Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 74

Tea confusion

I need to clear up a confusion about mealtimes, please America.

In the UK mealtime references are based on your class or age, I think. I am not totally sure about this, but this is how I see it.

Breakfast – check, I think we all do the same thing.

Brunch – check, generally a Sunday thing (and I have experienced some most excellent brunches in the USA so far – in fact, I would say the USA Sunday brunch malarkey exceeds anything previously encountered in the UK – I mean, shrimp and grits – this is a whole bunch of awesomeness on a plate).


Lunch – now this is where it gets confusing, because some people call it lunch and some people call it dinner. I call it lunch….

Tea – in the UK this is either:

a) for kids at about 5pm-ish; or

b) for those who are a bit posh, or at boarding school, or fancy an afternoon snack and wish to label it as something else, so it doesn’t really seem like you are [God forbid] snacking – and it consists of scones / crumpet / muffins / cake etc; or

c) for them up North or them who are a bit common, and for this you can have a meal on your knee in front of the TV (I confess to being a tea person every now and then….hang on, does this make it a TV dinner….?) πŸ™‚

british-tea 1952_TV_dinner

Supper – this is, again, confusing. Supper is dinner / dinner is supper. It’s a meal.

Now I’m confused. What do Americans call it all? If I invite an American for tea, will they expect scones plated up on a three-layered tier with doilies and napkins and tea from a pot? I blame Downton Abbey for this expectation. Or, if they have a child in tow, do they realise it will be ‘kids’ tea’?

I need help to understand American mealtime references, please – and feedback from Americans on what they understand our British mealtime references to be, and, therefore, what they would expect. By the way, I don’t do scones…..

What epiphany?

As far as I can see there is no epiphany in Howard County right now. Christmas decorations still adorn bushes, houses and trees. Still looks pretty, though πŸ™‚


The UK, so I read on BBC News Online, is getting colder in the UK with snow forecast. I just had my lunch out on the decking. What’s that all about?! Oh yeah, it’s called climate change….

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13 Responses to Desperate English Housewife in Washington, chapter 74

  1. I would just like to add that I also invite people for ‘dinner’, so that’s confusing too. But mostly, above all, I am a lady wot lunches πŸ™‚

  2. ThatOtherGuy says:

    OK. Supper/dinner are interchangeable and largely regional. In my experience, Southerners say supper rather than dinner. An yes, if you invited someone “round for tea” they would take that to literally mean tea and conversation. Think gossiping ladies in the 1950’s in the living room or something. Just after the Earth cooled I was a student in Europe and one of the Brits and I were on our way home from the library when he said he “fancied some tea”. I thought that was bit odd as I was ready for dinner but sure, let’s go. He led us to a British chip shop where we ate a meal. There was no tea ordered nor consumed at this meal. I was very confused. (If it matters, he was from Wales.)

  3. Same problems here in Canada. 18 months in and I still muck up the lingo on a daily basis! I usually end up self correcting, getting it wrong and confusing everyone! “Why don’t you come round for tea…dinner… No I mean supper” Argh!

  4. salpal1 says:

    In Maine, Dinner is mid-day, as in Sunday Dinner, and supper is at the end of the day. But I grew up in CT where dinner was also at the end of hte day, and usually meant the table, and vegetables. Supper was more informal, and might be soup and sandwiches. We would not have supper AND dinner. It is apparently, very regional. Tea, is just that, in a cup.

  5. Iota says:

    Hi, I’ve just discovered your blog, and have had a happy time scrolling back through old posts. I lived in America for 5 years, and am now back in Scotland. So many of your posts prompted memories of my early days in America, and I often wrote about the same things as you have done. I’ll be back!

  6. I grew up in the north east (NY/NJ) and moved to the west
    coast about 5 years ago. Currently residing in NV. I never noticed
    any regional differences between the coasts. For me the meals have
    always been: Breakfast – first meal of the day Brunch – If you
    forgot breakfast and it’s a bit late but still too early for lunch.
    This is one big meal that is eaten instead of breakfast and lunch.
    Lunch – mid day meal anytime between 11AM and 1PM Dinner/Supper –
    the words are interchangeable for the big meal at the end of the
    day Tea is something that we don’t really have as a meal. I would
    expect it to include tea and cookies.

  7. Our Adventure in Croatia says:

    I am Italian and I learned this the hard way in the UK, when (many moons ago) an English friend invited me for “tea” for about 5pm so I thought “nice tea and cakes” and instead…. his mother had prepared (delicious) lasagne which we eat at 6pm, although not in front of the telly I must say, it was very civilized at the table. You live and learn..

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