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The Star-Spangled Fork-Flip, the Freedom Fork-Over, the Homeland Handoff
July 5, 2013 9:58 AM   Subscribe

The American way of using a fork and knife is inefficient and inelegant. (SLSlate) Do you cut-and-switch? Well, you've got to stop. The more time you waste pointlessly handing utensils back and forth to yourself, the less time you’ll have to cherish life and liberty, pursue happiness, and contribute to America’s future greatness. And also—though that snob at dinner surely didn't know this—the supposedly all-American cut-and-switch is in fact an old European pretension, of just the sort we decided to free ourselves from 237 years ago.
posted by Cash4Lead (221 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've never heard of this method and I've never seen it practiced that I can recall.

Then again, my idea of setting the table is shoving things aside.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:02 AM on July 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


Slate really is determined to beat The Atlantic in the Best Upper-Middle Class Anxiety Magazine contest.
posted by the jam at 10:04 AM on July 5, 2013 [50 favorites]


This is one of those habits that's easy to acquire if you just power through the awkwardness a few times. It's so much less fussy and clanky and fork-droppy. It makes eating nicer.

And yes, everyone else in the world thinks Americans look like a toddler at the table, with the ham-handed forkery.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:05 AM on July 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


Ahhh, it's so awkward, I loathe it beyond words, especially when people claim it's somehow easier to use. No, liars, I have tried it, it is impossible and I will throw my utensils to the ground and shovel the food into my mouth with my hands while sobbing.
posted by elizardbits at 10:06 AM on July 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


Just do what I do: put the whole pork chop directly in your mouth.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:06 AM on July 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


I made the switch about ten years ago and never looked back.

It's not so much that it's inefficient -- I mean, you still have to leave time to chew, right? -- but it's just such a pointless little dance.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:07 AM on July 5, 2013


Like, how is it supposed to happen and not be awkward? Switch the knife to the fork hand, hold both, hand over the fork to the knife hand? Put both down and pick them up with opposite hands? Toss them into the air above your head and catch with opposite hands?

fling them to the floor and weep is the only solution
posted by elizardbits at 10:08 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was a cut-and-switcher until I moved to Europe. So many people looked at me funny about it that it was easier to just change to eating with my left instead of my right.

Still feels awkward and I change back often. Old habits die hard.
posted by vacapinta at 10:08 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


People actually do pay attention to this. I've been misidentified more than once as a European because I don't cut-and-switch.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:08 AM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


If an otherwise healthy and able bodied adult can't get thier fork to thier mouth with thier left hand without causing a scene then there might be another, larger problem.
posted by The Whelk at 10:09 AM on July 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


The more time you waste pointlessly handing utensils back and forth to yourself, the less time you’ll have to cherish life and liberty, pursue happiness, and contribute to America’s future greatness.

Or the more time we'll have to enjoy a nice meal and conversation with friends and family and not look at mealtime as nothing but a chance to find the quickest, most efficient way to shove food down our gullet.
posted by bondcliff at 10:10 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's a nice airplane you got there Slate, wouldn't want it suddenly diverted to another location.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:10 AM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a left-handed eater, I have never done this, and I have never actually noticed it being done. Then again, I don't make a habit of watching people eat.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:10 AM on July 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Many restaurant people have also told me that if they see someone cutting their steak/meat/whatever into small pieces first, then they're definitely American.
posted by vacapinta at 10:10 AM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I mean, you still have to leave time to chew, right?

DON'T YOU TELL ME WHAT I "HAVE" TO DO, YOU'RE NOT MY DAD
posted by Greg Nog at 10:10 AM on July 5, 2013 [14 favorites]


(And, yeah, it felt hopelessly clumsy at first, a bit like first learning guitar. Just power through! It's a satisfying accomplishment.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:11 AM on July 5, 2013


What odd things I've never heard of. It's amazing that some folk take the time to switch hands while eating.
And we’re the ones who pride ourselves on our casual willingness to cast off the mooring lines of tradition. Clinging to a complicated and encumbering Old European mannerism whose purpose is utterly opaque? Is that why we had a revolution?
Ah, if must be 4 July again.
posted by Jehan at 10:11 AM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, I moved to france a few years back, and prior to doing so I spent a fair while training myself to eat properly with a fork and knife - no more just using a fork to hack things into chunks and eating it. Now, I can't imagine how I managed without a fork and knife, it feels empty without both.

This single-handed-forkery is what most people think of when they imagine Americans eating; I don't really understand what this back-and-forthing is about, and I've never seen it in the wild. Maybe it's because I'm from the midwest and as my new york friends have told me time and again, we're just flyover states. I guess good manners passed us by too :)
posted by EricGjerde at 10:12 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait what is this about ... forks? knives? I don't understand. Don't you have perfectly good teeth for that kind of thing?
posted by aubilenon at 10:12 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


As the article points out, if you're left-handed (like me) you've likely been eating Continental style all your dining life. So in addition to being a blow against pointlessly fussy table manners, this article was like a cri de coeur for a persecuted minority.
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:12 AM on July 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


My (Canadian) family uses forks as though they're a tool to stab the food before it escapes from your plate.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:13 AM on July 5, 2013


I was looking forward to dinner time; now I dread it as yet another set of faux pas waiting to ambush me and make me look like a bumpkin.

Oh, wait, here's a thought - how about I eat however I damn well please, and be entertained by all the finicky effete Continentals blanching and moaning in dismay! Yeah!
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:13 AM on July 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


The food cutting thing is an American sibboteth however, I still catch myself doing it ( which is kind of silly, the food cools down faster, but my food usually goes cold cause aim too busy gabbing so what do I know.)
posted by The Whelk at 10:14 AM on July 5, 2013


Sometimes, I'll sit there switch the knife & fork between hands two or three times, trying to figure out what to do.

More and more though, once I've got the knife in the cutting hand, I don't switch back & just jam the fork into the gullet with whichever hand it's in when it finally gets the food on it. Mostly upside-down.

Tacos are a fine way to avoid even having to think about this particular problem.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:15 AM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, wait, here's a thought - how about I eat however I damn well please, and be entertained by all the finicky effete Continentals blanching and moaning in dismay! Yeah!

Blanching? In public? How rude. No we simply don't let you marry our daughters.

( what?! She's run off with that damnable apple thief again? Confound it Auguta you conspire to ever vex my wills! Bring me more ether!)
posted by The Whelk at 10:15 AM on July 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


So I've got traditional American table manners, or at least a fair attempt at instilling them was made in my childhood. I know it's inefficient and silly. Unfortunately, when I've traveled to places where Continental-style is the rule I can't make myself do it that way no matter how hard I try. It will probably take serious physical injury to get me to retrain myself.
posted by asperity at 10:16 AM on July 5, 2013


When I was around ten years old, we were waiting in line in a restaurant in Yosemite. I noticed this guy at the counter with fork in left and knife in right. I watched him and thought, "what an intelligent way to eat." I've been eating that way since. Thank you mysterious European who ever you might have been.
posted by njohnson23 at 10:16 AM on July 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


must be 4 July

wrong wrong wrong
posted by Sys Rq at 10:17 AM on July 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


DICK
Lucy, may I ask you something? Do you find it odd
that I don't switch my fork when I eat, that I bring it to
my mouth with my left hand?

LUCY
My mother called it "piling."

DICK
Actually, it's not odd at all, it's the European way.
posted by Myca at 10:17 AM on July 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


This is a thing? "American-style"? I had no idea grown adults actually switched their forks to their right hand when using a knife. I thought that was a thing kids did because they lack the coordination to use their non-dominant hand.
posted by explosion at 10:18 AM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is very much a thing adults do, because otherwise you look like a chicken flapping your wings. It's dinner, it only needs to be efficient if you're fattening up animals for slaughter.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:20 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


For such a light subject, it does touch the core of American anxiety, the inability to innovate, forever being stuck in obsolete solutions originally copied from more enlightened countries, the need to present any chance as fitting with traditional American values even where these are largely mythical. No wonder the US is the sick man of the Americas, as stagnant a society as China was in the 19th century.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:20 AM on July 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


I am also weirdly incapable of holding my fork facing upwards, like with the bowl of the fork (idk what to call it) facing up. Like, fork in left hand, forkbutt facing you, pierce portion of food you plan to eat, cut with knife in right hand just above fork, lift fork to mouth, still facing backwards, nom, repeat.

i am a hideous freak
posted by elizardbits at 10:20 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's in Wikipedia.
posted by vacapinta at 10:20 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had a school teacher (in the UK) who would stalk around the tables at lunch barking "Are you American? No? THEN USE YOUR KNIFE PROPERLY LIKE A CIVILISED PERSON!" at anyone not holding their knife and fork in the 'proper' English manner. Not sure if this meant that Americans were exempt.

