when I had a friend visiting, so I asked her if she would like a cuppa.
Oh, how I was waiting for that moment. I specifically asked my mum to post the fanciest tea we have back at home, in Romania. I had an entire shelf packed with a dozen of tea jars: herbal tea from Egypt, mint leaves, rooibos, citric tea…
“What do you fancy?”, I asked proudly showcasing my vast tea collection.
“Do you have normal tea?”, she said.
Normal tea? What does normal tea mean? I guess green is quite generic, isn’t it? Or maybe Chamomile, or even mint.
I never in a thousand years classified ‘black tea with milk’ as normal. Since when is that the norm? And how am I supposed to know that?
The British tea culture is just absurd.
For example, why would you call dinner also tea? And how has that never created confusion?
Every time my friends hung up on me because they needed ‘to have their tea’ I thought it’s either because I’m incredibly boring or Brits are very serious when it comes to having their cuppa.
But there’s more to being British than just knowing your tea.
The pleases and thank-yous were a big bridge to cross for me. Thanking people after they already thanked you, saying please when you’re basically asking people to do their job.
A simple sorry can save lives in this country. That’s the power of diplomacy in the UK.
I learned how to do small-talk – an important skill to have when you’re trying to blend in. After a few weeks of living in the UK, I started to say thank you to bus drivers for letting me cross and spent five minutes minimum at the till to do small talk.
That didn’t work back in Romania, when I complimented some stranger’s boots in a retail shop. She looked at me worried, then checked her purse and ignored me.
Being British doesn’t work in Romania.
The art of small talk is very precise, it’s not just rambling about your life. If someone asks ‘how are you?’, what they really mean is ‘hello’.
‘Not too bad’ is as far as you can go. The idea of having small talk, from my experience, is just to pretend that everything is fine, ignoring the chaos and creating meaningless human connections.
Nonetheless, it is important to know that Brits don’t like silence. They would fill in that void with anything – whether it’s a generic comment or just complaining about the weather, they will always find the way.
My worst nightmare in my first year of living in the UK was to be left with just one person in a room. That meant that I should have 50 per cent input in the conversation and so 100 per cent chances to fail.
One day, we had a house party and I was drinking with my friends at 5pm (another milestone that I had to pick up on was day-drinking).
Suddenly, it was just me and a friend of a friend in the room. It wasn’t even raining, so couldn’t complain about the weather.
“That’s a banger, innit?”, the guy said.
Banger, I thought. What is that – a banger? Is it something good, is it something bad? Is it obscene?
I just did what I would usually have done when I don’t know what a word means: smiled, nodded “yes” and hoped that wasn’t a genuine question. It usually isn’t when they add ‘innit’.
You have no idea how difficult it is to search for what a slang word means when you’re tipsy. I had to do it so many times.
There were times when I found it impossible to fit in.
But then, I picked the things that I liked about the British culture. I love that you can have beans and toast for any meal, the meaningless small talk, the Smiths and British comedies.
One of the best compliments that I received since moving here was when someone told me that I have ‘that dry British humour’. And while being funny in your mother-tongue language can be easy, developing this skill in English was like reaching a milestone for me.
I won’t lie, I learned to get offended when people are rude to me, and I now know around twenty lines that I could casually drop in conversations with strangers if I need to.
Have I become British after all?
From a Romanian girl with love,