Sunday, 28 March 2010

No, 4pm is not lunch time; it's tea time.


I find myself regularly baffled by how inconsiderate, cavalier and often downright stupid other people’s invitations to social engagements can be. “Come to a roast lunch at 4pm,” says one, and “come for coffee at 7pm,” says another, completely bloody oblivious to the fact that there are, for very good reasons, generally accepted meal times and sections of the day that are appropriate for various activities to take place. Bugger all of that boring convention, these people seem to say, bulldozing their way through the day in whatever way suits their own wants and desires, without considering the fact that the people with whom they want to share their “lovely lazy roast lunch at 4pm” have – shock! – the rest of their own day to think about. Well, I’ve had absolutely enough of this.

Life is sliced up by cycles and hours and meals and schedules, whether we like it or not (and I do), because having a generally agreed system in place helps people structure their days and interact smoothly and happily with other people. The person who crashes in with their supposedly relaxed late roast lunch tramples all over these conventions, requiring of their guests a complete overhaul of their day: their breakfast will have to happen later in order to prevent an unpleasant stomach-aching hunger by the time the lunch is served; they’ll get home at an awkward time after the gathering and not be able to join in with dinner with their family/partner/children, feeling full and very probably drunk at the wrong time of day; they’ll go to bed feeling that they’ve not eaten properly (regardless of how good the roast probably was), and wake up at 3am feeling hungry and confused and have to eat a bowl of Alpen, despondently, alone at the kitchen table, in the dark.

Is it really so difficult for people just to slot into the normal, standard meal times? Does this rebellion without a cause have to persist much longer? Will it (please!) subside once my generation reaches our thirties? It was sort of acceptable when we were all students and having our first experiences of living on our own terms, without our parents or schools imposing a timetable. We all loved it, I suppose. Leftover chow mein for breakfast at noon! Black tea and doughnuts for lunch at 5pm! Kebabs at 1am! Yeah, yeah, it was all deeply thrilling, I’m sure. (Need I tell you I absolutely hated all of that mayhem? You’ve probably gathered.)

In actual fact, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy a relaxing day while also observing a general system of meal times and slots for various engagements. The margins are, actually, quite generous, and they just make sense. 10am to 12 noon: coffee date.12 noon to 2.30pm: lunch date. 3pm to 5pm: afternoon tea. 5pm to 6.30pm: drinks (if only having drinks and not dinner). 6pm to 8.30pm: drinks and dinner. 8.30pm onwards: drinks gathering (or, American-style, drinks/coffee and desserts).

If everyone adhered to these broad slots, it would be possible to fit all of the above social engagements into a day – if you really wanted to! Our approach to initiating a meet-up should presume, by default, that our guests will have other engagements in their diary; that way, we are being considerate and making sure our lunch, tea or drinks party fits in with, rather than completely obliterates, their plans.

What pisses me off is the total lack of consideration, the bulldozing approach, the selfishness of the person who assumes everyone will drop everything to attend a lunch at 4pm. The lunch may well be delicious, marvellous, amazing, the social event of the year. But, if I have to eat it at a stupid time, I couldn’t care less what is served: I’ll already have a sour taste in my mouth. Read more by Madeleine.