If Asked Would You Like A Drink In America, Just Say “Yes”!

Today we are going to explore a little cultural nuance between Ireland and America.  When visiting someone’s home in America, if offered a drink, always answer “yes” straight away.  The offer is made at the start of the visit, with no extended repetitions until you finally accept.

The opposite is true in Ireland.  If offered a cup of tea, initially it is important to decline.  The host or hostess will chat a little, then make their tea offer again.  It is at this point the offer should be accepted.

This infamous to and fro over a cup of tea was wonderfully satirized by Mrs. Doyle in the Irish comedy series, Father Ted.  Her endless offers of tea were hilarious, as was her signature line –

“Ah go on! Go on! Go on!

You’ll have a cup of tea.”

 

When I first came to America I had no idea I needed to say “yes” on the first offer.   One day my Irish friend and I visited a co-worker’s home in Elmira, New York.  When we first arrived we were immediately offered something to drink. Being two good Irish girls we declined, in unison.

After about twenty minutes with no further offer of tea or a drink forthcoming, we realized we had missed the boat on that drink.  There was definitely no second offer on the way.  We experienced this lack of recurrent drink offers on a few more occasions before we finally found the courage to say “yes” straight away. 

Americans are very straight forward.  No means “no”, and yes means “yes”.  No feigned hesitancy required for the sake of politeness.

However, I must make a confession.  To this day, even after twenty-something years living in America, I still stutter when I first accept a drink in an American friend’s house.  I still feel rude by being so direct, despite acceptance being proper etiquette here.  My Irish conscience still urges me to decline politely.

 

I suppose my problem is, that I’m just a girl who can’t say “yes”.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

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Comments

  1. Lovely that you shared this and I shall forever offer much more than once from this day forward. Thank you. :)

    • Lorrie – I have experienced many more little cultural differences between Ireland and America that I will share over time. This may seem like a minor thing, but when socializing it is important to know the accepted customs in a country. I probably drive my American guests crazy when I keep offering a drink. I find it hard to accept no for an answer.
      All the best,
      Mairead

  2. Cat McCormick says:

    I left the message the other day, my mam is the one from Galway, sick now with the cancer. Arrah sure when we went on the visits to family homes they would offer us a drink as kids. We always were taught to say no. Then a short while after we’d always get the tea. Now I’m grown and things are different here as they always were, but growing up with mam it didn’t matter we were in America, we were taught differently as American’s. We were taught as she was in Ireland. This is so funny, and brings back many memories of growing up with an Irish American Mom. You are so awesome!

    • Cat – So glad you stopped by again. It is lovely to hear you confirm my stories and how widespread these Irish cultural traits and quirks are. Like me, your mom brought these little Irish ways of life with her to America. I hope she is feeling comfortable and not in pain. I’ll say a prayer for her.
      Best wishes,
      Mairead

  3. Just found your blog, very nice! :)

    In Italy we are the same, at the first we say “no”, even if we would say “yes”.

    Irma

    • Irma – Thanks for letting us know that Italians also decline the first offer of a drink, before finally saying yes. It may be a European thing. Glad you found my blog – stop by whenever you get a chance. I try to add a new story or recipe two or three times each week.
      All the best,
      Mairead

  4. It is so fun reading about these different ways. So if an American is offered a drink in Ireland and right away says “Sure!” what do others think? After reading this I’m asking myself about what I do when offering a drink and what are my thoughts if declined. I love a different perspective, thank you!

    • Penny – I think most Irish people understand that Americans will accept that initial offer of tea and no offense is taken. However, if you really mean no, that will never be understood and the offers will just keep coming until you finally give in. Irish women just wear you down with those offers of tea. Glad you enjoyed this post on a seemingly trivial matter, but still an interesting cultural nuance.
      Mairead

  5. Ha! Mairead, We humans are a funny lot. Of corse the next part you need to tell people if they’re visiting in Ireland that quick cup of tea might last an hour or two.
    Cheers,
    Brian.

  6. Mairead, what a charming piece of Ireland’s culture — kind of like playing a little game. So sweet. But like you said, it will cause you to miss the boat here! :)

    • Cheryl – It is a simple little social difference that I quickly took note of. After 20 years in America I have learned to accept first drink offers and not miss the boat.
      All the best,
      Mairead

  7. a Mháiread! (nó Mairéad, níl fhios agam! :)
    I near cried laughing at this- So perfect! And perfectly hilarious!!!
    I cannot WAIT to hear more of these cultural differences come to blog life!
    I will be waiting with baited breath, but I’m glad to know your family will be getting the most and the best of your time and will be patient in the waiting.! :)
    I’m so excited I found this site.
    I’m sure you had a hard time finding a good cup of tea.
    This story reminds me of a similar situation that arose between my mother and mother-in-law the first morning they had tea at my m-i-l’s home.
    In Kansas City, where we’re from, one does not DARE wait on themselves while a guest in someone’s home. The host/ess is to wait on the guest hand and foot, pampering them to make them feel welcome and loved. In Nova Scotia where I now live, and where said tea was happening, the opposite is true. (at least this is true at my mil’s house) She makes you feel at home by letting you root and get whatever you want on your own. Mi casa su casa, I guess. So when Mary offered tea and my poor mom accepted but remained seated, waiting for the tea to be brought to her (as getting up to get it would have been a huge insult in her mind), my mother in law was completely chuffed that my mom was such an ignorant princess, waiting to be WAITEd on!?? THE NERVE.
    We’ve all since made friends. :)
    Tea service is sticky business indeed.

