November Daily Blog 14: What divides the nation

There are many divisions in a nation as cosmopolitan as Britain.  These differences are the consequence of many factors: long-ago invasions (Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Norse, Roman, Norman …); internal conflicts between those wanting to be top-dog; royal dynasties being imported from continental Europe; the immigration legacy of a world-wide Empire; freedom of movement under the banner of the EU.  Some of these divisions run deep and sadly there are those who would exploit these divisions, emphasising the differences between people not the things we have in common.  They create a ghetto mentality with areas of big cities becoming monocultural enclaves based on religion.  They want independence for Scotland and Wales.

Such divisions are complex and multi-faceted. But there is one division which is polar.  People fall into either one group or the other with few areas of grey in between.  It’s what we call our meals.  Basically there is a division between those who have ‘breakfast-dinner-tea’ and those who have ‘breakfast-lunch-dinner’.

As I said in the blog yesterday I am firmly in the ‘breakfast-dinner-tea’ camp and have been known to be outspoken on the subject, though I do translate for others in the interests of effective communication, particularly if I invite someone for a meal.  I make it clear that when I ask them for dinner it will be at about 13.00.

However, it’s not that simple.  When I put my mind to it I was also surprised at the inconsistency of terminology.

Children have school dinners served by a dinner lady at dinner-time but others bring a packed lunch in a lunch box, though probably nolonger including luncheon meat sandwiches.  On 25 December each year we have Christmas dinner. Indeed in the run-up to Christmas we may go out in the middle of the day with colleagues/workmates to a pub or restaurant advertising ‘Traditional Christmas Dinner’ yet at other times of the year we would go for a pub lunch at the same time.  The inconsistencies go on.

Out of curiosity I researched the nomenclature on the internet and was surprised at the amount which has been written on the subject and the depth of feeling.  I was also surprised at the amount of pretentious nonsense which has been written.  There are those who proudly nail their working class colours to the mast with ‘breakfast-dinner-tea’ on various on-line fora, a kind of inverted snobbery.  But more distasteful are articles purporting to be objective analyses and claiming that those who have ‘breakfast-dinner-tea’ are working class and Northerners while those who have ‘breakfast-lunch-dinner’ are middle class and Southerners.  Quite apart from the logical inconsistency in that there are clearly many middle-class people in the North and many working class people in the South the insinuation is that term ‘Northerner’ should be preceded by ‘uncouth’.

There are also those who claim to have found that the terms ‘dinner’ and ‘lunch’ relate to the size of the meal.  A ‘lunch’ is a light snack whereas a ‘dinner’ is more substantial and the main meal of the day.   This is offered as a kind of compromise but fails to recognise that to many the terminology relates to the time of day not the size of the meal.  In common with many others I have a light meal for dinner at about 13.00 and a two course cooked meal for tea sometime between 18.00 and 20.00.

Historically the term ‘dinner’ was applied universally to the meal in the middle of the day but that changed gradually as the theatre-and-opera-going classes started to push the meal towards the evening partly response to late-rising and partly to fit in with the times of performances.  Understandably they kept the same term for the meal at the incrementally changing time and needed a new term to apply to the smaller meal in the middle of the day to see them through to their performance-determined evening meal.   So in that sense ‘lunch-dinner’ appellation has a class origin as the theatre-going classes were, and still are, predominantly middle and upper class and located more in London and the South East than in other parts of Britain.

One on-line survey showed that 38.96% of respondents have lunch and dinner while 37.23% have dinner and tea.  As the sample size is small (circa 250 respondents) the difference between the figures is unlikely to be statistically significant.  So as a nation we are equally divided.

There is no right or wrong appellation for the meals we eat.  Those who eat ‘lunch’ in the middle of day will continue to think disparagingly of working class northerners who eat ‘dinner’ while they in turn will think of those who lunch as snobs.

It gets far more complicated when horizons are broadened and we stop being insular.  Apparently in Argentina and Brazil the main meal is eaten in the middle of the day and is called ‘lunch’.

That’s enough for now.  I’m just going to have my supper.

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