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squibstress in hp_britglish

Mealtimes and class differences

I am trying to convey a sense of class difference between two characters in a brief conversation about a meal (I know, I know...)

Wikipedia advises me thus:

The upper classes typically ate luncheon at about midday and dinner (if not eschewed in favor of the later supper) at 8:00 pm or later, while the lower classes ate dinner at about 11:00 am and then a light supper at around 7:00 pm.

So would it be accurate to say that referring to an 11 A.M. meal as "dinner" might mark one as of the working class? Conversely, would referring to the early afternoon meal as "luncheon" be considered vaguely posh, or would-be posh?

Many thanks for any and all advice!


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"Luncheon" would be comically over-formal for modern day - I think it's just lunch to everyone. But saying "dinner" for the midday meal (hardly anyone eats as early as 11am, unless they've had a super-early start) is still considered to be a class marker by some.

It's a bit north/south as well as class difference, though. Northern people would definitely say dinner for the midday meal, but I don't really know whether working-class Southerners would.
As a data point, here in the South-West, lunch is generally used for the midday meal, and tea is fairly common for the evening meal among the locals, but dinner is much more common among the non-locals (who are academics); so yes, there's an element of class difference in that, but I don't think I've heard locals here talk about dinner as the midday meal particularly.
What time period are you writing in? Because if it's present day, you'd probably do better to have the upper-class character call an informal evening meal 'supper' and the working-class character call it 'tea'.

If it's a historical AU, 'luncheon' would probably be fine.
The only circumstances in which I ever hear the word "luncheon" used these days in anything like a serious context are during cricket matches: one or two of the older radio commentators still refer to the lunch break as "the luncheon interval". It's notably old-fashioned even there, though.
I think Wikipedia needs a correction about the 11am thing - lunchtime or dinnertime is usually at some time between 12 noon and 2pm. I've been amazed on visiting the USA when people were going for lunch at 11am - but they start work earlier than we tend to. "Luncheon" is archaic and likely to be found in Agatha Christie movies etc.!

I've been living in the south of England since 1987 and people of all classes I have met say lunch for the midday meal. Tea tends to be a less formal evening meal, but you would "go out for dinner" if it was something more substantial or formal. In my northern home town people were more likely to say "dinner" for the midday meal, especially older people and more working class.

"Come round for supper" seems excruciatingly middle class to me. Or even upper class aristo-style.
This - though I would never call any evening meal 'tea', being a middle-class Southerner. Tea to me is around 4pm and involves tea, sandwiches and cake, whereas the evening meal is either 'dinner' if it's the main meal of the day, or supper otherwise.

I think most southerners would only call school dinners 'dinner' (historical, as the idea was that school dinners ensured all children got a good hot meal at least once a day. They often weren't good and nowadays often aren't hot, as schools have converted kitchens into classrooms)

Agreed that 'come round for supper' sounds fake-casual, very 'oh this? It's only a little something I knocked up in five minutes' [a three-course meal that they've blatantly slaved over for hours...] - stereotypical upper-middle-class. Aristos might say the same thing but it actually would mean stew in the kitchen rather than a formal dinner!
What time period is this? In my Southern working class childhood we had dinner at about 12, and tea at 5. The idea of anyone having their "midday" meal at 11am is not something I have ever heard of. When I worked in a shop on Saturdays (early 1970s) there were three shifts for "lunch", the earliest being 11:30 which everyone considered a nightmare because it was far too early to eat.

Everyone I have ever met in adult life - slightly biased towards office rather than factory workers but not necessarily middle class - has said "lunch" for the midday meal and "dinner" for the evening meal. My children eat "school dinners" at "lunchtime", and the light meal (eg burgers, fish fingers, chicken and salad) that I give them at 6pm ish is "tea", because to me, "dinner" is about 8pm.

To address your actual question, you'd have to explain exactly why your character was going to eat a meal, whatever (s)he called it, at 11am. I can imagine Lucius talking about luncheon because he really fancies himself as landed gentry, and possibly Dumbledore because he's from a different era, but no-one else, really.

I had the feeling that Wikipedia article was talking about a long time ago (the word 'eschewed' was a big clue as well), so I googled your quote. In the first four sites I found it on, it was preceded by the sentences

"The custom of afternoon tea originated in England in the 1840s. At the time, the various classes in England had a divergence in their eating habits. The upper classes typically ate luncheon at about midday..."

and followed by

"...For both groups, afternoon tea filled a gap in the meals."