(I remember an assembly talk from a teacher on how curry was very bad and we should all avoid it. That's all part of education in a 1980s Church of England middle school in a rural area)

When visiting the USA I got used to being watched by everyone else at a meal while I ate. Of course I was probably eating pizza, burgers, burritos, tacos, etc with a knife and fork. Possibly sandwiches.

(Married to an American and now also able to eat fork-only, which has been stared at by UK people)
posted by BinaryApe at 10:21 AM on July 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Of course I was probably eating pizza, burgers, burritos, tacos, etc with a knife and fork. Possibly sandwiches.

Madness! Heresy!
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:23 AM on July 5, 2013


Once a bite-sized piece of food has been cut, it is conducted straight to the mouth by the left hand. The tines remain pointing down.

omg glorious vindication i am splendid after all
posted by elizardbits at 10:23 AM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't know what America this guy lives in, but in my America we cut the meat with the knife in our dominant hand, then say "FUCK YOU" to the fork, STAB THE CHUNK YOU JUST SLICED OFF with the steak knife and eat the meat directly from the blade as it glistens with "juices"*. When someone asks if you're worried about cutting yourself, you respond "DOES IT LOOK LIKE I'M WORRIED!" and drink more beer while laughing at them.

*Juices is the term we use for STEAK BLOOD when we suspect the person we're talking to might work somewhere were people wear ties to things that aren't coworker's funerals.
posted by Benjy at 10:24 AM on July 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


I do it the European way because it makes me feel like King Henry VIII at table, lustily tearing into a fat leg of mutton, and afterward wiping the juices from his mouth on a hunk of tablecloth.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:24 AM on July 5, 2013


Just do what I do: put the whole pork chop directly in your mouth.

Pork Chop: apply directly to the mouth.
Pork Chop: apply directly to the mouth.
Pork Chop: apply directly to the mouth.
Pork Chop: now available at Walgreens.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:24 AM on July 5, 2013 [17 favorites]


No wonder the US is the sick man of the Americas, as stagnant a society as China was in the 19th century.

We do it in Canada too. Just sayin'.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:25 AM on July 5, 2013


Next on Mefi: People who never knew that you signal that you are finished eating by the way you lay down your knife and fork.

It is common in European restaurants and explains why the waiter won't bother you even if your plate is empty. It is because you haven't properly laid down your knife and fork.
posted by vacapinta at 10:26 AM on July 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


Is it really a thing for people to get all judgey over this? I've never done the "cut and switch," but wow, there are far more annoying things someone could be doing at the table. As long as they're reasonably quiet and not catapulting food or cutlery over their shoulders, I'm happy.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:26 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really, we should all just eat turkey legs off the bone or carry around personal metal skewers for biting roast foods off of.
posted by The Whelk at 10:27 AM on July 5, 2013


What the hell is this? Switching the fork to your right hand?

No wonder America is in an irreversible, terminal cultural decline.

Chopsticks are the future, guys.
posted by Jimbob at 10:27 AM on July 5, 2013


Madness! Heresy!

I should add that the sandwiches thing is a binaryape thing, not a UK thing. I'm a very misleading cultural ambassador.
posted by BinaryApe at 10:28 AM on July 5, 2013


Wait, people don't know the fork/knife nestled together on the side means " I am done, take this away?" huh.
posted by The Whelk at 10:28 AM on July 5, 2013


Next on Mefi: People who never knew that you signal that you are finished eating by the way you lay down your knife and fork.

It is common in European restaurants and explains why the waiter won't bother you even if your plate is empty. It is because you haven't properly laid down your knife and fork.


Oh man, my wife had that one so drilled into her head that I once caught her doing it at Waffle House. I tried to explain to her that the odds that the waitress knew what that meant were so low that she might as well give it up, but she thought it was important.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:28 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh, I'd heard that the "American" style was adopted during the Revolutionary War just to be contrary and do things different than the Brits. Same reason we drive on the right side of the road. I'm probably wrong about that too.
posted by zinon at 10:29 AM on July 5, 2013


I think in Canada, we do our traditional solution: both. I was raised "European" by my WASP-ish family, while my wife's Maritimers are dedicated zig-zaggers.
posted by bonehead at 10:29 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


We should just return to traditional French Service, where everything is served at once, rather than this ghastly upstart Russian Service, with courses coming out one at a time - which is so plainly rude, presuming that everyone wants to eat the same thing and at the same speed. Poppycock.
posted by The Whelk at 10:31 AM on July 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


Good lord, was this worth an article? Back in the '60's I must of read something about this, and, as an impressionable teenager, figured it would be cool to make the switch. Nobody noticed then, and, really, nobody notices now.

But, the international trick (I'm not saying which country) of blowing my nose by holding one nostril shut and expelling the snot out of the other one with extreme force (no tissue used, by the way) gets me a LOT of attention and, I'm assuming, praise....
posted by HuronBob at 10:35 AM on July 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm both Canadian and vegan and have spent about two minutes trying to figure out what I do. I don't eat giant slabs of things that need cutting very often, so I think I just muddle through ad hoc with the tools at hand and the food in front of me. I'm switching between typing this and miming eating an invisible baked potato.

I feel like my knife and fork hands are totally interchangeable and I just kind of pin something down with the fork and saw away with whatever the other hand is, then eat.

The fact that I don't know how I eat my food is bothering me probably more than it should.
posted by Shepherd at 10:35 AM on July 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


What's with the "shackle" metaphors?

I didn't realize I was eating my food in fetters and manacles. Though it does explain why I keep tripping headfirst into the sink after a good meal.
posted by mcoo at 10:37 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just stick my whole face in the trough and chew until I am ready to puke. THAT's the American Way.
posted by briank at 10:37 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fact that I don't know how I eat my food is bothering me probably more than it should.

Yeah, I'm getting this feeling too. An issue has been presented, where I had no idea there was any alternative to be tried. I'm an Australian. Knife goes in the right hand, fork goes in the left. Knife cuts things. Fork jabs into things and brings them to my mouth. What reason could there possibly be to ever move the fork to the other hand? My left hand is accurate enough to finger chords on my guitar, it's accurate enough to bring morsels to my mouth without hitting my eye. What the hell is going on over there?

I recall having a similar crazy argument on Metafilter years ago, regarding whether to wash dishes in a filled sink, or under running water. I still don't understand what the running water people thought they were on to.
posted by Jimbob at 10:38 AM on July 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Reminds me of my favorite scene from Gilligan's Island. It's the episode where an actor practicing for a Tarzan-like role is discovered by the gang. The actor sits down to eat and Mr. Howell explains "If he puts the fork in his left hand he's from Oxford. If he uses the fork in his right hand he's a Harvard grad."

The actor then proceeds shove food in his mouth with his bare hands.

"Good heavens," Howell exclaims, "he's a Yale man!"
posted by plastic_animals at 10:40 AM on July 5, 2013 [46 favorites]


So, I've been a cut and switcher this whole goddamn time because I was told by some asshole that is was the proper way to eat. What the fuck. Of course I have the coordination to eat with my fork in my non-dominant hand and henceforth, that's what I'll be doing. I want to go get a steak right now so that I can start my new life.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 10:42 AM on July 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


Ha! The jokes on all of you! I keep my fork in my dominant hand at all times, even when eating soup!
posted by Apoch at 10:43 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


You've made the right choice, A Bad Catholic. We are with you. We will support you all the way. Peace and solidarity.
posted by Jimbob at 10:43 AM on July 5, 2013


MetaFilter: switching between typing this and miming eating an invisible baked potato. 
posted by ODiV at 10:46 AM on July 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Good heavens," Howell exclaims, "he's a Yale man!"

That's actually a pretty good gag, plastic_animals. Cripes, is it time for a reassessment of the long-derided Gilligan's Island?
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:47 AM on July 5, 2013


I was told by some asshole
that was Etiquette Class, up there at Castle Greyskull, yes?

