Dinner or Tea?

Despite my generally light-hearted outlook on life, there’s one very serious question that’s always troubled me:

Do you call your main evening meal dinner or tea?

As far as I can see, the nation is divided, and it’s little wonder why. I struggle to find consistency.

Growing up, it was always dinner for me. The people who called it tea were the ones who’s parents had pretensions of poshness. Yet when I grew up and moved away, and encountered people from all over Scotland, some of my new west-coast and northern friends thought it was the other way around. Dinner, they thought, was a posh affair that the ambassador may invite you to.

When I moved to Wales, things got even more confusing.

I started to wonder if rather than being a question of social status or geography, could it be linked to time? Was tea for the people who had their food on the table when they got home from school or in any event by 6PM, whereas those dining later – like my family – had dinner? (See what I did there?) At the Ambassador’s party, one could expect to be served After Dinner Mints named After Eights, right?

Then I had an alarming thought. Every morning before I left for school, I was given dinner money, with which to buy my lunch. Unless I went to School Dinners.

The women who served my lunch were always called Dinner Ladies despite the obvious alliterative allure of the term Lunch Ladies. There were never any Dinner Men, and the concept of Lunch Men doesn’t even bear thinking about.

Why were people now having dinner at lunch time? Some of my friends brought a packed lunch to school dinners?! And where on earth did tea fit in with all of that? Was tea an extra meal? The meat between two slices of dinner in a terminological sandwich of paradox and despair? Sandwiches were for lunch and if you served me one for dinner or tea you’d get a slap. Unless it was High Tea in which case I’d also expect cake and actual Heavens-to-Betsy tea tea! Would the universe implode if After Dinner Mints were served at High Tea?

Is it actually nothing to do with the time that the meal is served, and more to do with the significance of the meal itself? Was there a time where kids were better-fed at school, and so lunch was their main meal of the day, therefore earning it the honorary title of dinner? Is it OK for me to eat my mint yet?

And whatever the rules are, do they change on Sundays?

Why does the main meal of the day move forward on Sundays? I don’t remember it happening in Scotland, but it certainly seems to in England & Wales. Is that Sunday Dinner or Sunday Lunch? I’ve heard both, but it generally refers to a Roast Dinner, and don’t even get me started on Welsh Cooked Dinners, as if all of the other dinners you’ve eaten Monday-Saturday for the rest of your lives have been somehow uncooked. You poor, poor, people.

Why is it OK for dinner to have no roots in time or space? It’s never OK to have Lunch in the evenings, and tea seems to keep itself pretty much to itself.

Can somebody please explain before my tiny brain combusts?

5 thoughts on “Dinner or Tea?

  1. I doubt it… And to add to the confusion I know a lot of people who have coffee with their tea.

  2. From age 7-20 I lived in Kirkcaldy and this was how it went. Breakfast, School Dinners, Tea and Supper (which was usually just right before bed so would have cereal) now however living in Dundee for 8 years it’s Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner which I don’t have until about 7-8pm as I simply finish work at 7pm.

  3. “despite the obvious alliterative allure of the term Lunch Ladies”

    Haha, I love this line!

    (Btw, I call it tea!)

  4. I think I’ve found something that may help you find the answer! (for Wales anyway) Look at slide 28 on here – bit.ly/1p2Id5V

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