But one of those reasons is that my parents are visiting, having come to meet their newest granddaughter, Grover. And visits from Americans are always good for a fresh supply of linguistic gaffes and confusions. My dear mom, for example, demonstrated a widespread American misapprehension of a British term when she informed me that she went to high tea at my nephew's school on Valentine's Day. Knowing that she was referring to something more like a tea party with tea or other drinks and some sort of baked good, and being the obnoxious daughter that I am, I replied, "No, you didn't."
The website What's Cooking America works hard to disabuse my fellow Americans of that misunderstanding:
Most people [i.e. Americans] refer to afternoon tea as high tea because they think it sounds regal and lofty, when in all actuality, high tea, or "meat tea" is dinner. High tea, in Britain, at any rate, tends to be on the heavier side. American hotels and tea rooms, on the other hand, continue to misunderstand and offer tidbits of fancy pastries and cakes on delicate china when they offer a "high tea."What the hotels (and my nephew's school) are offering is actually low tea, more commonly (in my experience) referred to as afternoon tea. A particular subcategory of afternoon tea is the cream tea, which involves tea and scones with clotted cream and (almost always strawberry) jam. (We've booked a cream tea after Grover's naming ceremony on Sunday, which seems a little unfair, as she's not yet on solid foods--or even tea, for that matter.) My mother keeps asking if people 'still' have afternoon tea, and I reply "people will take a tea break, like a coffee break', and she'll say that she means do they have cucumber sandwiches and scones and so forth. (My mother seems to be jealous of any culture that fits an extra meal into the day.) Better Half and I have to explain that eating cucumber sandwiches in the afternoon is not something that the masses ever did much.
Back to high tea: I've never heard a British person use the term. They say things like I have to get home and make the children's tea, by which they mean their evening meal. In my experience, tea, when referring to a meal, is used by my friends mostly to refer to simple meals they make for their children or themselves in the early evening; a dinner party, for example, would not be referred to as tea.
Now, we could get into the different uses of other meal terms like dinner and lunch and supper in the two countries--except that there's so much variation in meal names within each country that anything I could say from my own experience would be only a small bit of the picture. In the US, the use of meal names varies mostly by region (and, I'd suspect, by age). (See these maps for some info.) In the UK, there is a heavy social class element involved--so that Nancy Mitford, in classifying some turns of phrase as U ('upper class') or non-U, claims that calling the midday meal dinner is non-U, while calling it luncheon is U.
In fact, reader Paula wrote in the summer asking for coverage of an aspect of the meal-name problem:
...and I've been avoiding the question ever since. So feel free to weigh in on the matter in the comments!Here in my area of North Carolina(US) we still use "dinner" to describe the noon meal. When I visited Australia and New Zealand, they also used "dinner", which made me feel right at home. The poor little Northern US children that traveled with us were quite confused since they thought "dinner" was the evening meal, lol.How about it, how common is the word "dinner" now when "lunch" seems to be used more and more.