The scene: The Seafront Restaurant*, The British Seaside, about 3.10 pm.
ME: (planning to run some errands and then come back later) Hello. What time are you open until?
RESTAURANT LADY: About quarter to five. But you can’t have food.
ME: No, that’s all right.
RESTAURANT LADY: You can have tea, after three o’clock, but no food.
ME: Great! Thank you!
There may be restaurants where the tone of this exchange is begrudging or abrupt, but in this instance (and in most instances of this very same conversation), both participants maintained a jaunty, friendly and pleasant manner.
It is The Way We Do It here.
I would not at all have expected to be served food after three pm in a seafront restaurant at The British Seaside, even though it has the word 'restaurant' in its name, which implies there is food to be had. There is a narrow possibility that at the height of summer and tourist season, allowances would be made for people to eat food in a seafront restaurant after that time, but not always. Thus I was not in any sense disappointed that this was the case.
To Canadians, Americans, and, let’s face it, most people in the world, this is absolutely unfathomable.
But it is one of the many things that makes this The British Seaside. I love it. I don’t love it ironically, or nostalgically, or in a way that implies I think it is quaint or old-fashioned or comical with a side of embarrassing. I just love it, without qualification.
I went back at 4.10 p.m. and had tea, and a scone with jam and cream, and looked out at a wild and wintry sea. And felt very pleased indeed with the whole affair.
*Not its real name. I’ve called it this because I can guarantee you this scene has played out in every single seafront restaurant in the whole of the UK, several hundred thousand times.