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Sticky Situations: Diamond Jubilee Afternoon Tea Do's And Don'ts

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Today begins the central weekend to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years of dedicated service as the head of the Commonwealth.

As an avid racing fan, Her Majesty starts her Diamond Jubilee celebratory activities, amidst a sea of fancy hats by cheering on at the Epsom Derby (pronounced Darby).

The visual highlight, of this extra statutory day of the Bank holiday, will most certainly be Sunday's seven mile long Thames river regalia. The 1,000 boat flotilla from the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the world, will feature the 86-year-old sovereign; the first born daughter of King Geroge VI and Queen Elizabeth I, and the 90-year-old Duke of Edinburgh, on the royal barge, the Spirit of Chartwell.

On Monday evening, the Monarch, her husband of 64 years and her four children will clap and maybe sing or dance along with 10,000 members of the public, that received free tickets through a national ballot, to the BBC's Concert stars including Sirs Paul McCartney and Elton John.

The four day festivities conclude on Tuesday June 5th, when this second longest reigning Queen, who follows the 63 year and seven months rule of Queen Victoria, will watch the 'rat-tat-tat' of her celebratory Feu de joie from the famous balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Of course, such an historic royal commemoration includes a religious ceremony which will be held at St-Paul's Cathedral, a Carriage Procession, receptions and luncheons. Please visit www.thediamondjubilee.org for the details of the festivities.

My Afternoon Tea Diamond Jubilee Celebration

Like many Canadians, 80 % of which have known no other sovereign, I will be honouring Queen Elizabeth's six decades on the throne.

Inspired by Buckingham Palace's garden parties, I decided to host my very own Diamond Jubilee celebration at the famous Birks Café par Europea with an Afternoon Tea Etiquette workshop.

Although I expect a good turnout for this first Montreal 'steeping good time' I don't expect that Chef Ferrer and his team will have to match the 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 finger sandwiches and 20,000 slices of cake served to the 8,000 guests, that are usually introduced to Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family.

High, Low or Royal Tea

The origins of the afternoon tea or 'low tea' go back to the 1840s. At the time, dinner was served fashionably late in the evening. To refresh herself until the end of day meal, Anna, the seventh duchess of Bedford, would discreetly order tea, bread and butter, at around four o'clock. Soon Queen Victoria's lifelong friend invited other friends for convivial snacks to be enjoyed in her boudoir around 'low (coffee type) tables'.

''Dar-r-ling, we had 'high tea' at the Ritz London'' is what your friend said when she and her chi-chi sister-in-law returned from their England tour. Although she may have enjoyed afternoon tea in this fine Tea Guild member institution, your friend is erroneously using 'high' to signify the utmost of afternoon teas.

Traditionally, 'high tea' was a working class evening meal that consisted of hot meats, baked goods and sweets served between five and seven o'clock before the later evening meals of high society.

'High tea' was typically served in a buffet style on a counter like 'high table.'

"Royal Tea" does not refer to the presence of a member of the royal family but to the addition of a glass of champagne or sherry to the afternoon tea and treats.

Pinky up or not

Originally tea was served in thimbles of porcelain that did not have any handles. One would then hold the vessel with one's thumb at six o'clock and the index and forefinger at 12 o'clock. The pinkie was raised to gain balance.

These days the tea cup is held in the right hand with the thumb at the front and the index and forefinger at back of the handle. Lifting the pinkie depends on one's ability to balance the cup. Oddly enough, in my experience, it is the heavier set men that need to raise their pinkies. Tea cup dont's include: not cradling your cup and not looping fingers through the handle of the cup.

Milk or tea first

The origins of the "milk first" practice go back to a time where households were pretty chilly in the winter and their occupants, or the servants in the basement of a castle, were using lesser quality porcelain cups. To protect the cup from the shock of the hot water, milk was added first. Today, it is recommended that the milk be added according to one's taste, after the steeped liquid, while observing the color change.

Hat and gloves, on or off

As always, women may keep a fashion hat on inside as long as she does not hinder the view of others. The cut off time is 18h and that includes fascinators. At social functions, when greeting others, she may also keep her fashion gloves on. When eating or drinking, gloves must be removed unless, they are the long type with the tiny buttons inside the wrist that allow proper finger use.

Lipstick at the table

Lastly, whether you will be sharing a 'cuppa', toasting with champagne or savouring a delicious meal with friends this Diamond Jubilee weekend, know that, as expertly done by her Majesty herself at the end of meals, it is perfectly acceptable when in the company of family and friends, to quickly reapply lipstick while at the table. No need to take out a lip liner or a mirror. You do know where your lips are.

Long live the Queen!

Have a Sticky Situation yourself, write to julie@etiquettejulie.com and Julie will reply promptly. You can also ask your questions on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/EtiquetteJulieCanada?ref=tn_tnmn.