So if you're actually talking about the 1840s, use what Wikipedia says. Otherwise, be guided by the comments here.
I'm also southern working class and we never called the midday meal "dinner". It was always "lunch". Even if we had "school dinners" at lunchtime, which, as I write it, I realise sounds ridiculous! There's obviously a lot of variance even within region/class let alone the population as a whole. I was born in the 1980s so there may be differences between generations as well?

I love how much of a maze our language and customs are! We can't make things simple, can we?!
Some years ago now, someone I knew who came from Rutland used to refer to a snack taken at 11:00 am, which I would call "elevenses" as her "lunch", and then she would have dinner and tea later. My husband's family, from Northern Ireland, also had midday dinner and an early evening tea, and then have "supper" before they go to bed which is a hot drink and biscuits or cake (sometimes even a sandwich).
Thank you all for your helpful replies.

The setting is contemporary, and there is a reason the meal must take place a bit earlier than most people would eat.

That said, based on your comments, I think I'll change the meal in question to the evening meal and have character A (working class, of undetermined geographical location) refer to it as "tea" and character B (from a working-class Manchester family but since moved into the middle class and self-conscious about her background) refer to it as "dinner."

Thanks a million, as we say in the U.S.!

I live in the Manchester area, and to be honest, your character B might well refer to it as "dinner" but is totally unlikely to be self-conscious about her background. Manchester people just don't do that; they're more likely to be proud of it.
The way I would do it would be the evening meal. Upper classes would generally call it dinner (if it's the main meal) or supper (if it's lighter) whereas the working class could call it tea, which the upper classes would never do. 'Tea' to the upper classes is a hot drink. High tea is a more formal late afternoon meal held on specialish occasions, and possibly Sundays, involving sandwiches etc etc.

But, yes, as people have said, calling lunch 'dinner' is still regarded as quite a working class thing to do. It depends, I suppose, which the main meal of the day is. Upper classes would never - except perhaps on Sunday, in which case it is still called 'Sunday lunch' - have their main meal at lunchtime, so lunch is never called dinner.
I don't move in upper class circles, but all the upper middle class people I know refer to "Sunday dinner" (and "Christmas dinner") basically because it is so very much the main meal of the day.
On the timing of lunch, I moved to Carlisle (north west of England) from Kent (south east of England). I was surprised to find people starting to eat their lunch (pub and cafe, meat and two veg style) at 11.30am, while down south we would never have contemplated doing it before noon.

But lunch for midday, and dinner for the main evening meal, except in rare circumstances - Christmas dinner is eaten early. I obviously fall into the class that would never refer to a substantial meal as supper.
That must be a Carlisle thing. Or else people on shifts with unpleasant work hours. Half my family's from the north of England and the other half is from Scotland, and eating lunch at 11:30 is definitely not normal.
There used to be something called elevenses - so you definitely wouldn't be eating either lunch or dinner at that time - I suppose you'd call it a coffee break now?
Also, sandwiches wouldn't have meant high tea to us - sandwiches would be afternoon tea, and high tea would be a knife and fork meal - although it might include sandwiches
Definitely knife and fork for high tea
OOps = sorry -I see that someone has already mentioned elevenses
Nobody says "luncheon".

It's a complicated interaction of class and geography, but 11 am is much too early for any midday (note word) meal. Those who eat dinner at midday eat tea (a proper sit down meal) at about 6, whereas those who have lunch eat dinner (a proper sit down meal) at 7 or later..

There was a lovely interaction one evening about 5:30 between my posh southern daughter and her, well, less posh northern partner, with her taking the piss:

He: What's for us tea?
She: I'll make you some cucumber sandwiches if you like but it'll spoil your appetite for dinner - I'm doing pork chops.
My mum used to eat her dinner around 11am - that was halfway through her nursing shift - then we'd all have tea at 5:30pm. But it was unusual for someone to eat that early, and she didn't do it when she wasn't working.
There's a general thing that Americans think of midday meal as 12ish, and British people as 1pm-ish, in terms of when work lunchbreaks are taken and so on.
Bit late but anyway...

I think that desciption sounds as if it's from another period completely!
This while the lower classes ate dinner at about 11:00 am may have been true back when the majority of the lower classes were outdoor labourers/farmers etc because they would have started work very early in the morning, especially farmers in summer to avoid the heat.

Personally, as someone else mentioned, the words we use are probably defined by region as well as class. I'm from the south (and working class) and I say 'dinner' for the main evening meal (7-8pm?) and lunch for main midday meal (anything from 12-2pm)(Not that I ever bother with a proper lunch tbh). A lot of people would have a mid-morning snack. If you were at work, it'd be called a tea break. Older people call it elevenses.

Nobody I know says 'tea' or 'supper' about the main evening meal. This seems contrary to some of the other posters from the south though so there's obviously a lot of variance.
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