I'm finding it amusing that nobody else had the desperately upwardly-mobile mother who insisted that I learn BOTH "proper" ways of eating, and the correct situations to apply them in. This is also how I ended up in tennis, golf, and sailing classes.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:50 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


How many pairs of docksiders did you go through amotat?

You can tell me, this is a safe place.
posted by The Whelk at 10:53 AM on July 5, 2013


I switched the other way, from full knife-and-forkery to cut-and-switchery.

The HUGE advantage of cut-and-switch is that you can gesticulate with your fork, with a piece of meat attached, while holding forth on some topic of global importance. Gesticulating with the knife never goes down that well. Also, it allows a completely different stance at the table, leaning casually on your right elbow as you eat, instead of sticking them both out like a chicken.

I always switch back when I go to England, though, in case people think I'm a yank.
posted by unSane at 10:58 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have someone else cut my food, impale it with a fork and then sit across the table from me trying to flick it into my mouth. I didn't know there was another way.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:59 AM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


The other way is when they catch it for you, consume it, and then regurgitate it for you back at the nest.
posted by elizardbits at 11:00 AM on July 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


How often do you eat a meal that even requires a knife? Unless I'm eating a steak or a chop, a fork is good enough by itself.
posted by octothorpe at 11:05 AM on July 5, 2013


Cripes, is it time for a reassessment of the long-derided Gilligan's Island?

No, no it isn't.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:06 AM on July 5, 2013


Try as I might, I cannot quite make my believe that people care so desperately about how other people handle their knife and fork.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:07 AM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


a fork is good enough by itself.

I remember some Anicent German etiquette guide saying how it was considered quite the honor to your host to never touch your knife while dining, as you where saying that the meat was tender enough to be cut with the fork.

How often do we use knifes? I eat a lot of stews soo...not a lot?
posted by The Whelk at 11:08 AM on July 5, 2013


Can't be that ancient since forks didn't exist in Germany until like the 1500s or something, no?
posted by elizardbits at 11:09 AM on July 5, 2013


I cut my burgers and sandwiches in half before consuming them. Is that a thing? It's another technique that I was taught was proper. And yes, this was at Castle Greyskull. Have I been being lied to?
posted by A Bad Catholic at 11:10 AM on July 5, 2013


So am I the only right-hander that uses a fork in the right hand and a knife in the left?
posted by Joviwan at 11:11 AM on July 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ancient was being used hyperbolically, probobly early 1800s.
posted by The Whelk at 11:11 AM on July 5, 2013


Knife- right fork-left is how I was taught, regardless of hand dominance.
posted by The Whelk at 11:13 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


No Joviwan, that is the correct apoch approved way to eat.
posted by Apoch at 11:13 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I cut my burgers and sandwiches in half before consuming them. Is that a thing?

It's a "thing" in that it's something that class-anxious parents teach their children in America. It's not a "thing" in that if you are actually eating in the presence of someone in the upper-crust, sandwiches are pre-cut into finger-size pieces.
posted by muddgirl at 11:14 AM on July 5, 2013


I cut my burgers...in half

Uncouth brute! Sandwiches, ok, but...burgers?? That's just tacky.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:15 AM on July 5, 2013


Try as I might, I cannot quite make my believe that people care so desperately about how other people handle their knife and fork.

I've been compared to a neanderthal for employing the hidden-handle continental style. It's a big deal for some people.
posted by peeedro at 11:17 AM on July 5, 2013


Now that I am trying to think of it, I have no damn clue how I use a knife and form. I'm trying to mime it here at my desk with pens, and any way I do it, I feel like a flailing orangutan.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:18 AM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well. +1 American who had no idea "utensil switching" was a thing. I've always been a "fork left, knife right" person. Maybe it's the immigrant parent? Maybe it's being a lefty? Weird.
posted by Amanojaku at 11:22 AM on July 5, 2013


Yeah, all my American relatives are cut-and-switchers. My grandparents hounded me endlessly as a kid to cut-and-switch when eating, so I did that when I had dinner with them. Other than that, euro-style all the way. Never did understand the point of the cutlery dance.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:27 AM on July 5, 2013


I actually had to pantomime this to remind myself what I do. I'm a left-handed American and always keep my fork in my left hand.

I read a different explanation for the origin of the difference between American and European customs than the Slate article gives. This is from Henry Petroski's "Evolution of Useful Things," which notes that there's some dispute about the origin of the American habit.

Apparently the dinner fork is a relatively recent invention, and only arrived in England at some point in the mid-1600s. Up until that point, more elegant Europeans ate with two knives: one to steady the food while it was cut and spear it once it was cut, and the other to cut it. The fork, when it appeared, replaced the former. (Less elegant Europeans used one knife and their free hand, or one knife and a chunk of bread.)

In America, the habit was to use a spoon to steady the food while the knife cut it, and then do a zig-zag. I imagine this is because your left hand is dirty and sinful and you don't want it getting anywhere near your mouth. When the fork arrived—after America had already been colonized—it replaced the spoon.
posted by adamrice at 11:29 AM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have no idea how I use a knife and fork.

I ate steak last night and you people have me so confused that I don't know what hand I used less than 24 hours ago.
posted by Megafly at 11:29 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Next on Mefi: People who never knew that you signal that you are finished eating by the way you lay down your knife and fork.

Wait this is not a thing in the US? I have lived here several years and didn't realise. Actually this explains a lot. I just thought some waiters were shit.
posted by retrograde at 11:30 AM on July 5, 2013


I'm finding it amusing that nobody else had the desperately upwardly-mobile mother who insisted that I learn BOTH "proper" ways of eating, and the correct situations to apply them in. This is also how I ended up in tennis, golf, and sailing classes.

My family was lower-middle class when Reagan became president. The only people who denied what was happening were my grandmother, whom no one listened to, and my father, who was no golf-and-sailboat man.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:35 AM on July 5, 2013


I taught myself to cut with my left hand years ago. The knife stays to the left, the fork to the right. Among people who notice, it tends to confuse them. I'm eating with the fork in my right hand, like an American, but I'm not doing the switching. And this way I can surprise everyone by stabbing the person to my left instead of my right as is the common procedure. (The same way that Joviwan metions.)

Or you know, we could just be civilized and only use chopsticks.
posted by Hactar at 11:42 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


After cutting, I always put both the knife and fork down. I Then pick up the fork, and proceed to conduct the food into my mouth. I do this to leave my other hand free for making a masturbation motion to indicate that any neurotic fussbudget who is carefully watching how I eat is a wanker and should go throw themselves off the nearest bridge.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:51 AM on July 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


Be aware that in England it also indicates class status (as does EVERYTHING YOU DO EVER).

If you hold the knife and fork so that the ends are in the palms of your hands, you are upper-middle class.

If you hold the knife and fork like pencils, ends up in the air, you are lower-class.

If you reverse cutlery you are lower-class or American. If you put the knife in your mouth you are lower-class.

Shovelling is another factor. If turn the fork over to shovel food (e.g. peas, which roll), but otherwise eat upper-middle-style, you are middle- or lower-middle class. (Upper-middle class: invert the fork, squash the peas with your fork, then push them on to the back of your fork. NEVER take the inverted fork to your mouth.) If you hold like pencils and turn to shovel, lower-class, no doubt.

The upper-classes eat how the fuck they want, of course: if you're the Duke of Norfolk then how you eat is how it should be done, if that's cramming it handsful at a time into your maw from the belly of a prostitute.

Don't get me started on bread rolls.

I am upper-middle class JUST, downwardly mobile, so I may be corrected in this thread by anyone who outranks me - anyone who went to a public school, for example.
posted by alasdair at 11:55 AM on July 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


Wait, did any of you guys have a section on dining equiette in High School as part of the Home Ec requirement? Cause of course everyone's going to be a upper middle class professional and expected to know these things? Just me?
posted by The Whelk at 11:56 AM on July 5, 2013


> Be aware that in England it also indicates class status (as does EVERYTHING YOU DO EVER).

Which is hilarious because the highest class person in England is the Queen herself, and she'd never, ever in a million billion years comment about the way you eat your food. She'd probably follow how you ate, in fact, because manners are intended to allow us to get along, rather than to allow us to judge each other.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:58 AM on July 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


Upper-middle class: invert the fork, squash the peas with your fork, then push them on to the back of your fork. NEVER take the inverted fork to your mouth.

