From my travels in the USA, one of my funniest memories involves a lesson in how to make tea the English way. You wouldn't think I'd need the prompting, would you? But then you wouldn't believe how it was being brewed.
I was in Colorado this time, in a small residential town close to Denver. It wasn't the sort of place that usually attracts tourists. But then most foreign visitors don't have a friend living there.
She was gleeful in announcing to us that her town had a traditional English tea shop. Would we like to visit it? We had perfectly good cups of tea brewed in her own kitchen (I'd packed plenty of tea-bags), but we were intrigued. Thus it was that two Britons ended up visiting a quaint British tea shop in small-town America.
Which was not something that the English proprietors had ever envisaged happening.
Apparently Americans think that the British obsession with tea means that there must be some great ceremony involved in its preparation. (That's the Japanese, not us. Though I'd be lying if I didn't admit to an unspoken British Tea etiquette.) So the Derbyshire couple running that English tea shop in Colorado had invented a British way of making tea, ceremonially. Which we, as Britons, would obviously know, given that we're supposed to perform it all the time.
We could see the panic in the owner's frozen stare the second she discerned our accents. There was nothing on her extensive menu of authentic British teas that we recognized. Her eyes widened like a doe trapped in headlights. We each selected something, smiling sweetly at her.
Now all she had to do was somehow communicate the ceremony, so we'd perfectly brew our teas the British way. With a tea-shop full of American patrons watching on, proudly aware that their town had provided this genuine taste of home for two foreign visitors. How surprised we must be! And how thrilled too.
That famous mid-Western hospitality fulfilled in full.
Everyone witnessing the moment when the English woman arrived with our orders. Placing onto the table cafetiere teapots swimming with loose tea; timers already set; little ceramic pots; prongs; stirrers; spoons; sugar; milk; lemon... you name it, it was there and plenty that you wouldn't think of either. And a gaze which begged in extreme anxiety, behind a primly professional expression. Because she couldn't tell us anything. Everyone was listening in.
Thus my British friend and I encouraged our American hostess, sitting right there at the table with us, to demonstrate her proficiency in British ceremonial tea-making. And we followed suit, always just a second or two behind, casually pretending that we did this all of the time.
A look of relieved thanks was cast in our direction by the proprietor as we left. Not entirely deserved, as we burst out laughing as soon as we were safely in the car, then confessed all to our friend. She found it as hilarious as we did.