Wednesday, September 07, 2005

An observation...

This was something I noticed quite some time ago. I bring it up every now and again, much to the annoyance of J, but it really does annoy the hell out of me. It may be a trivial, silly thing, but it honestly drives me nuts. I saw it happen in a diner yesterday while I was ordering take-out. I just had to tell J who was waiting outside, and he rolled his eyes with an "Oh no, not this again" sigh.

We were on our way to catch a train to the US Open. It was a glorious fall...ahem, I mean The sun was shining and we had tickets to the day session at Flushing Meadows where the tennis was being held. We stopped by a diner to pick up some coffee and brekkie to munch on the train ride there, and that's when I saw it.

A guy sitting at the counter enjoying his breakfast of French toast.

And cutting it with his fork.

I noticed this phenomenon - people eating their salads, pastas, fish and even steak with a fork and nothing else - when I first came to America. Its like their left hand is taking a short holiday during the meal.

Eeek! I cannot tell you how much I hate seeing that. My table manners may not be the best in the world, but one of the first things my parents drilled into me when I was a child was that you should never eat with one hand.

You hold a knife and fork in each hand, cut off what you need, pop it in your mouth and chew. Basically you should have both hands on the table (elbows were a no no back then for me too, but nowadays I don't think anyone cares about that). If you want, you can rest the knife and fork on the plate while you're still eating. When finished, place the knife and fork side-by-side on the plate so the waitstaff know you've finished eating.


That was what I was taught in Australia. Maybe its different in America, because the eating with one hand thing is everywhere. Even when people have finished eating, I've noticed they just "chuck" their cutlery on their plates - splayed all over the place.

I've seen it in diners, cafes and even fancy restaurants - people cutting up roasted vegetables, filets of fish, a chicken breast - with their fork while their knife sits idly on the table.


Ok I exaggerate, but only slightly. I have seen people use their knives to cut steak. They use a knife and fork to cut the steak, they put the knife down and move the fork back to their right hand to eat. The left hand goes back on the lap for another break.

J and I will be out having a nice dinner, and I will spend half the evening watching how other people eat with their cutlery. Actually I find it both annoying and amusing, because it is such a strange thing to watch.

I'm probably being anal about this and I admit I may be generalising here, as I have seen the occasional American eat with both knife and fork.

Still, its just an observation.


At September 07, 2005 5:38 am, Anonymous Etchen said...

I completely agree! I also think that when people are eating and they begin to talk with their hands while holding their utensils-that it is unbelievably rude! There is no reason to begin gesturing with your fork or knife.

At September 09, 2005 1:50 pm, Blogger Alyce said...

I am an American, and was brought up to believe that unless it's actively in use, one hand should remain politely in your lap. It would be rude otherwise. Which explains the empty hand/cutting with the knife and then switching hands thing you mentioned.

Then I went to France to study and found that little children were taught that the little bone on the outside of the wrist was put there by God to show them where to rest it on the table when not in active use...rude to put a hand below the table.

We know how this started: Before that Italian Medici woman came to France to civilize them, there was much in the way of political intrigue. And the higher you were in rank the closer you were to the head of the table where the wine bottles were kept (Google "above the salt" for more interesting info) and you passed your glass up for refilling. There were, then plenty of chances for you to reach into your pocket or poison ring (or other hiding place) for a bit of something nasty to put into the goblet of an enemy. So they made a rule that no hands could be put below the table.

At the time of William the Conquerer (Guillaune le Conquerant if you're French) these traditions were carried on to the more or less uncivilized England. And from there it went to Australia, I am reasonably sure.

Why this didn't get to the US I can't explain but here's what the French tell me: Given the amorous inclinations of the French, if you had a hand below the table, it would be assumed it was resting on the knee of your table neighbor...but given the general less impressive quality of the food in the US, in order to distract onself, one resorts to the knee of the table neighbor....

At September 12, 2005 12:36 am, Blogger Chick Pea said...

Hi Etchen
Yes, that can be annoying too, though I guess people normally do that in the heat of the conversation so its understandable..sometimes! ;)

Alyce - thanks so much for your post. It makes sense now! We actually went out for dinner last night and I saw the one hand eating thing in action again...and I didn't make a comment on it once! J is relieved no doubt and thanks you too! :)

At September 15, 2005 9:42 pm, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said...

I have a friend who cuts her steak up into little pieces first and then puts her knife down and stabs at it with a fork. It drives me crazy! =)

However I suppose I'm guilty of eating with my fingers. If there's a bone on my plate, I *will* pick it up and gnaw at it! Ok, not at posh restaurant but definitely in foodcourts!

At October 29, 2005 10:55 pm, Anonymous psim said...

The way we are taught to eat is apparently "continental" style, and Americans have a whole other sense of what polite eating is. Basically, the person who cuts their food then puts down their knife and transfers their fork to that hand is doing what they believe to be "cultured." I know what you mean about the fork-as-knife-and-everything-else eating, which looks kind of like eating in a prison cafeteria to me. But it is some kind of adaption of the "right" way to eat as described above. I've had a number of Americans comment on the fact that I use both hands continuously.


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