Sharing tea with strangers

Back in India, everybody drops by for tea. And “everybody” means neighbors, friends, the trash collector, the postman, the drivers who have driven your visitors over and even the second cousin of your maid. Tea-making is a full-time job. The doorbell rings, the kettle sings and tea cups tinkle all day long. This cheeriness is aptly described by Victorian novelist George Gissing who wrote “the mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose”.

My three favorite tea cookies sit right next to my electric kettle. From left to right : homemade biscotti (click here for my recipe) Tea Toast Biscuits and good old Marie Biscuits – a tea-dunking favorite.

There was no happy repose when I first came to America. I was unnerved by the silence of our big house. Every small noise got amplified: the hum of the air-conditioner, the plaintive beep of the microwave warming my lunch plate and the swish of a car driving past. To kill time, I watched men and women with missing teeth claw one another on Jerry Springer. When I flipped channels it was either somebody talking about how they  lost weight or a man with an English accent trying to sell you knives. Nobody rang the doorbell. No neighbors dropped by for tea. I offered tea to the UPS man but he said “no thanks” and rushed off. I made a cup of tea and put out two Marie biscuits for carpet cleaning guy but he left without touching it.

Once I walked all the way to the Fry’s grocery story just to marvel at the ginormous red onions (I spent plenty of time to admiring onions and potatoes in grocery stores back then) when a pretty girl in a sunflower dress complimented me on my smile.  She was surprised when I invited her home for tea. She showed up a few days later with a fat docket full of pie-charts and told me told I could go on a  Caribbean cruise and even drive a pink Cadillac just by talking to people and giving away free lipstick.

Another day I was watching Judge Wapner of People’s Court chew out a sleazy car dealer for selling a fat lady a bum Oldsmobile when I heard a knock on the door. Outside stood three very well dressed people. The men wore suits and the lady’s hair was all nicely curled. Thinking they were  neighbors I invited them in for tea. They asked me how I liked America. I said I liked it just fine and added, a little wistfully perhaps, that it sure got lonely sometimes. They perked up when they heard that and said I would make the most wonderful friends if I visited their church. When I told my hubby that he said they were trying to recruit me and suggested I not invite strangers into the house in the future.

“The first time you share tea you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family…” (Balti saying: Three Cups of Tea)

But soon a stranger invited me

Jyo – one of my first friends in America who invited me home for tea. Her children are grown now. The older one is going off to college!

I was taking a little walk down my street when this pretty Indian girl with a baby on her hip called out to me in a sing-song voice ”Hi! Want to have some tea?” This was music to my ears and I was once again reminded of our warm Indian hospitality. The girl’s name was Jyotsna. She made masala chai and we chatted. And here we are seventeen years later, still the best of friends.

I have no misgivings inviting people home for tea. I learned not all folks are out to sell you something or recruit you. There are  kindred spirits who, like me, just want an old-fashioned gab and a bit of soul-connect over a cuppa. I have vowed never to sully that sacredness by having a hidden agenda. I can meet people at a Starbucks to talk about business, or colleagues to catch up over lunch but when I invite someone home for tea I am attentive and honored. All I want to do is bat the breeze and enjoy a little downtime. So let’s share a cuppa, shall we?  And cheers to you my dear friends!

Ah morning tea!
How to make a perfect cuppa
Lorna’s Blog about Scottish Tearooms 
Shona Patel’s debut novel Teatime for the Firefly is a love story set in a tea plantation in Assam. You can read more about it HERE.  She is represented by April Eberhardt Literary.

19 thoughts on “Sharing tea with strangers

  1. oh wow that’s sounds amazing, I’m from England and as you probably know we love tea! I would really love to travel round the world and drink all the different types – I really want to go to Darjeeling as I only just tried this tea a few months ago, I haven’t tried Assam yet so maybe I’ll give that a go!


    1. Hello dear wannabe tea traveller!
      Yes, that would be a nice job wouldn’t it? Travel around the world drinking tea and making new friends! Darjeeling is real pretty. You can see the sun rise over the Kanchenjunga (Himalayalas) from Tiger Hill. The tea gardens are very picturesque – Darjeeling tea is delicate and flowery. Assam is wild and wanton country- the tea strong and earthy. Both are nice teas for different moods! Thanks for popping by my blog.


  2. Lana and I are going to drop in on you and Vinoo earlyish next year, Shona………..I’m hoping you’ll have the kettle boiling so we can enjoy one of your exotic Indian teas.


    1. You know my door is always open for you, Davey. I will keep the fires stoked and kettle ready. Nothing exotic about my teas – just good old Assam, that you grew up with. xxoo 🙂


  3. Reblogged this on Tea Love and commented:
    I am currently following Tea Buddy and, while searching for inspiration for my blog for the week, I came across this posting. Tea Buddy, this story honestly warmed my heart 🙂 I’m glad that you found a friend to share a cuppa with. One day, I would love to share some with you! And I promise, I won’t recruit you to a church nor have you give away free lipstick.

    Read on, my tea sipping friends 🙂


    1. How very generous and sweet of you to reblog my post! I am deeply touched by your heartfelt comments. I hope to bump into you someday to share a cuppa. There will be no agenda except to get to know each other. Keep well dear friend!


      1. Never a problem 🙂 It was such a beautiful blog and I’m so happy that you found someone to share some tea with who wasn’t in it for themselves!


  4. Oh Shona, I wish you’d ring the bell and just pop in for a cuppa with me ……..believe it or not, it doesn’t happen quite as much as it used to, even here in India….people are busy and no one wants to offend anyone by ‘just dropping by’ any more
    😦 sad no?


    1. That true Mamlu, I notice the changes every time I go back to India. “Just dropping by” was more in our parents day, don’t you think? I share so many teatime memories with you, dear friend.


  5. I recently had people from India as clients, and they were so cordial and welcoming when I’d visit. I quickly learned they wanted to socialize, feeding me, and discussing my children and theirs. It became clear that doing business my normal way would be seen as abrupt (and possibly even rude). At first it was disconcerting, but I soon learned to enjoy it. 🙂

    Love this post, Shona. As always, your prose, charming wit and memories make me smile.


    1. I know many Americans who find it hard dealing with Indians. Culturally we are poles apart. I was talking to my sister yesterday and she said she was at this mall when an Indian salesgirl (who has been trained to be chatty to customers like American sales people – only this girl has no clue) asked an American lady “So, are you married?” and the American told her point blank. “None of your business!” Sis was squirming for the kid. Ha ha! Every culture has its own boundaries. I asked sis ” So what do you think would offend Indians?” She thought for a bit and said, “Making fun of old parents maybe, or saying something like ‘my dad is a jerk.'” Interesting isn’t it?


  6. It doesn’t happen here much either, people dropping in for tea uninvited, but it’s nice when it does happen. I would like to savour a nice cup of Assam with you, as I’m quite sure it would be the best Assam tea I’ve ever tasted.


  7. Shona! You spoke my mind! Achha main abhi aarahi hoon – have the masala cuppa’ ready! On a serious note, this is a superb post! If ever in Toronto, well, tea is at my place! Cheers.


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