Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The Art of Well-Intended Manipulation
When I was a large child, my sister and I would brag to one another about who had answered the phone when my dad’s British summer employer rang.
One of us would pick up the phone and say “Hullo?” And a voice on the other end would say so jovially “E-llew, Nigel Stah-foord hier. Is your fah-thah avaailable?” (Oh dear, I’ve just realized that I’ve tried to type a British accent but what came out was an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation, please just humor me and pretend it sounds British, kay? Thanks!)
“Um, no.” And then my father’s summer employer would rattle on some pleasant nonsense to us in his delightful accent and then one of us got to listen to him with an awed expression on our face.
Later that day one of us was bound to say the other very smugly “I talked to Nigel Stafford on the phone today.” And the other would say “That’s not fair, you picked up the phone last time he called!”
Now, for kids growing up in small town USA, talking to a person on the phone with a bonafide British accent was the highlight of one’s day. After that, talks with one another in fake British accents ensued. I mean, it was one thing to hear a British accent on TV, but to talk to a real British person was downright earth-shattering and exhilarating.
Now, this blog post has been rather misleading, I have no intention of talking about British accents; rather I am going to go on a lengthy and boring discourse about tea. Those who make it to the end will be rewarded with a prize for their efforts.
Well then, you ask; why in the sam-hill are you banging on about British accents if you aren’t even going to talk about them?? What’s the matter with your brain!? Well, hang on there hot-pants. It’s just that…every time I make tea, I think of Nigel Stafford (not his real name, by the way).
Nigel told my dad, who told me, that you never offer someone a cup of tea. You always offer them a nice cup of tea. “Would you like a nice cup of tea?” Now to me, this sounds like some effective way of doing some PR, or it could just be Nigel wanted his guest to stay and enjoy a nice cup of tea. I mean anyone can have a cup of tea, but a nice cup of tea, well I’ll have two thank you very much.
For us Americans, taking tea with a British person is all rather controversial and very un-American. We have historically been known to take all their tea and dump it into the Boston harbor to say “Ha! Take that you British you! We don’t need you and we don’t need your tea!”
Or maybe, saying “nice cup of tea” is a way of bridging British and American foreign relations. We like nice things. We especially like nice cups of tea, as opposed to a horrid cup of tea or an unpleasant cup of tea. But a plain old cup of tea? Well, I’ll pass. A nice cup of tea? Oh, why thank you your majesty. (I know I'm imagining myself having tea with the queen of England...I'll try to control my fantasies)
So, when you’re trying to manipulate a friend into staying for tea and talking about vacuuming and feeding the cat, I’ve found that it is in fact successful to insert the handy little adjective “nice” before “cup of tea.”
I dare you to try it.