Only valid for cultures which overcook peas! Seriously though how do you get the peas in your mouth if they are mashed onto the back of the fork but you are not allowed to eat them thus?

I avoid peas in general for precisely this reason.
posted by elizardbits at 11:58 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I grew up in Ireland and thought there was only one way to use a knife and fork. I remember being quite surprised when I arrived in America that it seemed many Americans didn't know how to use a fork. Weird hamfisted ways of holding it in the left hand it and then the constant swapping to the right.

But for me the biggest problem with the American method was that you only got one type of food in each mouthful unless you went chasing around the plate with the fork trying to skewer various bits of food one handed. Rather than using the knife in the opposing hand to hold down the morsel while you stabbed it or to use the knife to pile more bits onto the fork so that you could construct a perfect mouthful consisting of a little of everything that was on the plate.
posted by Long Way To Go at 11:58 AM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, did any of you guys have a section on dining equiette in Hugh School as part of the Home Ec requirement?

Don't be ridiculous, one learns manners from one's governess.
posted by elizardbits at 12:00 PM on July 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


" Gone through more governesses than Mr. Rochester" should be a thing.
posted by The Whelk at 12:01 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, did any of you guys have a section on dining equiette in Hugh School as part of the Home Ec requirement? Cause of course everyone's going to be a upper middle class professional and expected to know these things? Just me?

My wife's WASP family just stages impromptu quizzes about table manners during dinner. "We're having soup, what way do you tilt your soup bowl when getting the last bit? Away from you, good. Why?" That sort of thing. This has basically stopped since her grandmother died, but it continued well into everyone's twenties. Oh, and once they gave the grandchildren copies of a book called Soup Should be Seen and Not Heard.

This is the class of people who ran the country for centuries, mind you. It's mind boggling.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:04 PM on July 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


Wait, did any of you guys have a section on dining equiette in Hugh School as part of the Home Ec requirement?

In Home Ec we learned to make pizza puffs, then shoved them into our mouths before they had cooled. It hurt, which is how we knew it was proper.

Eventually we were not allowed ovens.
posted by mcoo at 12:04 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have absolutely no idea how I use a fork anymore either. Switch? Don't switch? I was trying to figure it out with a liquid paper pen and a highlighter on my keyboard, and it didn't help at all, though I do know that I should not try to use writing implements to eat with.

I do, however, know and use the rules of cutlery placement to signal the meal is done.
posted by jeather at 12:07 PM on July 5, 2013


"It is common in European restaurants and explains why the waiter won't bother you even if your plate is empty. It is because you haven't properly laid down your knife and fork."

OH MY GOD

THANK YOU SO MUCH

YOU HAVE NO IDEA

THE ANGST THIS HAS CAUSED ME

SO AWKWARD, SO WEIRD.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:19 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was taught to switch. The explanation was that it was a way to be different from the English and also to force people to eat more slowly.

The end result, of course, is that I can use the side of any reasonably substantial fork to cut through nearly anything, thus avoiding altogether the use of a knife.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:21 PM on July 5, 2013


I'm an American expat who is completely incapable of internalizing not doing the switch, though can successfully but awkwardly perform the more sensible eating gesture, and my colleagues find it the most hilarious shit ever.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:22 PM on July 5, 2013


Down with this American vs European false equivalency! I vote for Asian style- where someone else already cut everything into bite-sized pieces FOR you and all you have to do it put it in your mouth. Now THAT'S civilized.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:23 PM on July 5, 2013 [18 favorites]


inverted forks???
posted by junco at 12:24 PM on July 5, 2013


I went on a cruise with my family when I was ten years old, and one of the nice and fun young ladies -- probably mid-twenties to early thirties, Americans -- who shared our dinner table told us about the 'European' way of eating with a knife and fork. Not as an admonishment of any table manners, but as a fun fact. And that's how I've eaten ever since.

Man, I don't even have the muscle memory for the ol' cut-and-switch, even though I know I did it once in my life. But it's not at all something I pay attention to in other people, save for the beautifully elegant way Mads Mikkelsen operates every bit of kitchen equipment in Hannibal.

Of course, the proper way to eat a steak is in the privacy of your own home, in bed, with no pants on, picking up slices you cut in the kitchen and gnawing them like an animal with juice dripping down your chin.
posted by whitneyarner at 12:25 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jack went to Oxford and came back forking lefty to the amusement of his midwestern un-cosmopolitan grade school age cousins. No longer in elementary school, I can fork lefty if necessary, and I concede that it is more efficient. Hardly have time to chew before the next bite is waiting.
posted by Cranberry at 12:27 PM on July 5, 2013


Forking Lefty, a Stabbing Westward tribute band.
posted by The Whelk at 12:29 PM on July 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Which is hilarious because the highest class person in England is the Queen herself, and she'd never, ever in a million billion years comment about the way you eat your food.

No, she's a German parvenu. The Queen isn't as high-class as the old English nobility. Yes, this makes no sense.
posted by alasdair at 12:29 PM on July 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Married to a Danish-Greek boor, no less.
posted by elizardbits at 12:31 PM on July 5, 2013


Aside from tradition, is there any reason not to learn to cut stuff with the knife in your non-dominant hand, whatever hand that might be? I mean, it seems to me that the fork gets way more use than the knife.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 12:33 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


elizardbits: Seriously though how do you get the peas in your mouth if they are mashed onto the back of the fork but you are not allowed to eat them thus?
I avoid peas in general for precisely this reason.


I eat my peas with honey
I've done it all my life
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:40 PM on July 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


I remember going up for interview at Oxford and being warned that at dinner you might be served stewed cherries in a bowl without a lip. The purpose was to observe how you dealt with the stones. The two acceptable methods were to put them on the table beside your bowl, or to swallow them whole. Anything else was a fail.
posted by unSane at 12:44 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


What reason could there possibly be to ever move the fork to the other hand?

I need to inspect the morsel for rot and parasites.

Also, when I gesticulate angrily, it's taken as less threatening because the knife does not happen to be in my dominant hand. It is also convenient when the knife is in my left hand, because I can still ward off predators and starving children while continuing the process of eating with my right hand.
posted by fleacircus at 12:45 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you mash the peas then you can push them onto the back of the fork and lift them to your mouth, because they no longer roll.
posted by alasdair at 12:45 PM on July 5, 2013


But the really upper crust nobles are generally too nice to mention that the Queen is less cultured than they are.

Of course a good percentage of them imported middle-class wealth by marrying heiresses in the 19th and early 20th centuries so maybe they can't really look down on the Queen that much.
posted by vuron at 12:45 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The two acceptable methods were to put them on the table beside your bowl, or to swallow them whole.

What else would you do, in all seriousness? Spit them at your fellow diners?
posted by alasdair at 12:46 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Peas should be served with mash so that you and push a bit of mash onto the fork and then use the mash to stick the peas to the back of the fork. Viola peas stick to fork.
posted by vuron at 12:46 PM on July 5, 2013


If you mash the peas then you can push them onto the back of the fork and lift them to your mouth,

RIGHT BUT YOU SAID never lift inverted fork to mouth, so what then, turn over the fork and let the pea mush fall?

Much better to invent a pea allergy.
posted by elizardbits at 12:47 PM on July 5, 2013


What else would you do, in all seriousness? Spit them at your fellow diners?

I would have just put them back in the bowl and eaten around them. Fail for me, I guess.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 12:47 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


"What else would you do, in all seriousness? Spit them at your fellow diners?"

Look down at the bowl, look the interviewer straight in the eye exchanging a meaningful glance, look back down at the bowl, and while maintaining eye contact as well as changing my posture from perfect to exaggeratedly so, ceremonially pick up the bowl, lift it over my head, and then flip it over onto my head to wear the whole thing as a hat.

No one likes a stuffy bore.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:55 PM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


RIGHT BUT YOU SAID never lift inverted fork to mouth, so what then, turn over the fork and let the pea mush fall?

You are making the mistake of assuming forkbutt up = inverted. Forkbutt up is the proper way. The other way (forkbelly up?) is inverted.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:58 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Porkbutt up is delicious!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:01 PM on July 5, 2013


The two acceptable methods were to put them on the table beside your bowl, or to swallow them whole. Anything else was a fail.

What if you choked to death while trying to swallow a stone? Would you at least get some kind of honorable mention?
posted by soundguy99 at 1:03 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


As the article points out, if you're left-handed (like me) you've likely been eating Continental style all your dining life.

