Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

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Shelley Bridgeman: What's for tea? Or should that be dinner?

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Apparently, 'What you call the evening meal reveals a lot about where you come from.' So, what do you call it? Photo / Thinkstock
Apparently, 'What you call the evening meal reveals a lot about where you come from.' So, what do you call it? Photo / Thinkstock

What's for tea at your place tonight? Or perhaps your evening meal is called dinner - or even supper. It's a fascinating conversation that was explored in The Guardian article Tea with Grayson Perry. Or is it dinner, or supper? in which various celebrities and foodies - such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Noel Gallagher and Tom Parker Bowles - shared their thoughts on the subject.

When I was growing up we called it tea. Once I was an adult I began to call it dinner, presumably to reflect my newfound status as a grownup. Then as a parent myself, tea somehow slipped back into our vocabulary. It would be a travesty to call fish fingers served at five o'clock anything else. Dinner is now a word mainly reserved for when we go out to eat, cook a more sophisticated meal or invite people around to dine.

I think I served supper two Fridays ago on a girls' weekend away. We skipped the official evening meal then enjoyed crispy bacon butties with a side of hand-cut kumara wedges and sour cream. (That same night we settled down in front of the television with our homemade comfort food to watch part of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games but discovered we were about twelve hours too early. D'oh.)

My nine-year-old has just started asking: "What's for dins?" That's weird on two counts. Firstly, she's never taken much of an interest in food before and, secondly, no one we know even says "dins".

To complicate matters, in some circles dinner refers to the midday meal. Bridget Jones author Helen Fielding recounted a story about once embarrassingly turning up in the middle of the day in response to an invitation to dinner. In England it seems there's more than a modicum of snobbery and class-ism associated with the words we use for our meals.

"What you call the evening meal reveals a lot about where you come from," proclaimed the introduction to the article. Grayson Perry defines tea as "the working-class evening meal" while supper is "upper class" and implies "just a casual, family meal, maybe with close friends."

And evidently the dinner party - described variously as "dead", "déclassé", "exhausting" and "something to be feared" - is totally out of vogue among those who make a point of knowing such things. Its demise has been attributed to the Come Dine with Me television series which turns entertaining into a competitive sport.

But if that's not enough to turn you off dinner parties then two memorable movies, in which unsuspecting guests were considered fair game, just might. The Last Supper (1995) features hosts that make extreme value judgements about their guests while The Dinner Game (1998) is a French film in which the hosts compete with each other to invite the most idiotic guest.

Noel Gallagher suspects that those who've been university educated say dinner while the rest say tea. But here in New Zealand our choice of word is surely fluid and dependent upon the circumstances surrounding the meal - such as time of day, level of formality and whether or not children are involved - rather than any social or intellectual snobbery.

So is it tea, dinner or supper at your place - and what connotations do each word hold for you? Do you use them interchangeably depending on circumstances or are you set in the way you refer to your evening meal? What are your thoughts on the dinner party? Has it had its day or are reports of its demise greatly exaggerated?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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