British Expat Problems: How Would You Like Your Eggs?

The following is a guest post.

How would you like your eggs?

As a Brit living abroad I have sometimes had much confusion over the little things, the obvious things like nappies vs diapers, ground floor vs first floor and don’t get me started on the first time I asked someone for a rubber…..(and the last time!) that’s an eraser over here folks. I didn’t realize ordering a simple breakfast would also cause ME so much confusion!

A fried egg, 'sunny side up'. © On Wikipedia and in the public domain

A fried egg, ‘sunny side up’. © On Wikipedia and in the public domain

“How would you like your eggs?” Those five little words strike fear in Brits the first time they order eggs in America.

I remember vividly sitting there at the table at whatever restaurant we were in at the time and feeling as though the whole place was waiting for my answer…….and I had no idea what the answer was!

“fried” was my reply followed by a sigh from our server (aka waitress for us Brits) and the following options: sunny side up, over easy, over well…….followed by another sigh. Thank god I had an American with me because as I felt my face slowly turning red from embarrassment and waited for the chair to swallow me I hear him say “she wants them sunny side up” I do?

After she walked away I asked what sunny side up meant and got “that’s a fried egg to you” He then explained that over easy is when the egg is lightly cooked on one side, flipped over and cooked a little more but still with a runny yolk. Over hard is the same but the yolk is cooked until it is hard (why?? you can’t dip the toast in a hard yolk!) and sunny side up is when it is only cooked on one side, the way we Brits are used too.

Makes sense when you see it written down, right? Though I must confess for the longest time I felt so silly saying sunny side up that I started ordering mine scrambled. That lasted about two years until I finally just went back to sounding silly.

Now if I could just get them to understand me when I ask for water…………

Nicola Bell is a British expat living in California. She is a full time mum to two boys and married to an American who LOVES English football which is why she could never move back to England with him. Her dream is to open a proper English pub, complete with a kid friendly beer garden like the ones she visited so long ago.


  1. Janet Heggblom says

    I had to chuckle over your egg experiences, which I can relate to……..
    When I first moved to Canada (34 years ago!), I went to the drugstore (chemist to us Brits) looking for some ‘plasters’……when I asked the ‘sales associate’, she had no idea what I was talking about. After explaining what ‘plasters’ are used for, she said ‘oh, you mean Band Aids’! Then another day I was in a store (shop), looking for ‘drawing pins’……I couldn’t find them, so once again I had the ‘sales associate’ look at me like I had horns growing out of my head! After explaining what a ‘drawing pin’ was……she directed me to the ‘thumb tacks’!
    Your comment about ‘asking for water’ really made me laugh. I still am given funny looks and a ‘pardon me’? when I ask for a glass of water. Usually, I get the response of ‘oh, you mean ‘walllller’.
    Being from Bristol, England, I still have an accent (so I am told). I have learned to use the ‘correct’ terminology as much as possible; but I am still teased about how I say ‘tomato, garage, wall & wool’……just to mention a few.

  2. Jennie says

    Wow, now I’ve been a British expat for 12 years and I didn’t even know that about the eggs! I always just ask for scrambled, because I know what that is! 😛 Good to know!

    Too funny about asking for water to, I’m sure you must have perfected your pronunciation of “water” so it’s American sounding and understandable. Same with when you want half of something.

  3. Jennie says

    Oh and recently I tried to order “nerds” on ice cream, which would be free with a coupon I had. But the server told me I had to pay extra for “nuts”. I’m like “No, not nuts! NERDS!” Even my 5 year old son thought I was offering to get him “nuts”.

  4. retnavybrat says

    I can give one reason why someone wants hard yolks. At a particular fast food restaurant, my dad always orders the breakfast special with the eggs over hard and asks for the toast not to be cut because he uses the eggs for a sandwich. Before you ask why doesn’t he just order an egg sandwich, this particular place doesn’t offer them.

  5. Hanna says

    Now, when we go to the UK and we order eggs and we want them over easy , what happens? lol

  6. Sarah S says

    Love love love this post, especially the comment about the water – that is my biggest annoyance, how hard is it to understand!!!