    • Hi Jennifer – Thanks so much for your great tea story all about the misunderstandings that arise around tea drinking etiquette. Tea service is sticky business alright, but especially nice if served with a nice sticky bun. So glad you found my site and thank you for your kind words. I was delighted to see your blog in Irish. I will love reading your stories and hearing your journey of raising bilingual kids speaking Irish and English. I had pretty good Irish when I left Ireland over 20 years ago, but it is pretty rusty now from lack of use. Reading your blog will help me dust the cobwebs off the old brain cells.
      Anyway, thanks again and stop by whenever you get a chance.
      All the best,
      Mairead

  8. Hi Mairead, really enjoying reading your blog. I stumbled upon it when looking for a Guinness stew recipe. I have the stew currently cooking away in my slow cooker!

    Anyway I am doing a giveaway for St Patrick’s Day that you or some of your readers might be interested in.

    Regards,
    Enid

    Ps. So true about the tea!!

    http://renovatinglpa.blogspot.ie/2013/02/competition-time.html

  9. I REALLY enjoyed this one Mairead! I hope my Irish relations forgive my US husband’s direct style when he says “Sure!” on the first asking — and he does! He did this last summer in Dublin to my poor 80+ Aunty and she barely able to get to the kitchen :)
    After reading this post, my husband now has a far better understanding of ettiquette AND of Mrs. Doyle’s (from the Father Ted series) behavior .
    Keep the cultural nuance blog posts coming!

    • Máiréad – Glad to hear this post helped clear up Irish tea dance etiquette for your husband. Sometimes it is the most simplest thing that leads to a little cultural nuance between Ireland and America. I’ll work on some more post ideas I have in the coming weeks.
      All the best, and have a lovely weekend.
      Mairéad

  10. Shawn Marie Durkan says:

    My grandmother hailed from Co. Mayo and she was the same way. Would offer a cup of tea to a visitor and would keep asking until they accepted. To this day, I always refuse a drink on the first offer. And I was born in America. I guess I live up to my Irish heritage :)

    • Shawn – Thanks for sharing your story of your Mayo grandmother continuing the tradition of Irish tea etiquette here in America. I think refusing a drink on the first offer might be genetically encoded in our DNA. Continuing to offer a drink after first refusal is definitely one of the most Irish traits of all.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  11. Peggy Miller Hopes says:

    I’ve been going through your older posts to learn and it’s interesting that I’ve lived in America my entire life and knew I had Irish roots but never knew any thing on the culture or customs and never take “no” for an answer when I ask someone if they’d like a drink and usually decline the first offer when it’s extended to me.
    I’m curious and forgive me if this has already been addressed, if one is Irish or of Irish descent, depending on the time of day (morning or afternoon), is there a right way and a wrong way to drink tea?
    If someone had a question on something, is there someplace to contact you and ask or is there someplace here on your blog to ask?
    Thank you for your time and for your blog and postings, I’m learning so much and have enjoyed what I’ve read so far.
    Peggy

    • Hi Peggy – Most Irish people drink tea with a little drop of milk and sometimes with a spoon of sugar. In the past few years I have stopped taking milk in my tea, which is very unusual for an Irish person. Most Irish people don’t drink iced tea – that is a very American way of drinking tea.
      If you have any questions, please feel free to send me an e-mail using the ‘contact me’ page. There is a link in the top header line.
      All the best and thanks so much for reading my posts in such depth.
      Mairéad

      • Peggy Miller Hopes says:

        Hi Miread, I take my tea with milk and sugar. As much as I love and drink hot tea (I’ve got a shelf in my pantry of nothing but tea) I love and drink iced tea.
        I see the contact link and had seen it before but couldn’t find it the other day but I wasn’t seeing a lot of things too clearly; one of my sons moved to North Carolina on Sunday and while I’m happy and excited for him in his new journey I was/am a wreck for the moment.
        Reading your posts makes me feel like I’m there.

        Peggy

        • Peggy – Wishing your son every success on his move to North Carolina. Change is always hard, but all new journeys start somewhere. All the best to you and your family.
          Mairéad

  12. Hi there. I thought that you may be interested to know that the refusal of the first offer of tea (or any other sustenance) in Ireland, dates back to the potato famine and was part of the host/guest etiquette of the time.
    During the famine, a host, to be polite, would offer their guest some refreshments. The guest would understand that it was likely there were no refreshments to be had and would politely decline. If the host had nothing to offer, no further offer would be made, and both parties would understand the situation. If a second offer was made, it would mean that the host was in fact in a position to provide their guests food/drink, and at this point the guest may accept.
    Old habits die hard, it would seem! Cuppa anyone?

    • Milly – Thank you so much for your wonderful insight into this ever so Irish tea etiquette. I never heard this explanation before. It clarifies the origins of our practice and makes it understandable why this “tea dance” happens all over Ireland.
      I’m delighted you found my little corner of the world wide web, and really appreciate you joining in our discussion of all things Irish.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

      • Hi Mairéad
        No problem at all, you’re more than welcome.
        I only discovered this myself when my Polish friend found herself bewildered by this custom and asked me why we did it. I’ve personally done it my whole life, and continue to do it to this day (being born, bred and living in Ireland) and yet couldn’t explain it! So I did a little research to get to the bottom of it, and this was the explanation I found. I found it so intriguing and it makes perfect sense – given that we are only a few generations removed from the famine.
        So the next time you refuse your first offer of a cup of Barry’s you’ll know why! :o)

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