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Tea Police

September 26, 1996

I so much enjoyed Julianne Tatum's tea article ("An Elegant Interlude"; Sept. 19). But I stopped short when I read in the box "The Perfect Cup" that adding milk to the tea cup before the tea is poured was not only proper, but that not to do so would be uncouth. Sorry. I have to be "tea police" here. Putting milk in first is considered very uncouth. I cite as my authority none other than Nancy Mitford of the famous aristocratic English Mitford family. Nancy wrote the definitive word on what was "U" (upper class) and "non-U" (obviously everybody else). You can read about U and non-U in her delightful funny novels of the '40s and '50s, or in "Noblesse Oblige," a small witty book she edited on this subject with contributions by Evelyn Waugh among other snobs. While a non-U person trying to pass as U quickly gave himself away in myriad ways--vocabulary, dress, manners, etc.--one of the most telling dead giveaways was if he put "milk in first." Only nannies and governesses (non-U persons) did this. In fact, Nancy and her sisters had a code word "MIF" for non-U behavior, as in "rather MIF, darling!" Otherwise, your article was delightful, and I will try your scone recipe. But as a life-long Mitford acolyte, I couldn't let this pass, lest others be led astray while trying to pass as "U."

SUSAN MARZORATI

San Marino

via Internet

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