Welcome back! This is episode 4, and I still haven’t offered you a cup of coffee. My bad. Or maybe you would prefer some tea? Please make yourself comfortable. Milk? Sugar? Welcome to Britalian, which documents my integration process one cup of tea at a time.
I am a coffee person. However, I don’t need any caffeine kick to keep me awake. Instead, coffee is my morning routine, a comforting script I follow blindly. I take my wee moka from the cupboard. Oh, I’m afraid not many people will know what a moka is. It’s the screw metal coffee machine, the one with a bottom bit you pour water in, and the top bit, where the coffe collects. So, I take the moka, then I put the coffee powder in the filter, set the moka on the hob, wait until that gurgling noise, the scent of coffee pouring out…I love this series of cosy actions that set my day down the right path.
Once I shared a flat with British people for two weeks. Two weeks is not a long time to get things wrong, right? Well, long enough for them to lose the top half of my moka. Not all of it. Just the top chamber, the bit with a pout. I confronted them brandishing the bottom bit, the water chamber. They had no idea what I was talking about.
“An espresso machine? You mean, a proper one, steam and all? No, we haven’t seen it.”
And of course, if you don’t know something, losing track of it is so much easier.
Coffee for an Italian is like punctuation, it marks the end of a period, a break in the rhythm, where you can take a breath before carry on reading. It needs to be enjoyed on its own. Tea is more like a background music, an ever-present series of mugs that pile up discreetly on desks and sinks. British people drink tea basically every single hour. That makes around ten mugs per day. How do you train your bladder, guys? On top of that, British people drink tea when they are thirsty. I would never dream of calling milk a thirst quencher.
I don’t drink black tea at all. This will cost me some points on my citizenship application. We do drink tea in Italy-with lemon juice, though, not with milk. This is unthinkable here. To survive in a tea-drinking nation I developed a taste for fruit teas and infusions. I have a huge selection in my office drawer, tightly packed and ordered by colour. I let it steep for ages, tea bag in, until it gets cold – and I’ll down it anyway. Ok, I am definitely not good with tea.
I remember the first time I met my boyfriend’s parents. After we were introduced, we sat down and I was offered tea. I had my hot mug and I put it down on the little side table. My boyfriend’s dad slid a coaster in my direction without even raising his eyes at me. I flinched. Clear message: use a coaster. It has happened so many times since, in different houses and flats. I’m simply not used to coasters. I am not used to tea in general.
Some people like it weak, just a single dip of the tea bag. Some people like it strong, so strong you can stand a spoon in it. Making tea for others is part of office manners, but I tend to shy away. How can I remember tea preferences for six, seven, eight people?
Let’s have a go. Brew anyone?
“Fairly strong, no sugar, a little milk.”
“Just black, no sugar thanks.”
“One sugar and a teeny bit of milk.”
“I’ll have a tea, thank you!”
Just a tea? What does it even mean? It’s a nightmare. Usually I just sneak in the kitchen with my own tea bag without asking around. My boyfriend taught me how to make the perfect tea for him: he took his cup to the kitchen table and said: “just like this shade of brown”. Great, now I just need to find a way to always bring the table with me as a reference.
I’ll tell you something about Italian culture. When we are 10 minutes away on our way home, we ring and say: “lower the pasta”. It’s a homely way to say: I’ll be home in no time. I’ve now learned the British way: put the kettle on.
Next time: dinner.