One of my favourite jokes is to tell people that the reason I live in Canada is that I was deported from England for not drinking tea. Occasionally, credulous individuals fail to notice the joke for a few moments.
England is not the same place it was when I was a child. It has changed - grown even - at a rapid pace, and so many of the things that are stereotypical about the place are now only that. Which is to say they are based in fact, but declining.
I do remember getting shocked, horrified looks from older people when I refused tea. It was a social fail. One was supposed to say "yes, please" because otherwise the person offering it was sent into a tailspin. Sometimes (and not always) they would offer coffee instead, and when that was also declined, they were completely lost. If I was thirsty I would ask for water, and they would try to talk me out of it, suggesting milk, or maybe another drink if they had it. Anyone would think that the water was unfit to drink. Admittedly it was frequently chlorinated, and therefore unpleasant, but it was potable.
But they were used to routine, almost ritual. Get in the house? Put the kettle on. Finished a job? Put the kettle on. Visitors? Put the kettle on. Somebody is upset? Put the kettle on. It was a panacea. Lost your job? Have a nice cup of tea. Husband left you? Have a nice cup of tea. Just been diagnosed with a terminal illness? Have a nice cup of tea. Alien spaceships gathering overhead? Have a nice cup of tea.
They used to give tea to babies. I'd see them with it in their bottles. It was probably because they'd met people like me and were taking no chances. The younger you got them addicted, the less chance of rebellion. Didn't want to risk having a social pariah in the family. Good grief, what would the neighbours think.
My absolute favourite memory (sorry if some of you have heard this before) was of visiting my friend's ancient great-grandmother in Newcastle, when I was in my early teens. She offered me tea, and I declined as politely as possible. "You don't take tea? You don't take tea?" Her face was a picture of horror and confusion. And not a little annoyance. How dare this child enter my home and refuse my hospitality. But she pulled herself together and probably put it down to my being a southerner.
Then she arrived back with a large, open-topped flan...thing, which looked like it contained sausage meat, except that it appeared to be decorated with pieces of orange. She thrust this under my face defiantly and I again politely declined. This was probably very rude, but sausage and oranges have never been a favourite of mine. Oddly. Must be a Geordie thing. She sighed and simply said "So you don't take pie either?"
Which brings me to English food. It is infamous for being bad. That's not strictly true, because there are several dishes that are world class, such as fish & chips, steak & kidney pie, scotch eggs, gala pie, Cornish pasties, curry, and so on. Unfortunately the British response to post-war shortages was to eat very plain and overcooked food, so for a while there (i.e. when I was growing up) most of it was pretty awful. Plus my mother couldn't cook, bless her. So I ate "foreign" food. Consequently when people talk of comfort foods from childhood, I tend to think of Chinese take-aways, paella, kebabs, and chicken vindaloo.
We really weren't well-educated on food. In school we were taught classic French cooking, but it was basics, it was not an introduction to gastronomy. So while I could make a good béchamel at the age of 11, I really had no idea what it was for, other than cheese sauce.
Shortly after I got married, Pizza Hut arrived in the town where we lived. We thought the idea of having food delivered very exciting, and our pizza arrived with a tub of cole slaw. We had no idea why, but I assume it's related to how fish & chips, when served here in Canada, is usually served with the same. Nobody seems to know why. Anyway, not knowing what to do with it, we spread it on the top of the pizza. Tasted fine.
I've made a few food oopsies like that over the years, because I didn't know any better, but travel broadens the mind, as well as the taste buds, and I learned. What I wasn't ready for was when McDonald's arrived in London. Great celebration. Huge crowds. Nowhere to sit. So I ordered my burger and took it outside. One bite and ..................ye Gods. I spat it out. Nobody warned me about dill pickles. The taste was NOT what I was expecting. It wasn't that it was bad, it was just so very different. People should be warned about things like that. All around me, in Piccadilly Circus, were grown men going "YEUK!" and "What the @#%?" and "There's a bloody gherkin in there!" etc. So at least I wasn't alone in my reaction.
