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.
Irish Tea Etiquette
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.”
And so the Irish rule for offers of a drink or a cup of tea, is to refuse the first offer and then accept after the second offer.
American Drink Etiquette
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”.
A Social Custom Originating At The Time of The Famine
A reader explained this custom in the discussion section of this post and I found her explanation ever so interesting. Milly said:
“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!
Thanks for following my recipes and ramblings.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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