Yup. I went to one of those ettiquette instruction dinners when I was a youth and the very highbrow elderly couple teaching us how to eat was like THIS is how one eats in the Continental style and I was like wut? That's easy! Well I did have to learn to hold the fork at a slightly different angle but other than that it was totally normal for me.

This is, however, pretty much the ONLY time that being a southpaw has come in handy (heh) for me in the history of ever. We are so totes a persecuted minority! Gah! *clenches left hand toward the sky in angst*
posted by Doleful Creature at 1:05 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of what use is your life, soundguy99, if it be purchased at the price of slightly poor manners?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:06 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


You use a dab of mashed potatoes on the forkbutt to make the peas stick.

Continental dining is also way better than forkflipping for getting some of every single thing on your fork in each bite.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:13 PM on July 5, 2013



This is why I just eat with two knives. Or sticks. Whatever.

Usually, I just eat pizza.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:23 PM on July 5, 2013


There is a scene in The Count of Monte Cristo where the guy is leveling up the new Count in how to behave where he instructs him to act like the wine is barely palatable no matter how good it is otherwise the other diners might get the idea that you aren't used to really great wine.

A large number of social representations are like that. See Erving Goffman.
posted by bukvich at 1:25 PM on July 5, 2013


I rarely use a knife. I use a fork with a meat-cutting laser-attachment.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 1:26 PM on July 5, 2013


I have a shark eat all of my food for me and then regurgitate it into my mouth. Anybody who objects has to face the shark.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:29 PM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm Canadian and I've never noticed other Canadians doing this. I do notice it whenever I'm in the US, however, and it looks really weird and awkward.
posted by rocket88 at 1:30 PM on July 5, 2013


I'll use either knife and forking style -- depends on what I'm eating, how much conversation is happening at the dinner table, etc.

I minimize spilling/dropping food, avoid waving my utensils around, and resist being a boorish pedant to dining companions who are eating neatly and politely.
posted by desuetude at 1:31 PM on July 5, 2013


the really upper crust nobles are generally too nice to mention that the Queen is less cultured than they are.

In her company, to be sure, but they're absolutely cutting on the car ride home.
posted by bonehead at 1:34 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because the biggest problem with American diets is that they eat food too slowly, Slate is here to shout, "Shovel it in faster, Americans! Use both hands!"
posted by straight at 1:36 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


My very WASPy family insisted on utensil switching as good manners. Manners were VERY IMPORTANT. And though I didn't always fall in line with family mores, I did on this one because it seemed of no consequence.

Until I'm dating and then living with a Basque. He was quietly appalled at dinners. He requested I change my habit, I tried, and muscle memory won.

One more way I was misled.

Switching to two knives tonight.
posted by vers at 1:43 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


forkbutt forkbutt forkbutt
posted by small_ruminant at 1:48 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh man, my wife had that one so drilled into her head that I once caught her doing it at Waffle House. I tried to explain to her that the odds that the waitress knew what that meant were so low that she might as well give it up, but she thought it was important.

I'm american and have always assumed this is common sense, including at waffle house. It's like a book being closed - it just looks finished... never thought of it as culturally specific, just that OCD urge to not leave things all askew.

If I'm eating something that has to be cut up, I do left fork, right knife, but I'm not sure what I do when it's a bowl-of-rice type dish (and I eat a lot of those sorts of dishes - stir fries or curries, grains or pastas) - then I probably eat just with my fork in my right hand without involving a knife at all, at least some of the time.
posted by mdn at 1:49 PM on July 5, 2013


See, all y'all didn't grow up with my grandmother. The switch was old news, learned as an infink. On the same par as not cutting up all your food at once or buttering more than one bite of bread at a time. Which fork, which spoon, which glass, all that arcana. But the most important thing that came out of her mentoring was that you only displayed whatever manners to match what your hosts seemed to be most comfortable with and you DID NOT make a reference about it later, on the drive home or whatever. And while her manners would never have let her phrase it this way, to do so would be to be the douchiest douchecanoe who ever rowed the Potomac.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 1:50 PM on July 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Now I have to go look up how to lay my fork and knife down on the plate to cue that I'm finished. I had no idea this was a thing in America.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:51 PM on July 5, 2013


The worst part is using a bloody plastic fork and knife they used to give for airplane dinners post 9/11.

By the time you could cut through one rubbery chicken piece .....you have lost your appetite!!
posted by TheLittlePrince at 1:52 PM on July 5, 2013


Here it is, in case anyone else is wondering.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:52 PM on July 5, 2013


Now I have to go look up how to lay my fork and knife down on the plate to cue that I'm finished. I had no idea this was a thing in America.

Bottom right part of plate, knife nested in fork tinges or not.
posted by The Whelk at 1:53 PM on July 5, 2013


I'm right handed (and European) and when I eat, I keep my knife in my left hand and my fork in my right. No switching required, and it's the dominant hand that handles the finesse work (i.e. not stabbing your mouth with the fork). You all seem crazy to me.
posted by Baldons at 1:53 PM on July 5, 2013


If you're not using a knife that's big enough to require two hands, you're doing it wrong.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:55 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


( I still have to remember not to wad my napkin into the plate from time to time)
posted by The Whelk at 1:55 PM on July 5, 2013


Honestly I don't care how people use their knives and forks as long as:

- i do not end up stabbed
- no one is chewing with their mouth open

Also if we are in a country where cigarette smoking is permitted in restaurants and the norm after meals, and someone uses their dirty plate as an ashtray, they are vile curs who should be spat upon in the streets.
posted by elizardbits at 1:57 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I still have to remember not to wad my napkin into the plate from time to time

Thats a step up from licking it, I suppose.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:59 PM on July 5, 2013


True, you're only supposed to lick the host's plate. As a sign of respect.
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:02 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The utensil on the plate thing to signal the waiter is a new thing to me too.
posted by octothorpe at 2:03 PM on July 5, 2013


I know in Bible college my husband and his classmates had something called Etiquette Dinners occasionally in the cafeteria where they were taught manners-to include eating in the Continental Style in case they became missionaries to a place where people ate like that. Thankfully by the time I got there (that's where we met) they didn't have them anymore. Honestly, if I were in England would the English genuinely be upset if I ate like an American? It isn't like the fork switching thing is hard or a big deal, it's just what we are used to doing and we don't think about it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:05 PM on July 5, 2013


Oh, and I learned in Thailand that a fork is only for pushing food onto my spoon to eat, not to go into my mouth at all. I did manage to impress a missionary with that one-she was shocked that I, a farang, knew about that at all.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:07 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember going up for interview at Oxford and being warned that at dinner you might be served stewed cherries in a bowl without a lip. The purpose was to observe how you dealt with the stones. The two acceptable methods were to put them on the table beside your bowl, or to swallow them whole. Anything else was a fail.

What about not eating nasty stewed cherries. Ew.

Last night I had an argument with my first grader about why it's not ok to eat pasta noodles (buttery ones!) with your hands, and I would be thrilled to just see him use utensils at all, no matter how. He has a grudge against them that I don't know how to overcome. I've caught him trying to eat cereal with his hands. I may just start feeding him on the floor, with the cat.
posted by emjaybee at 2:10 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


My tech alma mater had an (optional) Senior Etiquette Dinner, although that was more "don't crack your lobster open with your fingers, don't use the side of your fork to cut your food, and keep your napkin in your lap." We did get into a discussion of left-hand-fork as a classmate at my table was from Europe.

I also learned the that, if you have to take inedible stuff back out of your mouth, the polite way to do it is to discretely deposit it back on your fork or spoon (ie, don't pull it out with your fingers, and don't spit it into your napkin). I feel like this maneuver is one that takes practice.
posted by muddgirl at 2:12 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I learned in Thailand that a fork is only for pushing food onto my spoon to eat, not to go into my mouth at all. I did manage to impress a missionary with that one-she was shocked that I, a farang, knew about that at all.

I know that one, too! It's one of my favorites, and I bring it up every time I eat Thai food, because I am boorish.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:17 PM on July 5, 2013


> - no one is chewing with their mouth open

There is a person who makes very cool math videos who was on a video chat a couple days ago; I tuned in out of curiosity and she casually mentions she is going to eat her dinner during the chat and there she is captured on youtube eternity, however long that is, chewing with her mouth open and talking with food in her mouth. Oh man.
posted by bukvich at 2:17 PM on July 5, 2013


Bottom right part of plate, knife nested in fork tinges or not.

