Forking it Over: Is “American Style” of Cutting Uncouth?

Written By Scott Joseph On April 25, 2016

 American fork

Ask Scott: “As you know, the American style of eating anything that requires cutting is to hold the fork in the left hand to secure the food while holding the knife in the right hand to cut it, then putting the knife down and switching the fork to the right hand to eat. Europeans eat with fork in the left hand and don’t switch the knife. I notice that all “foodies” on TV now eat European style. They must have made a conscious decision to change as they probably ate American style all their life, unless their parents did not grow up in America. So my question is: Is it considered more cultured to eat European style, and do Europeans consider the American style of eating crude or uncultured?

Gentle Diner: It’s easier to answer the second part of your question first. Yes, Europeans consider the practice of switching the fork to the right hand after cutting to be crude. But it’s just one item in a long list, so that alone isn’t going to change things.

But is the European style more cultured? That’s more difficult to say. Personally, I do not eat my food by using what Emily Post called the “zig-zag method,” but I did indeed make a conscious effort to change. I was a zig-zagger until I was a junior in high school and a friend, an exchange student from South Africa, made a remark about the way I was eating. I wanted to impress her, so I switched, which is to say I stopped switching. (By the way, what we are referring to here as the European style is incorporated throughout most of the rest of the world in most cultures that don’t use chopsticks or their hands to eat.)

Now, I find it more efficient, and I would have great difficulty going back to the old way. If nothing else, not taking the time to put the knife down, move the fork to my right hand, eat a piece of food, then switch the fork back to my left hand, pick up the knife and repeat allows me to shovel more food into my mouth faster. It took a little practice to get used to it, but with good hand-eye coordination I have avoided poking myself in the eye with a piece of steak. For the most part.

The fact that you’re seeing more “foodies” on television eating without moving the fork is likely due to global influence. And you’ll probably be noticing it more, too.

Several years ago, my high-school aged niece, who was born and raised in the same Midwestern town I was, visited with a friend. I took them to dinner at a nice French restaurant and noticed, with some avuncular pride, I must admit, that they did not zig-zag, either.

I asked my niece’s father, my brother Bob, if it was something she learned at home. No, he assured me, he still uses American style to eat his steaks. He did recall that as a child Morgan had taken an etiquette class at a French restaurant, so he thinks that’s where she got the notion to change her dining method.

I resisted the urge there to write that Morgan made the choice to start dining “correctly.” It would be wrong to make that judgement. But I do find the way that I used to eat rather clunky. Still, I’ll admit that after I have sliced the last piece of meat, I put the knife down and switch the fork to my dominant right hand to finish the final bite.

Call it American pride.

What about you? Do you zig-zag? Have you tried to change? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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