  7. Dina says

    Ha ha ha love this!!! My husband has been in the US for almost 30 years and servers still can’t understand him when he asks for water!

  8. Claudia says

    So if I underand the article correctly there is only one way to order eggs in Britain? Fried? Is there no such thing as “over easy”?

  9. Melissa says

    Well, technically when asked “How would you like you’re eggs?” in Britain, the answer should be fried, poached, or scrambled. If you want a fried egg you just order a fried egg. There are no choices for how its fried.

  10. Cathy says

    My husband and I have visited England twice and loved every minute. I have to admit we’ve had some funny experiences ordering food. We never understood why there was only one fried egg with a “full” breakfast, and so much meat. We’d rather have two eggs and just a small amount of meat. On our first visit to Ireland, when I requestd two eggs for my husband, our B & B host looked rather scandalized.

    Thanks for a wonderful website!

  11. Roger Summers says

    During my first trip to England, I got a blister on my heel. I went to the post office shop and asked for band aids. The lady wanted very much to help me but had no idea how to do so. I knew the proper word but it was firmly stuck in the back of my brain. Now I think of a wall and come up with plaster.

  12. Esther says

    And do you own a fanny pack!

    Very amusing and informative. I’ve always wondered about how. Order eggs in USA.

  13. Jean | says

    When first in England it took me two breakfasts to figure out we would always be served fried eggs if we didn’t remember to request scrambled; no one was going to ask us!

  14. Linda says

    I came here over 30 years ago and the first time I ordered fried eggs, I asked for “Sloshy” (or very under cooked to Americans.) After the waitress asked me to repeat the answer 3 more times, my husband saw me getting frustrated and told her, underdone, to which she asked if I was sure!!!
    First time we had breakfast in the rural town where I still live, in PA, it was Sunday, and all the brunch eaters had just come from church, so were ravenously eating, but every single person stopped eating and talking and stared at the way I held my knife and fork, and didn’t put the fork down until I had finished eating!
    Mostly both I and my daughter are now ‘bilingual’ but I still tell dogs to ‘lie’ down, and say ‘there are’, rather there’s a lot of ………….

  15. Sallie says

    Years ago my 90 year old mother in law visited us from Yorkshire, we went into Eckerds drug store for a few things she politely asked the young girl ‘Do You have any rubbers please? The young woman’s mouth opened and not to be outdone asked ‘What size ma’am.?Mother in law gestured by her fingers about an inch long…My husband said ‘Mum they don’t call them that here in the States’..
    We quickly left the store…

  16. Paul Carney says

    What about clothing as well? My wife thought I was a transvestite when I said I needed a jumper the November that I came over here for good. How was I to know that it referred to a type of dress? When she showed me a picture of one I said, “Oh, THAT’s a Pinafore dress.” And don’t get me started about ‘pumps’ either! 😀

  17. says

    You have trouble with eggs, I had trouble with coffee in London. I ordered a cup and the guy said something about “white” and I gawked at him like what the heck are you talking about. Some nice British man leaned into my ear and said, “he wants to know if you want cream.” Oh, white it is! LOL

  18. Shirley Parent says

    I’m a Yorkshire lass & I’ve lived in Canada for over 45 years now. I can remember asking for batteries for my torch. The clerk looked puzzled, thinking that I was into welding. Then he told me that they were called ‘flash lights’ in Canada.

  19. says

    Absolutely spot on and hilarious! I lived in Canada for 2 years and could never pronounce ‘water’ the way they do to be understood, it has a “t” in it!!

  20. Carmen says

    Being from Texas I had a very hard time dropping the word “hot” before ordering tea while I lived in Scotland.
    “Tea us always hot in the UK, luv.”
    Then I had a hard time dropping the word “iced” when I moved back to Texas. :-/

  21. Michelle says

    I am laughing so hard right now. I am a native Southern Californian who is preparing for my first trip to England in a few months so I too am trying to learn the lingo. Your post reminded me of something that happened a few years ago. My kids friendship circle looks like the UN and I love it. Virtually every one of their friends has English as their second language. Most are Asian coming from various contries, some are Dutch, etc. Imagine my surprise when the only child I had trouble communicating with my daughter’s friend who was British. It was over the word “water”. I had NO idea what she wanted. I finally had to ask her to write it down. I said, OH YOU WANT WATER!!! She said, yeah, that is what I said. hahaha. Fun memory.

