If you’ve ever been to the UK, you’re probably familiar with elevenses, the mid-morning tea break that doubles as a second breakfast. Well, picture me, an American in a London office tower on my first trip out of the country. I’d overcome the temporary disorientation from the British keyboard layout, and the fact that I’d just begun my second week at a brand-new job in a brand-new industry for which I’d had to go overseas to meet the rest of my team. Rather, what truly freaked me out was that at approximately 11 a.m., everyone popped up from their desks like prairie dogs in danger of a rogue coyote spotting, and grabbed their well-worn mugs to head to the “canteen” (it’s a pantry, mates) for elevenses.
I’m happy to find a reason to take a work-break. Hell, I’ve been known to take cigarette breaks even though I don’t smoke. Tiny escapes during the day keep the mind fresh. Throw caffeine and some small pastries into the mix? That’s enough to make me emigrate (well, before the Brexit vote it was). But my would-be friends told me that elevenses is more than just a break—it’s a tradition.
According to NPR, elevenses began in the 20th century when Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, got the munchies around mid-morning. In those days, the British upper crust enjoyed a light meal around noon, followed by a dinner served no later than 7:30 p.m. But the Duchess broke with tradition and requested tea and snacks to get her through another painfully dull, lunchless afternoon. And, as the Duchess went, so did the rest of her aristocratic friends.
Like any fancy trend, eventually the masses caught on, too. As our British friends do it now, elevenses can involve anything from a work break to something a bit richer, involving tea, small sandwiches, and cookies (OK, fine, biscuits). For many, elevenses comes with strong childhood association. Rosie Smith, from the northern town of Stockport, recalls elevenses with her gran quite fondly.
“When I was little, I had elevenses with my Grandma eating fig rolls nearly everyday in the summer holidays. So idyllic,” she says. “Once I began working, it was mainly one of many excuses to not do any work.”
And in that spirit, I propose that we borrow elevenses from our UK cousins. Americans work longer hours than every other country in the world, but, really, we’re still pretty unproductive. Instead of sending an astronaut (or a breakfast colony) to Mars, we sit at our desks watching cute baby animals eat pancakes. We developed a “boss button” so we could load fake spreadsheets on our computers when watching the NCAA Final Four. We’re not a bastion of productivity, and we may as well admit it.
We are, however, great at eating snacks. One of our greatest contributions to humankind was the the KFC Double Down, wherein we replaced bread with fried chicken. We found a way to fit mac and cheese into a Cheeto. We could own elevenses, if we put our minds to it.
But not without changes to the game. The first thing to go? Tiny sandwiches. That’s a fool’s game. Instead, we make tiny breakfast burritos. We make pancake and sausage sliders. We make lattes out of melted ice cream. We do what we Americans do best: take something refined and blow it wildly out of proportion. If you don’t believe me, just have an India Pale Ale from any craft brewer on this side of the Atlantic, where Americans decidedly took a refined, slightly bitter beer style and turned it into a series of mouth-puckering hop bombs. If the Brits thought the Boston Tea Party was overblown, just you wait until we start doing High Tea in the backseat of a monster truck. (Some free ideas for the freest country out there—you’re welcome, fellow Americans.)
And if politics keep on track, our UK friends may be joining us in our supercharged tea time. Shane Canning of London said, “Elevenses is gone now that we’ve left the EU. Society is breaking down and people are eating whenever the fuck they want.”
Sounds like the kind of anarchy that settled the Wild West and Made America Great in the first place. After all that, who wouldn’t fancy a tea?