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We know why Patrick Stewart was cast as a French starship captain.
We know why Picard orders his "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.".
We know every instance that the tea played a piece of the plot or dialogue in TNG and DS9.

It's even speculated that the English language and accent superceded French and other continental European languages, or that the universal translator is responsible for Picard's British accent.

But why does Captain Picard drink Earl Grey? Why does he drink tea at all? He was raised on a vineyard in France, not a tea plantation in the tropics. Is the best explanation we have the same hand-wavy-Britain-took-over-Europe explanation for his accent?

Cutting the flippancy, what do we know about Jean-Luc's attitudes and experiences with present-day French and continental European culture and history? What explanations, if any, have ever been given for his overt Britishness?

In-universe answers only, please; I'm well aware that Sir Patrick Stewart is a Shakespearean actor who likes a cuppa while working.

  • 12
    Because Coffee is basically brown sludge and cocoa is for children. – Valorum Oct 25 '16 at 19:08
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    Ha, I was just saying it seems it would be as simple as "he just likes it." Though if there was a specific reason that would be interesting. – DeeV Oct 25 '16 at 19:34
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    “Why does he drink tea at all? He was raised on a vineyard in France” — I’m going to guess that, funnily enough, sipping a glass of wine is somewhat frowned upon when in charge of a starship. – Paul D. Waite Oct 25 '16 at 19:49
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    @PaulD.Waite - Pfft. It's squares like you that take all the fun out of being a starship captain. – Valorum Oct 25 '16 at 19:51
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    Why does Kirk like Saurian brandy so much, a drink that was made by a completely different species? Some people just have eclectic tastes, I suppose. – TenthJustice Oct 25 '16 at 20:32
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While we never quite get a straightforward confirmation of what you call the "Britain-took-over-Europe explanation," there are strong indications that France had largely embraced British culture by the 24th Century.

The TNG episode Code of Honor reveals that French is mostly a dead language:

DATA: It is a highly structured society in which people live by strict codes of honor. For example, what Lutan has done is similar to what certain American Indians once did, called "counting coup." That's from an obscure language called French --

PICARD: A language which for centuries on Earth represented civilization, Mister Data.

That's very telling. Anyone who knows anything about the French can attest to the feverishness with which they promote their language and try to protect it from "foreign influence."

Picard is obviously prickly about the perceived slight on French, but presumably Data would have never made that comment if he was speaking it all the time. All indications are that what the viewer hears is his natural voice: he speaks English, with a British accent.

Even if we suppose France itself isn't culturally British, Picard himself seems to embrace Britishness. He alludes to the Battle of Trafalgar before their engagement of the Borg, and views the battle from the point of the view of Admiral Nelson... even though they defeated the French. He knows British naval drinking songs by heart, and is a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. He is enamored with Shakespeare. And yes, he drinks Earl Gray tea.

The sole extent of his "Frenchness" appears to be that he was raised on a vineyard. And while his dialogue with his brother indicates that he was proud of his family's traditions, he never really feels a need to uphold them.

LOUIS: Never did I know anyone less interested in grapes than you, Jean-Luc.

PICARD: No, not true. I was interested. And I was proud that my family were helping to preserve the traditions. I just didn't feel bound by those traditions.

An earlier scene likewise indicates that interest in genuine wine and cooking is dying in France (!?). Picard's brother (and father) are depicted as exceptions to the norm. There's a rather pointed reference to the "danger of losing your values."

(They all taste their red wine) PICARD: Is this the forty six?

ROBERT: Forty seven. You've been drinking too much of that artificial stuff. What do you call it? Synthehol? It's spoiled you. Ruined your palate.

PICARD: On the contrary. I think that synthehol heightens one's appreciation for the genuine article...

PICARD: Leave it to Robert to find the best cook in France, then marry her.

ROBERT: Yes, but sadly cooking is becoming a lost art. That's your wretched technology again.

MARIE: Robert and I have had more than a few discussions about getting a replicator in the house.

PICARD: I remember the same discussions between mother and father.

ROBERT: Father understood better than anybody else the danger of losing those values which we hold most precious.

PICARD: I don't see that you have to lose anything just by adding a convenience.

And really, is there anything more British than endorsing rubbish, convenient, bland food? (I kid, I kid)

So the answer does appear to be that to the extent that French culture still persists, Picard doesn't feel the need to stay within its confines and neither do most of his countrymen. That apparently means sounding like a 20th century Shakespearean-trained English actor and drinking a lot of tea.

  • That quip by Data about French never sat well with me, and seems out of place as just a cheap joke. In the episode "11001001", Minuet speaks French to Picard upon learning of his French heritage. Given the uniqueness of her character, that may not mean much, but I take it as evidence that the French language may still be in use. Even if it had fallen out of use by the 24th century, it was certainly NEVER "obscure". As for the question at hand, I think it's more plausible that Picard had some sort of involvement with England during his youth and simply embraced the culture. – Charles Burge Oct 25 '16 at 22:55
  • You say "The sole extent of his "Frenchness" appears to be that he was raised on a vineyard", but remember that he also swears in French. – Mr Lister Oct 26 '16 at 6:47
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    @CharlesBurge I have a feeling the writers were trying to use the quip as a way to a) explain away the entirely British-sounding man and b) remind the viewer that Picard is meant to be French. Of course, in the end it just makes the whole thing seem sillier, so later on they just revert to the better option of just ignoring the issue altogether. – DavidS Oct 26 '16 at 9:04
  • Excellent answer. I'm going to accept it, even though I think there might be more out there, primarily so the Hold doesn't automatically close the question and rob me of the opportunity. I just remembered the early encounter with Q where he dresses up a bunch of conjured aliens as Napoleonic soldiers; I don't think theres any explanation there, just another off-hand reminder of Picard's nominal background... – Dacio Oct 26 '16 at 14:53
  • @CharlesBurge Minuet was from a holodeck program set in 1958, though. It's not surprising she'd address a Frenchman in French. – TenthJustice Oct 26 '16 at 15:17
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Because he didn't like coffee or booze. Tea isn't water, it relaxes, it tastes good(arguable). Instead of a nightcap-a little bit of tea can help you sleep or relax. If they wanted to show our "modern" culture-they might have used a Coke or Pepsi instead.

  • I’m not sure tea or cola are particularly helpful for relaxation, drug-wise. – Paul D. Waite Oct 26 '16 at 19:58
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    They do have caffeine, but depending on your mindset can be relaxing – King of NES Oct 26 '16 at 20:01

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