Oooh, what's this? In England you would signify you have finished by placing both your utensils at six o'clock on your plate, parallel, sharps ends inwards. ("Not finished yet" = fork at eight, knife at four). Which way do you align the utensils at the bottom-right in the USA?
posted by alasdair at 2:20 PM on July 5, 2013


Which way do you align the utensils at the bottom-right in the USA?

I (American) learned it was fork and knife together, business ends pointed toward the center, handles pointing roughly southeast.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:25 PM on July 5, 2013


I've caught him trying to eat cereal with his hands.

Wait, you mean cereal in milk?

Pffft. That's ridiculous. Tell him to just stick his face in the bowl and inhale.
posted by soundguy99 at 2:26 PM on July 5, 2013


You are making the mistake of assuming forkbutt up = inverted. Forkbutt up is the proper way. The other way (forkbelly up?) is inverted.

Gilligan's Island dealt with this, too:

You nincompooper! Is upside down!
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:26 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was around ten years old, we were waiting in line in a restaurant in Yosemite. I noticed this guy at the counter with fork in left and knife in right. I watched him and thought, "what an intelligent way to eat." I've been eating that way since. Thank you mysterious European who ever you might have been.

My experience, but with a friend who lived in Europe for awhile during college. I noticed at first just that her composure looked slightly different while she ate-- elegant, but with a tinge of barbarity, the acknowledgement that she was eating and savoring rather than cutting and balancing and dabbing and dithering. It was European-style! She noticed me watching her and said she switched in Europe and I was still a teenager so that was enough justification for me to eat the new classy Continental way that allowed me to actually enjoy my food, rather than fussing about how to lay my fork or what to do if I had shaky hands, &c. This was literally one of the great changes in my life, probably a top 5 freakin' lifehack to this day.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:44 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like, I'm pretty sure I was more comfortable as a little rural Midwestern girl eating sticky rice with chopsticks than using a knife and fork, until I discovered this great relief onto my soul.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:46 PM on July 5, 2013


Which way do you align the utensils at the bottom-right in the USA?

My WASPy, "manners are important" elders taught me this:

fork and knife together, fork to left of knife.
fork tines down, at roughly the center of plate.
knife cutting edge touching fork tines, not under them, and certainly not intertwined.
fork and knife handles together, at roughly 5 o'clock.

Napkin neither neatly folded nor bunched, just kind of flipped together, to the left side of your plate.

And yes, I do it, almost unconsciously, wherever I eat... even the waffle house. I don't necessarily expect others to do it, but I am a little surprised that seemingly a lot of people have never heard of this.
posted by toxic at 2:57 PM on July 5, 2013


...if you're the Duke of Norfolk then how you eat is how it should be done, if that's cramming it handsful at a time into your maw from the belly of a prostitute.

I'm looking at Arundel castle right now out of my bedroom window. I could probably yell loudly and ask him if you like.
posted by generichuman at 3:07 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


fork and knife together, fork to left of knife.
fork tines down, at roughly the center of plate.
knife cutting edge touching fork tines, not under them, and certainly not intertwined.
fork and knife handles together, at roughly 5 o'clock.


This is absolutely correct in old WASP circles. The key signifiers are fork placed tines down, knife, blade in, placed to the right. Four o'clock to five o'clock.
posted by vers at 3:08 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: apply directly to the mouth.
posted by Reversible Diamond-Encrusted Ermine Codpiece at 4:42 PM on July 5, 2013


oh my god I am so glad that the people I choose to spend my time with do not care about this kind of bullshit
posted by threeants at 4:49 PM on July 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Dear God, do not put your knife in your fork tines. What are you?
posted by unSane at 4:49 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


oh my god I am so glad that the people I choose to spend my time with do not care about this kind of bullshit

Note well, and note that's not in Latin: We may know and still not care.
posted by vers at 5:02 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


My German teacher told a story about coming to America for the first time and seeing another woman carefully cut up her food, place the knife down, and then transfer the fork to eat. Se went over to this woman's table to ask if she needed any assistance, because obviously the poor woman was disabled or otherwise why would she eat like that?

I have eaten in the Continental style since it was explained to me shortly before we moved to Germany when I was a kid. My favorite eating idiosyncracity over there is pizza, comes in a "personal" size, unsliced, intended to be eaten with a knife and fork.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:11 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Auntie gives a charming fork and spoon lesson for you all. [SLYT].
"It works very efficiently. Push and lift. See? Push and lift. Efficiency at its best!"
Wait for the encouraging big finish.
posted by Gotanda at 5:21 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The place setting gives a big clue as to how it's all to be done. Fork on the left, knife on the right, hey-o!

Reading this thread has been almost as... enlightening?... as the sit/stand bum wiping discussion.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:29 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I continue to be amazed at how people who should know better will still make value judgments about foreign customs. Different cultures have different table manners. One is not "civilized" while the other is "barbaric". Sheesh.

I mean, seriously: every time something like this comes up people offer arguments for why their custom is the right way to do it and alternatives are wrong and boorish. What's right is what's local. When in Rome and all that.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I have a question for the Europeans: does the etiquette prescribe fork-holding, regardless of personal handedness? That is, is everyone expected to hold their fork with their right hand?

Also, my own experience, for what it's worth, is that of the left-handers, even though I'm not left-handed. I hold my fork in my left hand and a knife in my right. I don't retain the knife in my right hand or otherwise use it in conjunction with my fork except when cutting, however. I cut and then set it down. I'm right-handed in the sense that I write with my right hand and I will naturally prefer my right hand for any new task requiring dexterity (ha!) and so forth. But I use my left-hand for all the very most basic tasks that I learned first: eating, intimate hygiene, brushing my teeth and hair. It's weird.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:30 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Where the hell dud I pick up the tinge thing? Possibly i just like stacking things.
posted by The Whelk at 5:45 PM on July 5, 2013


I'm just surprised nobody has mentioned the astonishing habit some people have of disregarding the knife altogether and pushing food onto the fork with one's finger. Maybe this is just a thing in lower-class or poorly-educated families -- it was in mine.

There's almost a reverse snobbery -- knives are considered highfalutin' and are not used unless there's steak or chops in which case you are afforded a steak knife. Otherwise, you are given one utensil and one utensil only, whether that be a fork or spoon. You are expected to cut your food with the edge of your fork, push it around awkwardly on your plate, and if the food needs assistance getting to your fork, well, that's what your other hand is for -- you sort of discreetly use your fingertip to help the last of the peas or whatever get onto your fork (gross, I know).

I didn't acquire the habit of using a knife until I was an adult. My husband, who comes from a very-slightly-higher class echelon than mine, also uses one utensil only, but instead of his hand pushing the food onto the fork he will use a piece of bread. I find the bread thing dainty and adorable and the height of manners but then, I was raised by people who were so ignorant of "correct" class signifiers that they rejected said signifiers to the point of aggression.
posted by spacewaitress at 5:47 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I recall having a similar crazy argument on Metafilter years ago, regarding whether to wash dishes in a filled sink, or under running water. I still don't understand what the running water people thought they were on to.

I wash dishes with running water for the same reason I take showers instead of baths, because otherwise you're trying to get clean with dirty water.

(Baths can be fun for recreational non-clean getting reasons, but my dishes don't need recreation.)
posted by kmz at 6:00 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm just surprised nobody has mentioned the astonishing habit some people have of disregarding the knife altogether and pushing food onto the fork with one's finger.

Sure, why not, when I'm eating at home? I also lick my fingers, too!

It only seems gross because our culture uses utensils. There are many cultures were it's expected to eat with your fingers in the first place.
posted by muddgirl at 6:04 PM on July 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was raised by people who were so ignorant of "correct" class signifiers that they rejected said signifiers to the point of aggression.

Sounds like they were aware of them and that is why they rejected them. Or am I missing something?
posted by jeather at 6:36 PM on July 5, 2013


Personally, and this is probably my lower-class roots showing... it seems as ridiculous to push food onto the back (and by that I mean the convex side) of the fork as it is to use fingers as a dining aid. A fork is shaped like a scoop!
posted by muddgirl at 7:31 PM on July 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Personally, and this is probably my lower-class roots showing... it seems as ridiculous to push food onto the back (and by that I mean the convex side) of the fork as it is to use fingers as a dining aid. A fork is shaped like a scoop!"

