On our first morning in California, we headed out to breakfast, which was preceded by a short session of Breakfast Prep’, courtesy of Jocelyn. It had been a couple of years since I’d last had Breakfast In America, and I’d forgotten how to respond to the awesome number of choices and options that would be flung in my direction by the waitperson.
Here's how you order breakfast in Britain:
Diner: "Full English Breakfast, please." Waitress: "D'you want tea or coffee with that?" Diner: "Tea, please." Waitress: "OK."
In due course, the standard, empire-forging breakfast is served, and is consumed heartily, perhaps after a little trading with your breakfasting companions (“I’ll swap you my tomatoes for a rasher of your bacon?”). Everybody knows what is expected, nobody has tricky decisions to make, there are no surprises, and everyone enjoys what they get – and if they don’t enjoy it, well, they don’t mention it, because complaining about such things just wouldn’t be British, damn it.
Now, compare that if you will to the American breakfasting experience. The sheer size of the American breakfast menu is symptomatic of the culture of Choice that seems to pervade all aspects of the consumer experience here (especially in California), and it really can take some time to pick an option. But making your selection is only the beginning. Here’s how a sample breakfast order conversation with an unexpecting Brit (i.e. me, two years ago), might go:
Waitperson: "Are you ready to order?" Me: "I think so. I'll have the Sausage and Eggs, please." Waitperson: "Do you want links sausages or patty? Me: "Oh. Um, links, please." Waitperson: "How do you want your eggs? Me: "Fried, please." Waitperson: "Fried how?" Me: "Fried how? In a frying pan, preferably!" Waitperson: "Over hard, over easy, over medium, or sunny side up?" Me: "What the...?" Jocelyn: "You have them sunny side up, honey." Me: "Oh, OK. Sunny side up then, please." Waitperson: "And what two sides would you like?" Me: "I beg your pardon?" Waitperson: "You get a choice of two side options from the list there..."
I consult the list, by this time panicking a tad, and wondering what exactly “Campfire potatoes” (one of the options) are…
Me: "OK, I'll go for hash browns and bacon, please." Waitperson: "And what would you like to drink with that?" Me: "Coffee, please." Waitperson: "Latte, Americano, Cappuccino, Espresso...? Decaf or Regular...?" Me: "Oh God, er, regular cappuccino, please." Waitperson: "And what bread would you like for your toast?" Me: "Brown, please." Waitperson: "Brown?!" Jocelyn: "He means 'wheat'." Waitperson: "OK, coming up.."
At which point I breathed a sigh of relief and started to dab at my heavily perspiring brow. Who ever knew that ordering breakfast could be such a complicated experience? The food is invariably delicious and the portions are big enough to feed a family of four for a week – after a decent US-style breakfast I rarely feel the need for a big lunch or dinner. I can see how these levels of choice might be appealing if you’ve grown up with them and come to expect such options, but for the uninitiated it’s just baffling, confusing, and seems unnecessary. Which is why, two years later, I won’t venture into a breakfast restaurant until I’ve done a bit of preparation into my responses to the likely questions.
Even the simplest snippets of dialogue can provoke unexpected reactions. Back to that restaurant conversation from two years ago, when we’d finished eating, and I’d relaxed my guard a bit, the waitperson came to clear up:
Waitperson: "So, how were your eggs? Me: "They were lovely, thank you." Waitperson: "Lovely?! Ha ha! Where the hell are you from?!"