Table Manners


image: pinterest.com

image: pinterest.com

How do you eat a salad? How do you cut your steak?

In Holland, I learned to eat with knife and fork, the European way. Holding your knife in your right hand, in a certain way, and your fork in your left hand, in a certain way. The cutting or folding of leaves happens just so and you keep your knife an fork in your hands the whole time you’re eating. Not just with salads, anything that isn’t finger food.

And of course you don’t lean your elbows on the table; the napkin goes on the right, the knife goes on the right, the fork on the left, the dessert spoon above the plate, facing left; if there are several forks or spoons, you use them from the outside in.

While I worked at the police training school, the head of the kitchen was a former chef for the navy. He told me all the officers had to be able to eat everything correctly with knife and fork, in case the queen ever came on board and they had to dine with her.

He taught me how to eat fruit without ever touching it with my fingers. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I can peel and eat an orange with knife and fork. Apples and bananas, too. This was useful information, because I was big on table etiquette.

Then I came to the States. Where one of my first meals was a humongous hamburger that was impossible to eat without it falling apart at the first attempt to even pick it up. So I asked for a fork and knife. And when I had those (it took them a while to find some at this burger joint), I realized it was impossible to cut anything because my burger resided in a red plastic basket. All openings and uneven bits, covered only with a piece of wax paper. I could choose between getting my hands covered in dressing and pieces of onion and tomato and dealing with food dropping all over the place, or stick to the fries. Have I mentioned that I was in a very bad mood for the first decade or so?

So how did I adapt? Well, I realized soon enough that burgers were not worth it anyway. But I still have to ask for a knife here and there, for example when I order a salad. I still eat with knife and fork the way I always have. My American husband often eats like I do, but most Americans, when they have to use a knife and fork, will hold the fork upright in a fist like it’s the first time they’ve every picked up such a utensil, then cut a piece, put down their knife, take their fork in their right hand and bring the piece of food to their mouth. For a country so obsessed with fast food, you’d think they would be more efficient with their eating of it.

When my son was starting to eat with knife and fork, I insisted he do it “properly”, meaning the European way. He finally got it, but if he has any childhood trauma later, it will be about this. My daughter learned and she can do it, but she usually ends up holding her fork upright in a fist and she kind of tears the food off instead of cutting it. By now I don’t care anymore.

Wait, what? Me not caring anymore? Yes, you read that right. My kids will probably live their lives in America, where they won’t stand out, and if they ever do live in Europe, hopefully their muscle memory will kick in after having been teased a few times. If not, it’s still not my problem. Anyway, even if they ever had to have dinner with the Dutch king, knowing that he picks his nose in public makes not holding one’s fork correctly seem irrelevant.

Not only that, but I now find myself often eating with my right elbow on the table. It’s just relaxing, somehow. Who knows, in another twenty years, maybe I’ll also be holding my fork like a Neanderthal when cutting meat and taking forever pushing around the last bits of salad with only my fork.

Yep, I’m getting less snobby being more picky about my battles these days.

9 responses to “Table Manners

  1. Je bent aan het afzakken! Foei toch! (Tsk tsk, you are slipping down! 😉

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  2. I was brought up similarly and the ‘correct’ use of knife and fork was very important (and soup eating – always tip the bowl away from you, never towards). I didn’t learn how to eat an orange with a knife and fork though – that must be very tricky.

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  3. My Scottish mother taught me the “proper” way (and I’ve been out to dinner with foreign clients in the US who commented on it), but for daily life I prefer a mix of methods. I don’t hold my knife constantly or use it for everything, as I find it tedious, and my elbows occasionally end up on the table. But I do hold both of my utensils correctly when I do use them. The fist method makes me twitchy. 🙂

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  4. Ha! I once saw a Dutch woman (not you!) eat a hamburger with a knife and fork and was astounded. I have taken to the European knife and fork method for many foods ( like you mentioned, it’s actually easier than the American way) but hold fast to the personal rule that sandwiches and pizza are not knife and fork foods. Also cakes and pancakes can simply be cut with the side edge of a fork because the American in me thinks it looks pretentious to involve a knife with such soft foods.

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    • Barbara Backer-Gray

      It may have been me. On the rare occasion that I do eat a burger, I do it with knife and fork.also because I usually don’t eat the top half of the bun.I get fat enough eating tasty stuff. I also eat pancakes with knife and fork.sure, you can cut them with a fork, but it still takes longer.

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  5. I had never noticed that Americans don’t use their knives until I lived in Belgium, and it was months before they informed me that not using the thing was rude. I miss living overseas.

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