(a true story)
How would you like
your fried egg? enquired the landlady of my
bed and breakfast accommodation.
I quickly glanced out
through the breakfast room window towards the
imposing Norman tower of Ely cathedral. The view
reassured me that I was, indeed, in England.
Something was, none the
less, very odd: never before in England had I
been asked in a restaurant or at a B&B about
how I would like an egg to be cooked.
The complete absence of
such enquiries on this side of the Pond must be
one of the greatest culture shocks for Americans
on their first visit to this country.
I retain a vague
recollection of being asked, whilst in California,
which breed of chicken I would prefer to lay my
breakfast egg. On reflection, however, I think
this may have happened in a dream.
I am, however, completely
certain that every order for eggs that I have
placed whilst awake in the States has been
followed by a detailed interrogation by my waiter
or waitress as to exactly how my galline
selection should be prepared. Americans appear to
have more expressions to describe the cooking of
an egg than Eskimos have to identify snow or that
multi-nationals have to redefine tax evasion.
In England, by contrast,
eggs are either fried in the cooks habitual
manner or, if he or she has limited culinary
expertise, the outcome is a matter of chance.
Certainly the preference of the customer is never
taken into account.
I had taken so long to
recover from the shock of being asked about my
egg that the landlady assumed I had not heard her
question. How would you like your fried egg?
she repeated in a slightly louder voice.
Soft, please, I
quickly responded, now eagerly grasping this once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity at an English B&B to have an egg
cooked in the way I preferred. Sunny side
up and with no crispness on the underside of the
white, I added.
The landlady appeared to
make a mental note and then left the room.
Some minutes later, I was
surprised, and more than a little disappointed,
to receive my full English breakfast accompanied
by an egg that was cooked to solidity and
sporting a brown crust upon its underside.
Oh dear, this egg is
overcooked and crispy, I spontaneously
remarked with reference to the sad specimen
Oh, Im sorry
about that, the landlady responded.
problem, I said. Ill simply
leave it on the side of the plate. The rest of
the breakfast looks fine.
Had there been an American
in the breakfast room, such a non-native listener
might have assumed from my words that I was
unconcerned about the problem with the egg and
was happy to forego this culinarily complex
element of my breakfast.
The subtleties of polite
English understatement, however, mean that such
an understanding would have been totally
The landlady accurately
interpreted my meaning which, for the
benefit of any non-English readers of this
article, was as follows:
You incompetent idiot. I ordered a soft egg with
no crust on its base. This egg is completely
unacceptable, and a crap review on TripAdvisor is
but a logon away unless you take it away at once
and return with what I ordered before I have
consumed my sausage.
She consequently took the
egg away, only to return a short time later with
an equally solid and encrusted replacement.
Once again, for the
convenience of non-English readers, I will detail
below our subsequent verbal exchange in tabular
form to include both the words used and a
translation of their actual meaning in the
context of polite English understatement:
||Actual words spoken
||True meaning in the
context of polite English understatement
can be difficult to cook eggs precisely.
on earth did you ask me how I preferred
the egg if you could only cook it one way
hard and burnt?
Were you hoping that I would
coincidentally ask for it to be cooked in
the only manner of which you appear
sorry; I dont know how to cook
fried eggs to avoid the crispness.
Still, its lucky youre not a
about the temperature of the pan.
If someone doesnt know how to do it,
I often recommend starting with a cold
pan and slowly heating it.
said youd been in the B&B trade
for twenty years.
How the bloody hell have you got away
with cooking so badly for all that time?
This sausage is pretty awful too!
get you another egg.
you want another egg, Ill have to
pull out the main fuses and say theres
been a power cut and the cooker wont
I dont know how to make a soft, non-crispy
egg for God's sake.
Who do you think I am, Delia fucking
no, it doesnt matter, really.
would be the point?
Youve failed twice.
What makes you think that itll be
third time lucky?
are you planning to visit today?
goodness youve given up on the egg.
Lets quickly change the subject.
thought Id visit the cathedral.
never thought of asking God to improve
the standard of egg cooking in English B&Bs.
Perhaps this is a sign.
When I get to the cathedral, Ill go
to a side chapel for private prayer.
Its certainly worth a try
although I suspect this problem may be
beyond the powers of the Almighty.
should be nice.
Ill leave you to get on with your
never ask a guest again about how he
would like his egg cooked.
If any difficult old bugger, like you,
specifically asks, Ill tell him
that, due to the risk of salmonella, the
Health and Safety Executive requires all
fried eggs to be hard and a bit burnt.
That should avoid this
ever happening again!