Deep in the heart of Old Town Alexandria, where King Street meets South Royal Street, lies what British poet Rupert Brooke might have described as a corner of a foreign field that is forever England.
With its high tea and chintz, Union Jacks and Jaffa cakes (a chocolate-covered cookie containing jam), the Tea Cosy and British Connection strives to be a home away from home for British expatriates. The owner of the English tearoom and grocery store, Vivien Bacon, has dedicated 14 years to making it as authentic an experience as possible, joking on her Web site that even the street names provide the perfect backdrop.
But for the past six days, the store has performed a more somber duty: becoming an ad hoc meeting point for Britons and Americans to reflect on last week's terrorist attack in London.
"Since Thursday, I have had a lot of people call and drop by who were very angry at what happened," said Bacon, a native of Norwich who arrived in the United States 23 years ago.
Many Britons came to the store determined to express their patriotism, believing that the best way to do so was to buy stocks of quintessentially English goods such as Marmite, a yeast-extract spread, or HP sauce, a vinegar-based condiment particularly popular in northern Britain.
"People came in just to say, 'We're British and are going to keep buying British.' They came in and bought Marmite and HP sauce, and some even started buying Union Jack flags, probably to put outside their houses, which is unusual, because that's not something Britons normally do," Bacon said.
British-born residents of the Washington area, who numbered 18,915 in the 2000 Census, are not as close-knit as other local immigrant communities, partly because the absence of a language barrier helps them to integrate swiftly and easily, according to several Britons interviewed yesterday.
After Thursday's bombings, the British Embassy opened a condolence book, and several members of its staff attended a memorial service at Washington National Cathedral. On Friday, the British School of Washington will hold a fundraiser for the British Red Cross. But for the most part, local Britons have been turning to friendship networks, British-themed pubs and tearooms for reassurance, rather than organizing large-scale events.
Hilary Bruggen, a business consultant who moved to the Washington area from Woking in southeastern England in 1977, when she was 15, said expatriates do not instinctively reach out to one another at times like this.
"It's considered gauche to be so overtly patriotic," said Bruggen, who now holds an American passport but describes her soul as British.
Bacon noted a subtle difference in tone among visitors to her Alexandria store, depending on what side of the Atlantic they came from.
"The British tended to take it more in their stride. . . . No one seemed surprised it had happened," she said, explaining that they had sensed that Britain was vulnerable to a terrorist attack because of its support for the war in Iraq.
"I think the Americans got more angry about it. More than anything, they related it to 9/11. Many had been to London and traveled on the tube and realized how incredibly frightening it would be to become stuck down there."
Some Britons said they were reminded of the reaction among expatriates after the death of Princess Diana in 1997.
"Like when Princess Diana died, people came and met here, purposefully, to talk about it," said Cathy Edwards, who runs the British Pantry in Aldie, which, like Bacon's store, sells English goods to expatriates. "They have done so again this weekend, but there is also a sense that terrorism is part of daily life."
Edwards said her store also has received visits from "a lot of American people, all saying they were very sorry. They hoped that what we are doing in Iraq hadn't made it worse."