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by adam mathes
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Confused Etiquette

Until the 1840’s everyone used the American style of handling dining utensils. Around 1852, a French etiquette book announced that if one wanted to eat in a high-class manner, one would not switch the fork to the other hand. Eventually this ‘continental style’ evolved and Europeans of all classes started using it. Americans made the ‘original’ style their style, and continue to use the American style today. Actually, both the American and Continental styles are appropriate with Continental style becoming the more contemporary way to eat. While some people combine both styles only one style should be used when dining. The style which helps one eat attractively and with ease is the most appropriate.

American Style: When cutting meat, the knife is in the right hand and the fork is in the left hand. After cutting, the knife is placed at the top of the plate and the fork is switched to the right hand (tines up).

Continental Style: When cutting meat, the knife is in the right hand and the fork is in the left hand. After cutting, the fork (tines down) and the knife remain in the same hands. Special note: American spies were often captured during World War II because of their use of the American style of eating.”

Gloria Peterson, Dining Customs

Everyone that I have observed has used the American style.

I do not, and I never have.

I keep my fork in my right hand, and my knife in the left, and do not switch them during the meal. That is, I use the Continental style, but with the pieces reversed. This would make sense if I was European and left-handed, but I am neither.

Nor do my parents eat this way; they think it is strange and in fact find it impossible to eat this way, being right-handed Americans.

I do not know why I eat like a left-handed European, but it has always felt like the most natural way to use a fork and knife.

I asked my parents if I was French and left-handed and nobody had bothered to tell me, but they assured me I was not.

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