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Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Teddy Bear Tea Party

I read somewhere that US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once said, "Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot." And with this at the back of my mind, I opened my big mouth one day and volunteered the idea of holding a teddy bear tea party for members of the Club Tipolo, a club that was set up by a group of mothers in the Antipolo area for the purpose of involving girls of varying school ages to learning activities that regular school are not able to include in the usual curriculum. Such activities mostly include arts and crafts and perhaps a little culinary angle in some, all with a particular theme in mind.

And so, after this idea was blurted out one very cold and windy December afternoon, it caught on, much to my surprise. I was told that it was something a bit different from their usual activities and there was more excitement about it when there were daughters of the organizers who found out about it and couldn't wait for the tea party to happen.

Having given such a "bright" idea, I likewise volunteered to be the one to give a short, short talk on proper tea etiquette since there are no tea etiquette gurus that we know of who can give such a talk. Frankly, I only know this much, and most of the things I know I only got from some books and magazines I have on the subject. As to having been actually invited to a proper tea party, I have no such experience. I don't know if having tea at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London some years past would count as such, but hey, I had tea and scones with clotted cream. In England. So as the preparations for the event started brewing, I had some qualms on how my young audience will receive the lecture part of the afternoon. I certainly had a program for it, and planning it down was seamless enough. However, I will later find out at the actual event itself that since the audience are still kids, it is better to keep the program loose and adaptable to any reactions. Having the party as a teddy bear tea, it kept the whole thing a bit informal and interesting for the girls.

I was surprised with the turnout too. There were 30 girls who showed up so it was really such a large crowd that it was quite hard to keep them interested in the finer points of the talk. I had to change my tactic and switched the whole tea etiquette thing to actual simulation, which they took on wholeheartedly - from the preparation of their own sandwiches, to the setting of their respective tables with complete tea amenities, and the actual drinking of tea, sandwiches, fruits and sweets. There were some girls too, who were converted to liking tea now that they've tasted it. The moms who attended, including me, discovered that underneath the girls' restlessness, they were quite serious in learning the etiquette of tea. Their caring nature were brought out as they took turns being "mother" or the hostess of the tea and ensured that each member of their group has what she liked. The whole exercise also calmed them as they sat on their tables and talked to their companions.

I got to thinking that, indeed, it is never too early to start teaching children the art of serving
tea. In this age in which there is the seemingly worsening prevalence of
inappropriateness coming in different shapes and sizes, it would only be just the right occasion to remind children of the importance of having and practicing good manners. Giving them such an opportunity
need not be so stiff and formal. After all, knowing the simple rituals of afternoon tea is none other than inculcating in young minds the importance of being considerate to others.

Afternoon Tea is also a time for adults to bond with their children or
grandchildren, or nieces and nephews. Thus, teaching them proper tea etiquette will certainly get them involved in a grown-up world.

The Menu

Peanut Butter & Jelly
Hazelnut Spread

Store-bought Cupcakes

Fresh Fruit Kebabs

Apple Juice

Some of the Finer Points:

1. Wait for the hostess to unfold the napkin and place it on her lap. This is a signal to the the guests to follow suit. If table linens are smaller tea napkins, unfold entirely and place on lap. Dinner napkins should be folded in half, with the fold facing the body. Napkins should not be placed on the table again until the end of tea or meal. It is the hostess who will be the first to do this, a silent indication that the tea is concluded.

2. Guests are given the option which they'd like to add to their tea - sugar, lemon or milk or all of them. However, etiquette dictates that milk is always poured in last, if this is desired at all. Lemons are served thinly sliced and not in wedges. These are conveyed to the cup with a fork.

3. When serving tea, the same should be done from the right side of the guest and pouring it until the cup is 3/4 full.

4. Maintain good posture at all times and don't reach across the table. Ask your seatmate nearest the desired food to pass the dish to you and thank him/her; take small bites of the food and listen to others when they speak.

A final point: A tea party is a good theme party for kids. Just keep the menu simple since it really doesn't take much to make children happy. You can involve your own kids in planning the menu since they would know better what their friends would like and enjoy eating.