Yeah, that seems weird to me. But it doesn't have to make sense, just like switching hands for cutting doesn't have to make sense. (I'm suddenly thinking about Marvin Harris's popular books, which I think was an over-correction. That is, while it's extremely helpful to learn that, contrary to common prejudices, weird seeming foreign customs actually often have very reasonable and practical origins, it's also the case that many things are just essentially random.)

Oh, I wanted to echo adamrice's recommendation of Petroski's Evolution of Useful Things, which was really good and very interesting. Petrosky deals pretty extensively with the evolution of cutlery. You really don't have to go back very far, basically the end of the seventeenth century, before there was nothing but knives. People ate with a knife and nothing else. Early forks were two-tined and used mostly just for pinning the food while cutting. As adamrice describes, early America corresponds to this period of the adoption of the fork, which, all else being equal, can account for divergent custom between Europe and North America.

Someone should send up the Miko-signal — I bet she'd have a lot of interesting things to share on this topic.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:55 PM on July 5, 2013


I agree with someone. Knife right, fork left, no switching.

And the fork is a fancy skewer, not a shovel. And a generous host would not serve peas in a manner that required the guests to act uncivilized. Put them in the soup.

But then again, sometimes I can be seen to cut more than one piece of meat at a time, so my level of couth is suspect.

I recall having a similar crazy argument on Metafilter years ago, regarding whether to wash dishes in a filled sink, or under running water. I still don't understand what the running water people thought they were on to.

I wash dishes with running water for the same reason I take showers instead of baths, because otherwise you're trying to get clean with dirty water.


You wash with soapy water, and rinse with running water. Washing under running water is wasteful. If the soapy water becomes too dirty, you change it.
posted by gjc at 8:03 PM on July 5, 2013


This thread has made me realize that I haven't really bothered to use a knife as an eating tool in over 20 years. I hadn't actually realized that.

(Vegetarian. Nothing I eat really needs sawing at.)
posted by kyrademon at 8:21 PM on July 5, 2013


You don't have to cut your vegetables? Many vegetables are larger than bitesize.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:29 PM on July 5, 2013


Wow I wish I could've shown this article to my father many years ago, I might have avoided getting beaten at the table for eating the wrong way. I of course had no clue what I was doing wrong; I was subconsciously assimilating my new country's eating habits.
posted by Joe Chip at 8:32 PM on July 5, 2013


And the fork is a fancy skewer, not a shovel.

One doesn't generally push food onto either side of a skewer, either.
posted by muddgirl at 8:35 PM on July 5, 2013


And the fork is a fancy skewer, not a shovel.

Good luck with the mashed potatoes.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:50 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


You mean poverty tubers?
posted by The Whelk at 9:14 PM on July 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


I remember hearing a long time ago that the reason for the switch is because of a very influential arbiter of etiquette here in the US who said the reason you switch is because you must hide your left hand below the table before you bring the food to your mouth with the right hand. Why? It's impolite to have both hands visible when putting things in your mouth.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:37 PM on July 5, 2013


This is weird. I admit that I couldn't even finish the article because, sheesh, so long as you're not making a mess I don't care what utensils you're using. Though I grew up in the USA, I don't do this switching thing because 1) I don't eat steak, any meat I eat will have been chopped by a chef's knife or something already and 2) I decided over a decade ago that I do not like forks. I'm a bowl and spoon person, and those two things are the main things I ate from throughout college. A few bowls, a few forks, and a load of spoons from home which came from a variety of households of our family and that of our family friends. So yeah, I shovel and won't hesitate to take the bowl to my mouth to get every grain of rice.

I love this thread though, so delightful! Now it's something that I can look for to guess about someone's origins. (I am sorry that I am creepy.)
posted by one teak forest at 9:56 PM on July 5, 2013


Anyone eating peas with a fork, or abstaining from peas, or squashing peas, is doing it wrong. Peas are spoon-food.
posted by kengraham at 11:32 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I use my left-hand for all the very most basic tasks that I learned first: eating, intimate hygiene, brushing my teeth and hair. It's weird.

I'm ex-left-handed and have the same distribution of handedness-habits. Are you simply actually left-handed, or somewhat ambidextrous, and were encouraged to switch at some early age?
posted by kengraham at 11:50 PM on July 5, 2013


"I'm ex-left-handed and have the same distribution of handedness-habits. Are you simply actually left-handed, or somewhat ambidextrous, and were encouraged to switch at some early age?"

No one, including me, recalls me being encouraged to switch. And I really do prefer my right hand, generally. However, I'm relatively proficient with my left. The only thing anyone recalls, vaguely, is that when I was in second grade I'd spend a half-hour before school doing exercises such as walking a balance beam because one side of my brain wasn't dominant, like that was a problem. This was 1970, so god only knows. None of it makes any sense to me and I'm very irked that my mom doesn't remember anything about it either. I actually asked her about it again a few days ago. What's the deal with my handedness and that stuff in second grade? Who knows. Sigh.

But your question challenges me a little bit. It makes me wonder if I had been left-handed. The only problem with that theory is that a) I have pretty clear memories dating back to when I was about three and it's hard to believe that I wouldn't remember being "encouraged" to switch to my right hand; and b) three of my dad's siblings are left-handed and so there wasn't any bias against left-handedness in my family. I've never had any sense that I'm left-handed except that I do these basic tasks with my left hand.

How did you become ex-left-handed? You were forced to switch?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:16 AM on July 6, 2013


Pah, Europe... America... here in rural Africa, the proper traditional way to eat is with your hands and the utensil is built into the food. Much less drama.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:22 AM on July 6, 2013


Reading this thread has been almost as... enlightening?... as the sit/stand bum wiping discussion.

WHAT
posted by ominous_paws at 12:43 AM on July 6, 2013




When eating at "nice" places, I make an elaborate ritual of
examining victuals and utensils with an ultraviolet lamp, and
then taking out my personal sterling silver cleaver and spork set.

A hearty "Save room for the Gummy Bears!" to my tablemates,
and Bobs Your Uncle, whatever that means. Handage is never really
brought up as an issue.
posted by Chitownfats at 5:12 AM on July 6, 2013


I am a lefty. I was originally taught the cut and switch but sort of naturally adopted the continental method although for me fork in right knife in left means the knife stays in my dominant hand. I will sometimes switch the fork if I exhaust everything that needs cutting so I can lean over a bit and gesticulate with my offhand (although I never realized I did this until just now).

I was never taught the silverware placement signals for finished/not finished, I read them in a book of miscellaneous life tips when I was 12 or so. And have since been generally disappointed that most waitstaff and almost all of the bussers in the US have no clue why you're doing that weird thing with your silverware and probably think you have OCD.

And my late grandmother was probably born a lefty and retrained. She did certain similarly basic tasks with her left hand, had bad handwriting with her right and had awful trouble with the cardinal directions.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:54 AM on July 6, 2013


"I am a lefty. I was originally taught the cut and switch but sort of naturally adopted the continental method although for me fork in right knife in left means the knife stays in my dominant hand."

How come you have the knife and not the fork in your dominant hand? Is it because you were initially taught to switch? Or do you feel that you need more sure control of the knife?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:59 AM on July 6, 2013


Interesting. I'm not sure. Perhaps both. The idea of holding the knife in my right hand seems clumsy to me now as I consider it. I am rather mal a droit. hahahaaaaah.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:05 AM on July 6, 2013



How did you become ex-left-handed? You were forced to switch?


Not forced, exactly. When I started school, a probably-well-meaning-also-maybe-crazy teacher just said "We write with our right hands.". This was in the early 90s; my only hypothesis is that the teacher's advanced age had something to do with it. Not having really written before, I guess there were no habits to break. Most manual tasks I learned after writing, I do right-handed, and those I learned before, I use my left, is I think the rough breakdown. My handwriting is really terrible, though; I started teaching in the past year and it's problematic, so I'm trying to revert to the left when I remember to do it, but writing with my right hand is deeply ingrained.
posted by kengraham at 9:18 AM on July 6, 2013


> "You don't have to cut your vegetables? Many vegetables are larger than bitesize."

