When Tea Is Not a Beverage

The link between tea and literature is a long one, with tea being mentioned in countless novels as well as a long list of books written about tea. I recently read Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie (working my way through her whole series) and came across a scene that at first caused confusion and then became an “Aha!” So, I am sharing it with you — one of those “teachable moments” people keep talking about.

“Eat your tea!”
“Eat your tea!”

The scene: Poirot is investigating the death of the wife of the chief archaeologist at a dig in the desert. It seems that no one could have committed the crime, yet Poirot suspects all. He is interviewing the one person who seems to be an outside observer to it all — Nurse Leatheran. Poirot says,

“We will have now an interesting conversation tête-à-tête. But you must not forget to eat your tea.”

Huh? “Eat” your tea? Okay, now I realize that Poirot is Fre… uh, Belgian and speaks English a bit differently than a native speaker would (and author Christie does a very good job of portraying this type of approach to the language). However, this seems odd even for him.

Then, I read the next paragraph (the book is written as if Nurse Leatheran were relating the events to us, so this is her speaking):

He passed me a plate of sandwiches and suggested my having a cup of tea. He really has very pleasant, attentive manners.

Ah! Now I get it! Poirot didn’t mean “tea” — he meant “tea.” Uh… hm… gee, still not clear here.

The English language is supposed to have about 170,000 words, yet the word “tea” seems to cover a range of things, from a beverage made of Camellia Sinensis to infusions made from herbals and things like rooibos to a light meal as shown above to even a full evening meal (such as High Tea — what folks in the U.S. call “dinner”).

So, now it makes sense that Poirot tells Nurse Leatheran not to forget to eat her tea. And don’t forget to eat your tea. In spite of busy schedules, a bit of time out to “eat your tea” is always refreshing!

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