If you’ve caught on to the quiet craze for The Great British Bake Off (Great British Baking Show in the US because apparently Pilsbury can copyright “Bake Off,” ugh), you will know that is a much kinder, gentler reality show than we are used to in the US. The contestants are genuinely nice to each other, there are no dramatic pauses that cut to advertising breaks (and thus they can fit 3 challenges into an episode instead of two), and everyone seems to be having a genuinely good time. In short, it’s incredibly relaxing and soothing to watch- the Bob Ross of cooking shows in a sense. So I thought about, what IF there were soothing British versions of other US reality shows? Some suggestions for producers:
- House Hunters: Britain. I know that there are sometimes Brits on the international version of House Hunters, but what if this was just well adjusted and happy couples looking at quaint British cottages/manors/Tudor half timber? They would save that everything looked just lovely the way it was, not a mention of paint color, granite counter tops, closet space, or “man caves.” They wouldn’t be able to choose and would end up staying where they already lived, because, “we’re perfectly happy here already.”
- Real Housewives of the Cotswolds. Watch as a charming group of friends in tweed and sweaters go for horseback rides, long walks in wellies, have a spot of tea, and plan the annual garden show. No table throwers need apply.
- Keeping Up with the Cambridges. A whole show summing up the public appearances of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge that week. With special attention paid to Kate’s clothing choices. Fully palace approved with nothing controversial.
- Catfish Britain: Everyone is who they say they are, they are just too shy to go out and prefer to talk online. (h/t to Jaya for this one)
- Lord John and Kate Plus Eight. An Earl and Countess find themselves with 8 children! Of course this is no problem because they hire a staff of nannies and the children end up even more eccentric and less controversial than the Mitfords. Popular scenes include the 15 minutes per day the children see their parents before dinner.
- The Simple Life. Young married couple with children are actually quite happy to escape the stress of the city to their country estate on weekends and start to contemplate whether they can manage to live there full time.
- Extreme Make Over: British Home Edition. No one’s lives have been ruined by medical bills thanks the the NHS but along with the Extreme Make Over team, friends and neighbors still pitch in to help people who have been struck by hardship.
- Duck Dynasty. An eccentric middle aged dad carefully films a pair of ducks nesting, laying their eggs, hatching the chicks, watching them walk about, and finally growing up and leaving the nest to create dynasties of their own.
- Toddlers and Tiaras. An absurd idea, everyone knows that you may not wear a tiara until after marriage and toddlers are far too young for that.
Princess Margaret (the Queen’s sister) wore her tiara in the bath.
The good news is that none of this tiara etiquette really exists anymore (except for people who go to state banquets and the like), so feel free to wear tiaras whenever you want.
- Unmarried women shouldn’t wear them- this is why they are often worn on a wedding day.
- Being able to wear a tiara isn’t dictated by your social rank but rather by the occasion (um, and actually being able to afford one or pull strings to borrow one.)
- Tiaras are worn for white tie, occasionally black tie, and state events. This means only very, very fancy times.
- Tiaras are eveningwear. The QUEEN OF ENGLAND did not wear a tiara to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s morning wedding, so neither should you.
- Often for “tiara events” the invitation will state “tiaras will be worn”
- Tiaras shouldn’t be worn in hotels or public ballrooms. Only if your friends are fancy enough to have their own ballrooms. But you can wear them to dinner in a private home if the dress code is white tie- go figure.
- Tiaras should be worn so that the jewels are parallel to the ground or at a slight angle to the ears, never as a “headband”.
- Not etiquette but a fun fact: many royal and other famous tiaras easily break apart into sets of necklaces, earrings, and brooches so the pieces can be worn more frequently. Who knew royals were so thrifty?
Coronets are a different matter and ARE linked to rank and can only be worn by people of that rank. Peers wear a coronet (a silver gilt circlet) along with along with ceremonial robes at the coronation of the Monarch only.
I recently read an amusing little article in the New York Times about one tourist’s misconception of the English tradition of tea.
In it, the author makes the common mistake of confusing high tea and afternoon tea. High tea, which sounds very regal and la-di-da actually is another word for the evening meal- like supper (also just called “tea.” Now go find five usages in the Harry Potter books.). Afternoon tea is what we think of when we imagine having tea with the Queen (or am I the only one who imagines that?). My 18th birthday was actually celebrated with an afternoon tea party, because of course it was.
Afternoon tea became a thing in the early 19th century when the Duchess of Bedford found she was a little peckish in the late afternoons during a period where it wasn’t fashionable to have dinner until 8 in the evening. So she started having tea and some sandwiches and then invited some friends to join her and BOOM a defining cultural tradition is born.
High tea, the tea of the masses, was called such because it was served at a normal, high table, instead of the impractical little wobbly tables used by the aristocracy for their afternoon tea.
There is also a thing called a “cream tea” which is just scones with clotted cream and jam served with tea. I hadn’t heard of such a thing until I visited my sister when she was studying abroad in Brighton and we had it. Delightful! And much, much cheaper than the full afternoon tea spread.
Typically when you have afternoon tea, the food comes out in a particular order. Scones and clotted cream first, tiny sandwiches second, and little cakes and pastries third. Or they might come out all together on a big tier of plates and then you can eat in whichever order with reckless abandon. You will also be given a selection of teas and your own little pot of hot water to steep it in.
Some tea etiquette:
Sticking your pinkie out is an affectation, it should gently curve around the other fingers.
Eat scones the same way you would eat any roll at the table- break off bite sized pieces and put a small portion of cream and jam on and then eat and repeat.
Look into your tea cup when sipping instead of staring at your companions.
Don’t leave your spoon in your cup, rest it on the saucer.
If you are provided with a tea strainer, rest it over the top of your cup, pour the tea through it into the cup, and remove the strainer. There should be a little dish to put the wet strainer on.
Traditionally, milk was put in the cup before the tea because older teacups had a tendency to crack when the hot tea was added. However, both are acceptable today, according to your own taste.
If the sugar is served in cubes, use the provided tongs to serve yourself instead of your spoon or fingers.
If lemon wedges are provided, they might be tied up in a cheesecloth so that they can be squeezed without the seeds flying out. Place used lemon wedges on the side of your saucer if there is no plate provided for them.
The spout of the teapot should face the host(ess) when using one teapot for a group.
When sipping your tea, lift only your cup and leave the saucer on the table.