Yeah, but in the vast majority of cases those end up getting pre-chopped in the preparation/cooking phase. On a daily basis, my most common meals are things like pasta dishes, rice dishes, stir-fries, curries, soups, stews, salads, sandwiches ... nothing that really requires a knife by the time it's on the plate. With no big slabs of meat, and all the vegetables cut up before serving, a knife doesn't come up a lot. I mostly use them to spread stuff onto bread.

The only thing I can think of offhand that they're really useful for cutting at the plate, for my habits, is a baked potato, which requires like, one cut and I don't make them very often anyway.
posted by kyrademon at 9:41 AM on July 6, 2013


wait, omelets and quiches, totally have to use a knife for those.
posted by The Whelk at 9:53 AM on July 6, 2013


Well, I'm vegan, actually, so ... those don't really come up either.
posted by kyrademon at 9:58 AM on July 6, 2013


Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, p162-163

"Dear Miss Manners:

Is one style of eating, European or American, considered proper in our western culture? My father thought eating European style was wrong, whereas my wife thinks that American style eating is fine at the local cafeteria, but if we are at a highfalutin joint we should be eating European style. I try to be open minded, seeing advantages in both styles. I even try using chopsticks when eating Chinese food.

Your answer to this question is of utmost importance. My anniversary is coming up and I do not want to be an embarrassment to my wife when I spring for an expensive dinner.

Gentle Reader:

It sounds as if being American, or being seen with an American, embarrasses your wife, in which case nothing Miss Manners can say will help. Nevertheless, she will try by serving a small helping of civics:

The American style of using the fork in the right hand, which requires parking the knife after cutting, and then transferring the fork from the left hand, used to be the European style. It has retained its basic form, dating from the time it was imported, while the Europeans sped ahead and developed the method of keeping the fork in the left hand, so as to get their food down faster.

Meanwhile, America exported the notion that the class system is wrong. It also let the world know that it is a mistake to think that America's comparative youth as a country and its devotion to egalitarianism mean that Americans are bumpkins who may be insulted with impunity. Yet there are many, not only abroad but in America, your wife among them, who do not seem to have mastered this lesson.

The answer is that it is proper for you and your father to eat American style if you are Americans, and for her to eat European style if she is a European. Whatever her nationality, however, it is rude to assume that Americans are less presentable than Europeans"

Star-Spangled Manners: In Which Miss Manners Defends American Etiquette, p46

"Unaware of the history of American etiquette (or of any etiquette, or of the fact that there is such a thing as the history of etiquette), many Americans take the America-bashers' word for it that foreigners in general and the ENglish and French in particular observe a permanent standard that we fail to meet. Some laboriously teach themselves to eat in the new, cruder, European style with the thought that being European, it must be older and more sophisticated than our own method."

See also: Miss Manners in the Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1992
posted by Salamandrous at 10:24 AM on July 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Some laboriously teach themselves to eat in the new, cruder, European style with the thought that being European, it must be older and more sophisticated than our own method.

While those who know the American style to be the older of the two, also mistaking older for better (as if the mere concept of improvement is beyond them) and knowledge of arcane trivia with ultimate superiority, continue to eat stupidly.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2013


wait, omelets and quiches, totally have to use a knife for those.

You can't just cut them with the edge of your fork? Or is that totally barbaric?
posted by octothorpe at 10:39 AM on July 6, 2013


I've been waiting since this thread started to see how I actually use a knife and fork but so far no meal has needed a knife.
posted by octothorpe at 10:41 AM on July 6, 2013


You can't just cut them with the edge of your fork? Or is that totally barbaric?

Yes of course obviously.
posted by The Whelk at 10:42 AM on July 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


At Saturday brunch I noticed for the first time that my wife eats continental style, bless her. Also that all the other people eating with the cut-and-switch method look so, so weird now. But of course, as someone who was raised right, I made no mention of it.
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:57 AM on July 6, 2013


Right-handed/American/fork left. I didn't even realize there was another method until I came across it in a book when I was a teenager. Growing up, my parents--2nd gen mother, 18th c on father's side--were from the minimalist "don't talk with your mouth full/finish everything on your plate" school.

Now I'm eating mostly South-east Asian cuisine and my fork is still in my left hand. The large spoon in my right is scooping up all the rice and veg. The real test is scraping chicken meat off the bone with the edge of the spoon.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:45 AM on July 6, 2013


Well! Now that this is settled, how about those people who do/don't wear shoes inside other people's houses? History's greatest monsters!
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:50 PM on July 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


I switched decades ago, as a young (Australian) teenager. Having to swap back and forth is just crazy.

My conservative traditionalist grandmother was not pleased, and was very concerned that I was "turning left handed" (maybe that was a euphemism?). But I ignored her and just got on with my open defiance of The Natural Order Of Things.

Never regretted it.
posted by Pouteria at 6:07 PM on July 6, 2013


Huh. I just had one of those moments when I realized how long I've lived in a different country-slash-culture, because I can't remember the last time I had a knife in front of me as an item of cutlery (when not visiting my mom back in Canada, anyway).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:38 PM on July 7, 2013


Once when I was a kid, I was eating something with my extended family. Whatever it was didn't really require so much cutting as just holding the food with the knife so the fork could tear it off, because it was tender. So I was being lazy and using the knife with my left hand, and of course this is the one time my grandma pays attention and asks my dad if I'm left-handed. Would it matter if I was? I don't know.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:34 AM on July 8, 2013


We had steak last night, so I can finally report that my natural style is knife left, fork right (dominant), food goes in mouth with right, no swapping. I'm sure that in years to come this will be accepted as the one true way.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:23 AM on July 8, 2013


So I was eating a piece of chicken yesterday and realized that I was doing the fork switching thing (although backwards since I'm a lefty) but even though I felt self-conscious about it because of this thread, I couldn't figure out how to do the euro no switch thing. Maybe there's a YouTube video that I could watch.
posted by octothorpe at 7:24 AM on July 8, 2013


Youtube video of how to eat with a knife and fork Continental-style.

Notice the tines of the fork always point down.
posted by vacapinta at 7:49 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Be aware that in England it also indicates class status (as does EVERYTHING YOU DO EVER).

If the first advantage of dyspraxia is that nobody can ever try that handwriting analysis on you, the second is that nobody can determine who and where you're from by the way you hold your cutlery, as the way you hold your cutlery is whichever way prevents you from spilling this particular food all over the table.

Until recently I had to ask for a fork and spoon at Wagamama's and the like, and I used to feel pretty stupid for it, until I realised I'd feel even stupider if I'd covered the table with a fine veneer of rice and beansprout. However, I eat very quickly (a side-effect of being clumsy with your food and wanting to get dining in front of peers/critical relatives over ASAP) and trying to do it with chopsticks slows things down. I don't use a knife that often at home, if only because I eat a lot of stir-frys and rice/pasta dishes, and when I was growing up the table for those was set with a fork and spoon. (My SO keeps baffling me by handing me a knife and fork when he's cooked, say, chilli with rice.)
posted by mippy at 8:29 AM on July 8, 2013


Though maybe that's unfair of me - more than once he's come in to me stirring something in the pan with a large quantity of kitchen roll wrapped round my other hand, because I have a habit of catching my fingers when chopping. I once cut myself on a bagel ffs.
posted by mippy at 8:32 AM on July 8, 2013


Tried again with leftover chicken at lunch and I really don't think that I'm going to be able to handle a knife with my non-dominant hand. My brain is too old to be rewired that way.
posted by octothorpe at 11:18 AM on July 8, 2013


You people must be eating some really low-quality, tough meat if you need to use your dominant hand to cut through it.

American/right-handed/fork in right hand/knife in left. I do cut my meals up and put down my knife before starting to eat when eating alone, but that's only so my left hand is free to hold my phone/tablet/TV remote while I eat with my dominant hand.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 2:13 PM on July 8, 2013


I have sleepily read the entire thread and found no explicit mention of the fact that European style has the knife in the right hand, because (I've been told) you want the more dangerous implement in the hand you have most fine-motor control in. Tough meat might be a factor, I grant you. Table knives also aren't sharp, but you're exerting more force on them than you do on the fork. Anyway, the point is not that it's ultimately optimised and rational - it's that it's traditional here. And still a lot more sensible than cut-and-switch, come on.

I am a backwards eater - fork right, knife left - and sometimes thwarted by knives ground on only one side. I was raised lower-middle class on mostly fork food.
posted by lokta at 5:45 PM on July 9, 2013


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