The simple things

Observant, Maastricht

What is it that binds people all around the world? Is it some shared value? A global sense of humanity? Or even Chomsky’s universal grammar?

Clearly not. The answer is tea.

We all have our different ways of drinking it. Different flavours, different things we put in it, different things we drink it out of. But at the end of the cup, it’s all tea.

Even the way the English drink it, at a stretch. Growing up in England – or far from it, but with English parents, as I did – white tea is the most normal thing in the world. Being, of course, black tea with milk. Until I was 20 I figured everyone drank it that way. Since then I’ve lived abroad, and come to understand how odd that is to everyone else.

“How would you like it?”, a Turkish flight attendant asked me last week, somewhere between Schiphol and Istanbul. “Some sugar, perhaps?”

“Milk, please”, I said.

“Tea and milk”, she said, eyebrows raised. “You’re thirsty.” She plucked a second cup from her trolley and started to pour me a cup of milk as well.

In the tea”, I said.

There was an awkward pause.

In the tea?”

In the tea.”

Thus stumped her. She mimed pouring milk into my teacup, the look on her face somewhere between incredulity and disgust.

“Oh, miss”, she sighed. “You’re different.”

I like to inform my husband periodically that I’m a simple girl; all it takes is a steaming cup of tea on a cold day to make me happy. “That,” he agrees, “and for everything else in your life to be otherwise perfect.” This he says as I snuggle under a blanket in front of the 7 pm news, watching the refugees struggling their way into Europe or polar bears starving to death as the ice caps melt. Contemplating my utterly pampered and selfish existence, I think, I hate myself.

In that state, there’s only one thing for it. “Schatje?” I call out to Rutger-Jan in the kitchen. “You’d better put the kettle on!”

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