While it literally translates to “wait and drink tea,” it more generally means sitting tight, relaxing, and staying patient.
When a problem is complex, or when no answers are readily available, perhaps the best thing to do is to wait, cosy up with a cup of tea, and see what solutions come up when one is in a calm state of mind.
It was often uttered by 20th century Belgian poet Henri Michaux, who is known to have embraced the phrase so much that he made it his life motto.
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He believed that one should not get downtrodden or upset quickly when faced with adversity, but rather to relax and see what solutions may bubble up with time and patience.
Therefore “Abwarten und Tee trinken” is the proper response to a situation in which nothing more can be done. Or, at the Brits might put it, “Keep calm and carry on.”
On edge before your final exam results come back? Abwarten und Tee trinken.
Waiting to hear back about Uni acceptances? Abwarten und Tee trinken.
Stressed about a risky or bold email you sent to your boss? Abwarten und Tee trinken.
That this calm state mind comes with tea, or is achieved by drinking tea, is surely no coincidence as Germans embrace an endless array of teas for every occasion.
“Abwarten und Tee trinken,” therefore can carry quite a literal connotation. Anyone familiar with the German medical system knows that medicine is not readily prescribed in hefty doses as it is in other countries.
Herbal tea may be prescribed instead of pain killers following an injury or operation.
Germans are very embracing of the supposed wonders of tea so much so that healthcare workers will at times recommend it, if not prescribe it, as the first line of defense against colds and other illnesses.
Aside from the quite literal reference to the belief Germans have in the recuperative effects of drinking tea while feeling encumbered, “Abwarten und Tee trinken” can also be meant as more general life advice.
Folksingers Jenny and Jonny released a song in 1997 with this expression as its title that encourages listeners to take life easily, to be relaxed, and have “ruhig Blut” (to be cool-headed) when in tricky, emotional, or embarrassing situations.
The chorus sings:
Abwarten und tee trinken/ schon sagte ruhig Blut
Bloss nicht gleich den Kopf verlieren/
Es gilt ja wieder gut/
Abwarten und tee trinken/ Am besten gar nichts tun
Das schlimmste geht von selbst vorbei/lässt man es einfach gut.
Wait and see/ says the calm-headed one
Just don’t lose your cool right away
It will be good again
Wait and see/ Best to do nothing at all
The worst will pass by itself/you just leave it good