The Short Humour Site

Home : Writers' Showcase : Submission Guidelines : A Man of a Few More Words : Links

Further Writing by Swan Morrison

Great Eggspectations
(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 cook’s 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 before me.

‘Oh, I’m sorry about that,’ the landlady responded.

‘That’s no problem,’ I said. ‘I’ll 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 incorrect.

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:

Speaker Actual words spoken True meaning in the context of polite English understatement
Me ‘It can be difficult to cook eggs precisely.’ Why 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 capable?
Landlady ‘I’m sorry; I don’t know how to cook fried eggs to avoid the crispness.’ Bloody complaining guest.
Still, it’s lucky you’re not a hotel inspector.
Me ‘It’s about the temperature of the pan.
If someone doesn’t know how to do it, I often recommend starting with a cold pan and slowly heating it.’
You said you’d 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!
Landlady ‘I’ll get you another egg.’ If you want another egg, I’ll have to pull out the main fuses and say there’s been a power cut and the cooker wont work.
I don’t know how to make a soft, non-crispy egg for God's sake.
Who do you think I am, Delia fucking Smith?
Me ‘No, no, it doesn’t matter, really.’ What would be the point?
You’ve failed twice.
What makes you think that it’ll be third time lucky?
Landlady ‘Where are you planning to visit today?’ Thank goodness you’ve given up on the egg.
Let’s quickly change the subject.
Me ‘I thought I’d visit the cathedral.’ I’ve 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, I’ll go to a side chapel for private prayer.
It’s certainly worth a try – although I suspect this problem may be beyond the powers of the Almighty.
Landlady ‘That should be nice.
I’ll leave you to get on with your breakfast.’
I'll never ask a guest again about how he would like his egg cooked.
If any difficult old bugger, like you, specifically asks, I’ll 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!