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I sometimes hear about American travelers having trouble ordering water abroad.

Some visiting Europe complain that they’ll get sparkling water or mineral water (!) for their order of... water. These people would then try ordering water “no gas” BUT would get a bottle of non-carbonated water (!?).

I am kind of at loss as to what words I should use when ordering water in the US. I take it that “sparkling” is the word of choice when ordering carbonated water. Are the words “club soda” and “soda water” just as popular?

I have been told that “bottled water” is the expression used to order non-carbonated water. But I am not sure. Do you use “still water” for non-carbonated? Also I don’t get why the people mentioned above 1. referred to carbonated water as mineral (!) and 2. complained that they got “non-carbonated water” for their order of “water ‘no gas’ “.

I’ve tried looking it up only to make matters worse. I know there are a dozen questions all bunched into one message, but could anyone help me set the record straight on this one? I appreciate it.

  • December 1, 2004
  • Posted by eduardo
  • Filed in Usage

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I have an idea why some (clueless) Americans would object to mineral water or bottled still water if they ordered "water." Here in the States, if you order "water," they bring you a glass of tap water with ice in it. It is free. If you want bottled water, you specifically ask (and pay) for it.

Here's the breakdown:

"Water" is a glass of ordinary or filtered tap water, with ice in it unless you say "Water, no ice." (You can ask for "still water," but not everyone will be familiar with the phrase.) Lemon slices are often automatically supplied, or you can ask for some lemon if you like it.

"Bottled water" is bottled still water. It may be purified city water, mineral water, or "spring water." Make sure they ALWAYS bring you the bottle (not all restaurants are honest about this).

"Sparkling water" is bottled naturally-carbonated water from a natural source. Again, insist on the bottle if they don't bring it out.

"Soda water," "club soda," and "carbonated water" all refer to artificially carbonated water, in or out of bottles.

Also, be aware that if you order "tea" in the South, you automatically get iced tea. In the Deep South, you get presweetened iced tea ("sweet tea," as opposed to "unsweet tea."). If you want a cup of tea, ask for "hot tea."

speedwell2 December 1, 2004 @ 11:06AM

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Somewhat relevant....

Don't be surprised if you are in Texas and ask for a Coke, and your host asks you, "What kind do you want?" They do not mean for you to choose between Diet Coke, "Classic" Coke, Caffeine-Free Coke, and Coke from Mexico in the little glass bottles. They mean, "What kind of soda pop do you want?"

People in restaurants ask, "What kind of Coke do y'all have?" The response is usually, "Coke, Diet Coke, Dr. Pepper, and Sprite."

speedwell2 December 1, 2004 @ 11:17AM

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The other confusing factor is that apparently nobody in Europe drinks tap water!! I got extremely strange looks when insisting on free water in Germany and Austria. In the US free (tap) water is the norm unless you specify otherwise.

Around here few know what soda water is. Club soda is far less expensive than bottled mineral water so that's what I usually order and it comes by the glass, not the bottle. Sparkling water gets me the bottle. Convincing waiters I really can drink a liter of it is a whole nother issue! (Yes, I really said a whole nother. Sue me!)

Janet1 December 1, 2004 @ 1:59PM

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Sue you? For what? How much money do you have? ;)

To clarify for folks who are not native English speakers, the word you used is actually meant to represent a slurred pronunciation of "another," and it is spelled "'nother" (with the apostrophe in front to represent the dropped "a").

speedwell2 December 2, 2004 @ 9:41AM

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Thank you Speedwell and Janet for the prompt answers. They definitely cleared things up for me.

No such thing as free tap water in Brazilian restaurants either. I actually remember being very amused the first time I got free tap water in the US. And even more so to realize that they'll pour the thing as long as you're at the table. Of course I appreciated it.

I'd venture to say it may be the only country where you'll get that.

The Texas custom is very interesting, Speedwell. That's what they call "Proprietary Eponyms", or strongly associating a brand name to a product so that we begin to refer to it by that brand name.

Now, can you picture a Texan co-worker telling you that "he'll sure white-out all the typos before xeroxing the document like your boss asked, but that he's so thristy that he'll first rollberblade to the coke machine in the cafeteria."?

Eduardo3 December 3, 2004 @ 6:48PM

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Bartenders have long known that "club soda," "soda," "sparkling water," "branch water," "quinine," "tonic," etc. are largely regional. In some parts of the country, ordering a scotch and soda could get you scotch and 7-Up!

ronhatcher December 4, 2004 @ 6:07AM

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This link is a good source for US terminology of consumer water:

(Note: In the US there are various levels of laws and ordinances that require certain constraints to sellers, and provide certain amenities to customers, in support of commercial licenses. It’s my understanding that restaurants in California, and possibly every state, have to serve drinkable water for free if they serve food or drink for profit. It’s of note that if food or water is served to a table, and rejected by a patron, that food or water must be disposed of and not given to another subsequent customer - in California anyway).

sully December 4, 2004 @ 8:56PM

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oops - let me try to qualify the link

sully December 4, 2004 @ 8:57PM

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Not everywhere in Europe. I guess it is very German. I've never been in Austria, but in Germany and Switzerland one always drinks bottled water which is bought. Tap water is never used.
In Denmark tap water is what one drinks and I think the bottled water is mostly bought by tourists. However if you ask for water in a restaurant you'll be charged anyway, yet they fill a glass from the tap.
In the south, like Spain, one never drinks water; It is not logical. Because a glass of beer is just 1 Euro!!

goossun December 6, 2004 @ 5:00PM

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goossun: What about people who don't like beer, and children, etc?

slemmet1 April 23, 2005 @ 12:02PM

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Well, in the North we call a cola a pop.

anonymous4 April 30, 2005 @ 10:07PM

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In palau we call it sobtaringk

don1444 April 5, 2015 @ 6:20AM

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