“I’ll just make you a cup of tea,” she smiled.
“No thanks, I don’t drink tea.”
“Of course you drink tea,” she laughed. “I’ll make you a cuppa.”
“Thanks, but I don’t drink tea.”
I shifted, looking for somewhere to put the cup of tea that I wasn’t going to drink, and wondered how to get my meaning across.
I’ve always prided myself on my ability to communicate clearly, but I was staying with a lovely family in Ireland, and we were having repeated misunderstandings around two major points:
- I didn’t drink tea; and
- They didn’t believe me.
After several days of surreptitiously pouring cold tea into potted plants, sinks, and gardens, I steeled myself to tackle it head-on.
I carefully put the unwanted cup of tea down on a side table, adjusted the tablecloth, took a deep breath, and said, as politely as I could, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
She looked surprised. “Of course. What’s wrong?”
“It’s about the tea -”
She interrupted. “Oh, it must be cold. I’ll make you a fresh cup.”
I hastily picked up the cup and held it out of her reach, trying to keep control of the conversation. “Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. You see, I really don’t like tea. I don’t drink it, and I don’t like wasting your tea and your time.”
Her brows furrowed for a moment, then her face lit up. “Oh, that’s alright. I have some other teas you can have instead. Not everyone likes the same tea.” She stood up and moved to take my cup. I held it away from her.
“Thank you, but you don’t understand. I actually don’t like any tea. I don’t drink tea. I really don’t want a cup of tea.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?”
“I did. I’ve been saying, ‘No,’ every time you offer me a cup of tea.”
“Yes, but that’s what you’re supposed to say when someone offers you a cuppa. It doesn’t actually mean you don’t want tea.”
I realised I was staring, and hastily glanced back to the neatly embroidered tablecloth. “Well, I do mean it. I don’t drink tea.”
She looked appalled. “Is that common in your country?”
I blinked. “Not drinking tea?”
“No, saying no when you don’t want something.”
I nodded. “That’s definitely common.”
She scratched her head. “That sounds confusing. What do you say if you do want it?”
“Well, I’d say, ‘Yes,’ in that case.”
She shook her head, surprised by this strange cultural quirk.
I decided to try a different tactic. “So, if everyone here is supposed to say no when you offer them a cup of tea, what do they say if they really don’t want a cup of tea?”
She turned her gaze towards me, visibly confused. “Why wouldn’t they want a cup of tea?”