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…