When an extended-family member from the city asked me today about “a nice little tea room in the country” it got me thinking. There are presumptions about the country, some favourable, others not so, we all know that. The Town Mouse vs the Country Mouse has been going on for a long time. But the enquiry today hinted at a greater depth than was readily apparent.
“The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse” is one of Aesop’s Fables. It is number 352 in the Perry Index and type 112 in Aarne–Thompson’s folk tale index. Like several other elements in Aesop’s fables, ‘town mouse and country mouse’ has become an English idiom.
Anyone who enjoys a nice little tea room in the country has a rightful and undeniable expectation of quality and tranquility. The “nice” part describes the goods and their anticipated merit; the “country” part captures the equally predicted sedateness. And when it’s just a “little” one, there is an overture of decorum and tradition, nothing flashy or Goliath.
If I were to tell you of the upcoming visit of a friend from the country to the city you would, I am certain, invoke a fairly stock response concerning the expectations of the friend. Similarly those going in the opposite direction have predictable outlooks. I am willing to go out on a limb here and suggest that, though different, the expectations disclose a certain state of mind – states of mind which just happen to be both familiar and repeated in addition to being common.
With the assistance of distance, token removal from the immediate view, it quickly becomes clear that wherever the adventurer goes – and granting that one is reasonable – the ambition is rendered with the hope for enrichment and comfort. It is this which propels the presumption pertinent to the venue, whether city or country.
And to be clear the presumptions applicable to the city or the country are different – but this doesn’t contaminant the greater commonality of the two. I shall confine my observations to the country (where I live). The very idea of a tea room (as opposed to a coffee shop, bistro or public house) instantly denotes a country environment. Where but in the country does one normally speak of a retail business conducted from a room? This achievement in turn inspires an outlook for familiarity or at the very least for friendship. This I can say without reservation is fully well-founded.
Not far from that aspiration is a related motive for isolation. Being in a small and remote circumstance may afford the perfect calm. And it helps too if the resort is not far removed from one’s home in the city. Part of the attraction of a nice little tea room in the country is just that; viz., it is not a destination at another end of the province requiring extensive travel. It is a measure of fortuity to unfold places close by which satisfy our fickle needs.
The objective of a nice little tea room in the country is one understandably fraught with imagination beyond expectations. The ceremony of tea is itself unusual in modern society. Its antiquity contributes to a social significance which surpasses that of most other casual beverages. Paradoxically a nice little tea room in the country becomes a reason for having one’s nose well in the air! It is a privilege which is disguised by the diminutive reference attending the words “nice little “.