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High Tea at Harrods

God cursed me with two tickets to London. They fell right into my lap when I wasn't looking. Before I could produce a reason not to use them, Yahaira and I were Underground.

If you're new to the London Underground, it is a place where you can travel several thousand miles before you realize that you're looking at the map upside down. Yahaira and I tubed our way from Newbury Park to Wimbledon Park to Not Quite There Yet Park, and from there we walked to Harrods.

Why Harrods? Because my mom said we had to do high tea at Harrods.

You don't argue with my mom.

When we surfaced in the sunlight, it was hard to see. I sheltered my eyes like a Sleestack from Land of the Lost. Bumbling down the wrong side of the street, I bumped into the same problem that we have in the states -- people. The place was crawling with superterraneans.

Harrods was the hub of the hubbub and the tallest department store you've ever seen. They tried to build it all the way to heaven but had to stop due to nosebleeds.

On the 62,000th floor you find Harrods restaurant, home of the frou-frou. Overhead dangled a opulence-sized chandelier, casting a light in which it was hard to feel manly. The banquet tables were dressed in pink and covered with doilies. In fact, the rugs themselves were giant doilies.

"Two for high tea, I presume?"

That would be the host, who led us to seats by the window. Normally, commoners aren't allowed near the windows, but traffic was slow. Jeeves handed us over to Ian, who would be our extremely French server.

"Madame. Monsieur. Welcome to Harrods, where you will find the most exquisite teas in Europe. If I might, I recommend the Ceylon Orange Pekoe."

I disliked the way Ian looked at Yahaira, as if he knew something about her that I didn't. I also disliked the way he struck the "h" in Harrods. Was there something stuck in his throat?

I looked to Yahaira to speak on our behalf. Tea is not my cup of tea, and I don't speak Pretentious. She just smiled like a girl who had no idea where she was.

Ian left to serve richer, more coherent people.

A piano tinkled away in the background. The music matched the chandelier and reminded me not to touch anything. I kept my Yankee mitts on the tea menu.

Let's see, what do we have here: China White Blossom, Formosa Oolong, Assam...

I turned to Yahaira: "You drink these, yes?"

"That is right," said Ian, clearing his throat on the "r." He placed a complimentary crepe on the table and took our orders.

Yahaira hadn't come to yet, so I started.

"I would like the Earl Gray because it is the only tea I recognize.

Yahaira ordered "the other one, you know, the orange thing, the one from before."

Ian returned with our teas along with a multitiered, sterling silver thingamajig. It was filled with crumpets and scones and other foods you wouldn't eat unless you had to.

Yahaira giggled because she'd never been inside a Jane Austen book. I pulled some treats from the thingamajig and filled my plate (I never get full when I eat things one at a time).

Ian emerged to take our untouched crepe, which is evidently pronounced crap.

"The hors d'oevres, monsieur, are to be eaten individually from bottom to top," said Ian, gesturing to my plate.

"Yes, but I don't get full if --"

"Of course, monsieur."

It was amazing how he could see me out of the bottom of his nose like that.

Yahaira and I nibbled on our food, bottom to top, and tried not to make any false moves. I could not shake the feeling that I was being scored for etiquette. I looked around for cameras.

"Milk for your tea?" said Ian, materializing again.

"Milk?" I laughed. "Of course not."

And he hmphed me! Right there in front of my soulmate, for declining milk in my tea. Yahaira asked for extra milk in hers. She didn't want to get hmphed.

When Ian disappeared -- or so it seemed -- I sampled my tea and remembered why I don't drink it. It was bitter like tree bark (and, yes, I have tried it). I raised my pinky as one ought, but I couldn't lift just one eyebrow. Both eyebrows went up together, so I looked surprised every time I took a sip.

It didn't take long for me to suffocate in these airs. I couldn't relax knowing that I was losing style points. Do I pull from the bottom tier, or is it time to move up? Do I cross my legs like a man, or should I emulate these other guys? Do I really need 14 pieces of silverware to DRINK TEA AND EAT FINGER FOODS?

Ian dropped off the check. "Madame. Monsieur." And off he went.

I looked at the bill and bly me, it cost $45! Now, Jason, I thought. You have traveled 5,000 miles by air and twice that much underground to be here. You are not going to blow it now. Besides, look at that smile that hasn't for one second left Yahaira's face . . .

We dabbed our lips for crumbles, then crossed a doily to the exit. The cashier was conveniently located inside a gift shop selling frills for the road. I was disappointed because I couldn't find a souvenir for my mom. I wouldn't settle for anything less than a bib reading, I Kept It Down at Harrods.

By Jason Love



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