  22. Michelle says

    Typos…. please correct: kids friendships to kid’s friendships
    contries – countries

    I should learn to proofread.

  23. Doreen says

    I wish I knew a Brit here so I could ask her to say “water” because I can’t imagine someone not understanding that, altjough, on a trip to New Hampshire with my brother, the waitress could not understand him when he asked for coffee. He had to repeat it at least three times.
    I do love your posts, however.

  24. titch says

    It’s amazing that even though we speak the same language it’s also different. And I don’t understand why it’s so hard for Americans to understand us when we say “water”.

  25. Lynne says

    Being Yorkshire born and bred, I had a frustrating experience my first summer in Canada. At the park I took my children to the ice cream stand and asked for three lollies – the young man working their told me they didn’t sell them, until I eventually managed to explain to him that I wanted “frozen things on sticks” to which he replied “Oh, you mean popsicles!”

  26. Audrey says

    Lived in TN since 1982 and had and have the same experience it is so funny, still today pronouncing water takes three times.

  27. Audrey says

    I was warned about that word before I came and the War time saying “knock me up”, and the American saying ” l am stuffed”.

  28. TeresaT says

    Eggs have never been a problem because I told him how to order them on our first breakfast date. His bigger problems are at work. He works for a produce company. Of course, to American ears, he mispronounces produce as prod-uce. Tomatoes are a given. He really had an issue with jalapeño peppers because he wanted to pronounce them jala-peno. It took some time to correct that.

    When we visit his family in England, I get grief for mispronouncing everything (like tomatoes) or using the wrong word (soda instead of fizzy drink and chips instead of crisps). Thankfully, I was told ahead of time to NEVER order iced tea which I always order in restaurants.

  29. Carol says

    Regarding Americans not understanding an English person asking for “water”, I’m an Anglophile who travels to England as often as I can, and I can understand most of the different accents plus I watch PBS programs. If an English person asks for “wawter”, or “wahter” that should be easy enough to figure out; however, if the word is pronounced “wah-er” with no “t” that might cause confusion to some Americans. We have our many different dialects that are hard to understand too, even to us! :)

  30. Gerda says

    I’m from South Africa and a few days ago I learned for the first time of toast soldiers. I am 62. When we visit the UK we have the same problem to understand their English and they ussually ask where we come from because we have a strange accent to them as well. My daughter had a problem with pants and trousers.

  31. says

    When I first came to the States (1955) I had my 4th. birthday and the next year I started Kindergarten. On the first day they told me when I go home to tell my Parent that I needed to bring in a Tablet, when I got home I told my Mom she said , what in the world do they need you to bring tablets to school for. My Dad had no idea ether so the next day my mom phoned the school to see what was going on well, She was told that I needed a Tablet of paper not Tablets to take by mouth. When I think about it now it’s quite funny and when I talk to my Mom on the phone and ask if she remembers , she does not.
    We all went back to Wales in 1967 and I came back here 6 years later and worked at GM Buick for 35 years as an Electrician. I now live in Cheboygan Michigan with my wife.
    I really enjoy this site.

  32. says

    I went to a Family restaurant in Western Michigan one time and ordered Fish and Chips, the waitress told me “we don’t have fish and chips we do have Fish and fries” so that is what I ordered….LOL
    They call it Fish and Chips everywhere else.

  33. Linda Swinnerton says

    Little candies (oops, sweets) like pop rocks without the pop LOL As a repatriated expat total confusion reigns. we lived in the US for 34 years, half our lifetime. What, no cornmeal in the supermarket? And no Coolwhip? But ah, there is custard, marmite and Branston Pickle LOL Been back three years now and loving it