Back in the states when someone asked me to join them for “tea” it usually meant martini’s after a long day at work. In England apparently it’s not the same. When asked to take a “tea break” it actually means real, legit English tea. (Who would’ve thought?)

Of course, my American and millennial mind didn’t truly expect “tea time” to consist of drinking cocktails like what I’m used to back home (much to my dismay.) I was anticipating the routine, casual breaks to sip on tea while engaging in sophisticated conversation with my colleagues.

It turns out tea time isn’t like that in England, either. *Sigh*

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a British Red Cross first aid training course as part of my new job working in student development. As someone who cringes, gags and cowers at the site of blood and gore I was looking forward to three days in my own personal hell. Wasting no time, the first day consisted of learning CPR and using a defibrillator (Low-key “defib” trigger happy and looking forward to the chance to use it to save a life.) The first day also consisted of four thirty-minute tea breaks.

Four. 4. F-O-U-R.

*Insert Nolan’s impatience here*

While I’m all for a good restful break after a cardio workout (AKA CPR practice), my main objective was to end the day as quickly as possible with the hope I wouldn’t vomit before the course was complete. All I could think about was the fact my colleagues and I left at 4 p.m. when the course could’ve easily ended at 2 p.m. That’s an extra two hours I could’ve blogged. Or napped.

Now that it’s over, hindsight is 20/20. Despite being on the verge of telling the instructor and my peers to drink their tea quicker, I’m glad I didn’t. Here’s why: When someone is preparing to move to another country like I have they’re typically warned about the cultural differences between countries. “Never shake their hands, kiss them once on each cheek instead,” or “always take your shoes off when you enter someone’s home, otherwise it’s insulting,” or “to Americans, time is money, while some other cultures ignore punctuality for the sake of ‘living in the moment.’”

Despite being the “Mother Country” of the US, I’m rediscovering the many cultural differences between the English and Americans. It can be easy for one to become comfortable in a new country after so long, but that’s no reason to forget about respecting the lifestyles who share this world with you (Trump, please take note.) And while the celebration of tea time is only a minor cultural difference, my encounter with it at first aid training is symbolic of the fact international residents may be exposed to cultural differences at any moment. Being exposed to these differences, however, are the greatest “traveling lessons.”

That’s not to say that you must feel obligated to partake in cultural traditions that are different from your own. By immersing myself into conversations with locals in another country, I have an opportunity to learn about other cultures while also teaching them of my own traditions and beliefs. A win-win situation, really. The key, however, is to respect each other’s traditions, beliefs and differences. Even if it’s as minor as an extended tea break.

Don’t worry, though. As a caffeine addict I am always looking forward to a good coffee break, which is a respectful substitute for tea in England. So while I can’t handle anymore tea, may my coffee cup runneth over. Or my martini glass.

—NM

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