Once I got used to the idea, I found I liked dill pickles, but for someone who was used to burgers being served with fried onions, and little else, it was quite a surprise.
But, and I want to make this quite clear, it was good to try something new. Not to get bogged down in the idea that only familiar foods were acceptable. Not to consider new or foreign foods "wrong" in some way. Unfortunately there was a very insular mindset in England back then. My rather more open mind did not fit with that. I had the audacity to like and dislike things based on taste rather than familiarity. It seems funny now, times have changed, attitudes have changed, and trying new things and enjoying the benefits of a multi-cultural society is normal, desirable, and expected. Actually. But a few decades ago, preferring Italian food was an act of rebellion.
I have developed a cooking style which is best described as "International Melanie". Dishes from all continents, partially authentic, but leaving out the bits I don't like. Because I know what I don't like. I am not afraid to admit there are tastes I really don't like, and I never was. For the longest time, because I drew from such a wide range, foods from all around the world, and deliberately didn't stick to the diet dictated by my location, I declared that I wasn't a picky eater. I had decided that those who only ate the food they'd been brought up on, were being difficult. Unadventurous. Childish even. Unable to think outside the box. Tsk. But I am picky. It looks worse than it is, because the things I dislike tend to be popular. That changes nothing really. I'm picky about quality too. In some ways I'm a food snob. Then, just to confuse people, I have favourites among very ordinary food items that true food snobs would eschew...out of snobbery. I am not afraid to like what I like, and hate what I hate. It's my taste buds, not yours.
I can't stand it when somebody insists that food X is good and food Y is bad. No, no, no. That's YOUR opinion. That's YOUR taste buds. Not mine. Get a grip. Food bigotry, as bad as any other. Tsk. Gah. Ugh.
The funny thing is, this goes beyond food. It extends to culture in all forms. Gradually it is more and more common, and consequently more acceptable, to enjoy music, decoration, clothing, habits, and ideas, from all over the world, and simply from one's own imagination. I just acquired this tendency a bit earlier than the trend.
An example of this is my home. I'm a bit of a minimalist, not one to decorate much, and I really, really, dislike clutter. Our rooms are on the small side and we don't have space for a lot of extras, so I keep it simple. This is the practical aspect of it. It is often noticed, and occasionally pointed out that I have no family photos on display. That is a very normal and natural thing to do in many cultures, and because I don't do it, it's noticed. I suppose I could try to explain why I don't do it, but I don't bother, for the simple reason that I don't feel the need. It's my home, and I'll arrange it as I please. On the one occasion a rather pushy visitor asked me why I had no photographs on display, I asked her why she had so many. She had no answer, and that was the end of that. "Why" is not an appropriate question when it comes to personal taste.
I tend not to wear bras. I don't like them. They never stay put. Straps fall down, sports bras ride up. I spend all my time reorganizing the bloody things. I can't bear clothing that requires constant adjustment. It is generally expected for women to wear bras because if you don't, two things happen. One, at my age your boobs droop. And I say SO WHAT? Does it offend you? Why are you looking at my chest anyway? I have never quite been so rude as to misquote Churchill, but have always had it in my mind, that if anyone actually had the audacity to point out that I had saggy boobs, I would love to say "Yes, but if I did wear a bra tomorrow, they wouldn't be, but you'd still be a bitch". Yeah, I might. But the other issue, apparently is that without a bra, especially if it's cold and/or my top is thin, people might see my nipples. OH MY GOD, wouldn't that be awful? To discover that I had nipples? You know, because nobody else does. Why don't we just strap our boobs down like Yentl and pretend we don't have them at all. Nipples, nipples, nipples. Say it with me now. Shocking, eh. The modern equivalent of Victorians pretending that women didn't have legs.
You know.....There is always the risk that if anyone did actually take me to task over this, I might just take my shirt off.
Discussing what we like (or don't) is fun. And it should be fun. It should never be something we're ashamed of, something we feel pressured by, or something we push. Keep it fun, and keep the nonsense out. Drink what you enjoy, not what you're expected to. Break with tradition if you want to. Be yourself. Speak your mind. Show yer nipples.