Across the Pond: Cake Culture | Community Columns

One of the truest things I know about British people is that they love their cake. They love their cake almost as much as they love their tea, which is even more than they love their Sunday roasts and saying the phrase “lovely, isn’t it?” Cake is not simply something to be eaten — it’s a way of life. Let me explain.

During my first week of work here in England, I brought out a tray of tea and coffee for my co-workers. Being new to the country and blissfully unaware of how to do things properly, I failed to produce cake to go with said tea and coffee. A year into my British experience, I can now identify this as a rookie mistake and one that I have since made sure never to repeat.

A sea of frantic faces and a chorus of “what, no cake?” greeted me as I appeared with the tray. I listened to the many disgruntled hems and haws and watched the disappointed faces as I tried to understand. My boss appeared a few minutes after the hubbub had died down and, noting the egregious error on my part, shouted “YOU DIDN’T BRING THE CAKE?!” She stormed off and did not reappear. No one got cake that day. It really was a dark time.

I was a bit bewildered at this outburst, as I did not know this was the custom and an expected part of the teatime routine.

It was, after all, only 10 a.m.

A few people patted me on the back as they walked their cake-less selves back to their work. “It’s okay,” they said. “You didn’t know,” they said. But it was clear from the looks of deep disappointment in their eyes that it was not okay. There was a cake-shaped void that would not be filled (until the next day at 10 a.m.).

Perhaps now you’re beginning to see how seriously the Brits take their teatime treats. But it’s not just workplace breaks where cake is a mainstay. You might be surprised to learn that half the point of going for a walk or bike ride in the UK is to stop for cake and coffee during or after your outing — or even better, both during and after.

I was talking to my British friend about this phenomenon and she was absolutely baffled by the idea that we Americans don’t eat cake every time we have a cup of coffee or tea. I tried to explain that in the United States, we generally only eat cake on someone’s birthday or on a special occasion. Cake is not something that’s consumed on a daily basis by most Americans.

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