As I reflect on my time in Europe over the past semester, there are many things I’m going to miss about European life. Of all of these things, tea time may be at the top of the list.
Tea time, as stereotypical as it is, is a very serious thing in England. People drink tea in many different settings, but one setting is extremely common: afternoon tea with friends. Even during stressful or busy times, people set aside time from their day to sit, talk and enjoy a nice drink.
As great as the tea itself is, it isn’t the main factor driving the tradition. Instead, it’s the way an entire culture agrees on a small time to regularly put human relationships above their to-do lists and responsibilities.
It isn’t just the U.K. that values human relationships in a distinctive cultural way. French dinners can often last four or more hours, and frequenting a bar after work with friends is common throughout the rest of Europe. Waiters are in no hurry to clear a table for the next visitors; they know the importance of talking and being together, even after the food is finished.
This is in stark contrast to American culture, which is focused on productivity and individualism. Restaurants are for eating, and coffee is for staying awake to do more work. Defining moments in an average day in the U.S. may include big tests or projects at work instead of big dinners and interesting conversations. A person’s success may be measured by GPA, degree or income, instead of by happiness and time spent with loved ones.
The way people talk at these events is very different, too. In some settings, such as Germany, small talk is considered impolite, as it’s just a surface-level expression that has nothing to do with a genuine exchange.
Tea, dinner or bar stops are incorporated into a normal week to discuss the things that actually matter. Conversations are almost always personal or interesting – usually both.
This often seems absent in the American culture of working to keep everyone happy over being honest at a social gathering. When we are with others, it is often more about a façade than honesty.
These principles can be observed in the greater culture, as well, with other countries allowing more generous time off, especially for maternity and paternity leave. To many Europeans, productivity is only a small measure of life satisfaction.
Though we can’t choose to opt out of our home culture or decide to change our employers’ policies for time off, we can adopt some of the positive practices from other cultures.
We can decide to slow down regularly and interact genuinely with those who are important to us, and, as a result, care for ourselves by seeing that life is more than the endless to-do lists and expectations.
Daniel Payne is a sophomore integrated marketing communications major from Collierville, Tennessee.