“The Hot Tea” is a weekly column dedicated to unearthing the intricacies of London’s social, political and millennial issues in the context of Pittsburgh’s own complex culture.
LONDON– Prior to the day I landed at Heathrow Airport, I’d never had hot tea.
I’ve found that my lack of warm, herbal drinks is an eerily appropriate metaphor for my lack of culture up until the point I came to England.
My friends will vouch that the bland ideas I held of the world were unsavory — I had no idea where Spain was on a map, I had no clue what curry was and my sense of direction was deplorable — to put it kindly. I was a blind sheep, baa-ing senselessly at the things I couldn’t comprehend because geographically, they escaped me.
While I sat in my first black cab, I stared out the window, wide-eyed and full of child-like innocence. Excitement swirled about in my head, a maelstrom of opportunities awaiting me. Profound questions such as, “What is the point of a two pence coin?” and “Why does a stupid beer cost five quid?” were at the top of the list.
Since that second day of September, I’ve had the sincere pleasure of burning my tongue on dozens of cups of hot tea, and I’ve learned more than I bargained for about the English way of life. But by far the greatest piece of knowledge I’ve gained is that you can never fully understand another culture by approaching it as a tourist. To fall in love with every facet of a city, you must fully immerse yourself in its crags and crannies.
That’s not to say I haven’t been fully taken by the spectre of Parliament or that I don’t get rosy in the cheeks when I talk about the Thames. Of course I will miss stepping outside Westminster Station and getting an enticing full-frontal of the London Eye. There’s no shame in admitting that earlier this week, I stared at Tower Bridge off in the distance and listened to melodramatic indie songs. I feel like I’ve been in a loving relationship with this gorgeous city, but as with all things, there is more to dote on than immediate, external beauty.
Really, I’ve become smitten with the way I’ve settled into the day-to-day drudgery of English life — without it feeling like it’s actually drudgery.
I get a sick enjoyment out of sitting on the Tube and glaring at tourists who yell obnoxiously or people who dare to laugh before noon — there is no place for these people in London, thank you very much, and I’ve perfected my English mean-mug.
I’ve worked at a multi-newspaper media building and worn leggings to work while internally laughing at the Daily Mail over-compensators wearing suits and ties.
I’m on a first-name basis with the guys who work the register at Sainsbury’s — the quintessential English supermarket. Seriously — he knows where I live and that I only buy bottom-shelf red Shiraz.
I’ve realized how completely arrogant and U.S.-centric my ideas of politics once were. That being said, I embarrassingly went from not knowing who David Cameron was to becoming a full-fledged member of the anti-Cameron club. I was here when Parliament voted in favor of air strikes on Syria and subsequently posed in front of a piece of crude anti-Cameron street art in protest — so radical, right?
I’ve gone to a conference at the London School of Economics and learned that gender inequality rages on in England just as extensively as it does at home, piquing my interest in global feminism.
I’ve managed to become quite familiar with not only London but Essex, England. One Monday morning, I even made the commute to London alongside the ever-cheery faces of English people thrilled to be riding to work. Lucky for us, a train got delayed due to broken parts.
I have a best friend in England who has changed my life forever. My British boyfriend’s renditions of American accents make my ears bleed, and he force-feeds me Marmite — the overly-salty spread for which England is notorious — against my will. He’s cooked me my first English breakfast and made me my first chai tea. I guess you’d say I’m preparing to enter a long-distance relationship — bloody hell.
I have the pleasure of complaining about English phone plans. Really, what’s more English than complaining? It’s brilliant.
I’ve learned that it’s okay to call your friends horrible things here, and they just laugh — I need to remember to remove key phrases from my vernacular when I get home this weekend.
I’ve become accustomed to asking for ranch dressing and hearing back, “Mayonnaise?” No, mayo is not the same thing as the artistry of ranch. I still don’t get the mayo obsession, but I have fully accepted it.
These little quirks are hard not to fall in love with. After living somewhere so long, you find bits of the culture have been hopelessly ingrained into your being.
I’m going to feel lost in Pittsburgh at first. I’m going to hear the Yinzer chatter and dream of English banter. I’ll have my first legal drink on the South Side and get misty-eyed, wishing I was at BrewDog in Shepherds Bush — in which case, I’ll need to order another round.
I’m even going to miss singeing off my taste buds while sipping on chai tea, laughing at the name “digestive biscuits” because no, my stomach did not hurt, and no, cookies aren’t called biscuits.
The nuances of English life have crawled into my heart, and I think I’m stuck with them.
So if you travel abroad at some point in your life, the best advice I can leave you with is this:
Get lost on purpose. Go on Tinder dates and experience the first-class status of being a foreigner for the first time in your life. Find the bars with the dirtiest bathrooms and grungiest barmen. Do things your parents might not like. Get on stage at a concert. Go to a protest. Swear like the locals. Eat great food. Eat terrible food. Watch the sun rise from a tent in the countryside. Meet someone famous. Fall in love.
Drink it all in. Have as much hot tea as possible. You might burn your tongue a few times, but for the most part, it will be sweet.
Courtney Linder is a senior columnist at The Pitt News, primarily focusing on social issues and technology. Write to her at CNL13@pitt.edu.