The perils of a quick dip… Biscuit Etiquette Part 3

We have already seen the dangers that lie await for the unsuspecting biscuiteer, but now we move onto one of the most treacherous waters in our quest for ‘Biscuit Enlightenment’. In many cultures there are metaphorical lines drawn in the sand that once crossed by an innocent unversed in their social mores can lead to much offence and in some parts of the stereotypical world a short trip to large boiling pot laced with carrots, onions, and the obligatory pith helmet. In Britain this manners faultline is placed on the precarious tectonic plates of dunking and not dunking.

It has oft been stated that you never get another chance to make a first impression. This is certainly the case in the world of biscuitry immersion. You can be seated in the home of a charming family, enjoying maybe a game of bridge while in the background the children softly sing heartwarming renditions of songs they’ve written to accompany the works of Benjamin Britten, when into your hand is placed a cup of tea with two small biscuits nestling on the saucer.

You smile gratefully into the butlers face, place the beverage on your table, take a biscuit gently in your fingers and then plunge it into the tea. Immediately screams fill the air around you and your bridge partner collapses (requiring the attention of your opponents, who now curse your name for spoiling their chance to play a Ruffing Finesse). The children are torn from the room by a distraught nanny screaming at them to cover their eyes, while the lady of the house runs to her bureau where she pens a missive to the Duke of Monmoth demanding that he head at once to the Commons were he should beseech Parliament to declare war on her wretched guest.  Things had been going so well.

The emissary of evil

To avoid this oh-so-familiar story there are certain survival tactics that you can employ. Firstly one of observation.

If the cup you are handed is of a fine bone-China variety, maybe with an ornate and stomach-turning rendition of various flora adorning both it and the accompanying saucer, then the chances are that you are in a non-dipping house. The biscuits will aid your detection too. If they are small, sugared, and generally dainty in vista then once again you should refrain from an act of baptism.

If on the other hand you are presented with a mug (of any description) then submerge your confection with gay abandon.

The real difficulty arises when you are in a home that plays host to the modern ‘large-cup’. This hybrid vessel is often a sign of the owners uncertainty in their social standing. Be wary of these people as they may be likely to crack at any moment under the pressure of class distinction. In this most perilous of situations your survival will hang on your ability to get them to dip first.

A tried and tested method is the ‘Whorish Flaunt’ pioneered by the Earl of Wessex in 1807.  You should take the biscuit in full view of your hosts, tease the edge of the cup with it while absently chatting, then tantilisingly withdraw it to your mouth, all the time gauging the response of your potential assailants.  If you sense any sort of arousal in their posture then they may be showing their hand too early in an attempt to draw you out – bide your time. Engage them in conversation about the abhorrent weather for this time of year, or how there’s nothing of worth on television any more, lure them into a sense of security and familiarity until finally one of them will either dip or finish their biscuits. Your steely nerves and adherence to the method will serve to make you the victor in this desperate game of ‘Parlour Roulette’ and allow you to avoid obliteration for at least one more social encounter.

One rule that is universally clear though, in any situation or setting,  is to avoid people who dip chocolate biscuits…as they’re just plebs.

Biscuit Etiquette – Part 1

As we’ve already mentioned on a previous post the British do love a good cuppa. Alongside the beverage of champions though is something that is as much a necessity or comrade-in-arms as Emma Peel was to Steed, Scully to Mulder, or Butch to the Sundance Kid. I speak, of course, of that most gentle of confection…the humble biscuit.

It’s a subtlety of the British manner system (more on that in a later post) that is usually overlooked, but such neglect can have devastating consequences. Imagine the scene : You invite a classic Brit into your home, offer them a cup of tea, show them much kindness, feed them a veritable feast, possibly entertain them with games or even performances from the piano in your parlour, hand-knit them a scarf and matching hat while executing a particularly difficult and intricate gymnastics routine, then carry them home through the snow on your bare back. You would expect some appreciation for your fine hostelry, but the thing going through your guest’s mind the entire time in the warmth of your home would be,

‘Why didn’t they give me a biscuit with my tea? How did I offend them? Maybe they hate me… right, that’s it! My vengeance will be swift and terrible!’

Wars start this way people, long and terrible wars – although mostly internalised and only played out through slight impoliteness in extreme cases. To avoid such faux pas, and as a vital way of understanding British culture,  observing the nuances of biscuit etiquette is of utmost importance.  But such is the complexity of the subject that I thought I would begin a series today that points out the essentials that will help you survive even the most testing afternoon tea without drawing the occasional disapproving glance.

To understand the way Brits interact with biscuits first you must understand the things themselves. So here we begin our survival guide to Biscuit etiquette with one of nature’s most obvious danger signs.

The Rich Tea Biscuit (or as it’s know in street parlance ‘The Quiet Assassin’)

Danger! Danger!

If your host presents you with a plate of Rich Tea biscuits then immediately several things become apparent. Firstly they’re a simple, practical person. No unnecessary frills, whistles or bells are needed for them to feel secure in themselves. But take a glance around the room… are things a little too clean? Does everything have its place, and everything in its place? Possibly the furniture or decorations tend to be spotlessly white? If children live in the house is there any evidence of their existence except for the quiet, small creatures that shuffle into the room at dinnertime, their clothes buttoned up to the neck, hair firmly brushed into a side parting and not a crease in sight?

The safest thing for you to do is make profuse apologies about realising that you’ve left the oven on at home next to your narcoleptic, chain-smoking, grandma who was sleepily sitting on your woolen sofa watching Countdown. Then carefully replace your biscuit, being most deliberate in your efforts not to drop a single crumb onto the floor, and leave the house at a formidable pace.

Once outside run as fast as you can until you’ve put at least 20 leagues between you and the abode, then breath a sigh of relief, for you have escaped the clutches of a serial killer. The Rich Tea biscuit is such an obvious sign of repressed anger, fear, and passion that the host may as well have arrived at the door in a blood-soaked butcher’s apron, knife in hand, screaming that they were about to turn you into a pie.

It’s pretty much tasteless, often pulls apart while being dunked in tea, and has a strange resemblance to Farley’s Rusks…only less fun. To willingly give these to people without the accompaniment of chocolate digestives, Jaffa cakes, or Jammy Dodgers is obviously an evil ploy to gum up your mouth and thus dampen your screams when the chainsaw gets fired up.

So beware the Rich Tea biscuit, and those that bear them…