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I didn't think it was a difficult question. What do you have for breakfast? It's one of those traditional little questions for English language learners.

Now Maggie often guffaws at those adverts on the telly for beauty products. You know the ones, 83% of all women think that our wonder cream reduced their wrinkles in just seven days. She is sniggering at the low sample given in small print at the bottom of the screen - from a sample of 86 women.

My sample is even lower but earlier this week in a conversation class I asked a group of beginners what they had for breakfast. It isn't the first time I've asked the question and so I wasn't surprised that people drank milk, ate biscuits or considered that pouring Nesquik type flavoured milk on their cereals constituted both food and drink. The next day I used the same question about breakfast instead of the more usual question about what they had done the day before, over the weekend or some such. The difference was that the second time I asked the question it was to a much more advanced group of learners who were well able to articulate their views. I was surprised at the confusion the question generated. To satisfy my curiosity I've managed to work the topic into nearly every conversation class I've given this week.

For most of my life breakfast has been a pretty solitary affair so it could be me who is out of step. Nonetheless, from the times that I've shared breakfast time with other people, from watching the telly, from going to the pictures and seeing how Americans do it I think I can safely say that the Anglo idea of breakfast is that you get up and shortly afterwards you eat breakfast. I'm aware that lots of people skip breakfast too.

What we eat varies a lot. I usually have toast or cereal, occasionally eggs and, if I have the time and inclination, I may go for some variation on a full English with bacon, eggs, sausage etc. I know that Spaniards sometimes have cakes or biscuits and that in this region having grated tomato and oil on toast is commonplace. Americans include waffles and pancakes as a part of their breakfast choice and I love those spicy Mexican scrambled eggs. In Poland I ate cold meats with bread, I know what a French continental breakfast is and fruit and yoghurt seem normal enough too. All different but all variations on a theme. And of course, breakfast wouldn't be breakfast without a drink - I'm a tea and juice man myself but I have no quarrel with coffee or even a glass of milk as accompaniment.

The problem though was that the question wasn't straightforward for many of my students. Their view of what constituted breakfast was quite different from mine from which I can only surmise that the Spanish view of breakfast is different to an English one. Despite my years here it was something that I had failed to appreciate. The majority told me that they had breakfast at ten or eleven. I was reduced to breaking the word - in Spanish and English - into its components, the idea of ending the overnight fast. I had to explain that, for us, the mid morning break, the coffee break, elevenses, is not breakfast. They thought my view of breakfast was very rigid.

In a sample of one white haired late 50s English bloke 100% of respondents were absolutely certain that breakfast is a part of the ritual of starting the day and not a late morning snack.


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