European clients are sneering at my American colleagues’ table manners

I have a hectic schedule this week with preparing for a move, so some posts this week will be reprints from years ago (I’ll mark them when that’s the case), and we’ll have a few extra updates and “ask the readers” too. This one is from June 2014.

A reader writes:

I have a question which might be classified as an etiquette problem, but as it happened at work I thought you might have some insight on how to handle it. I work in an international business where dinners with our European clients are regular. As I am not a U.S. citizen, I have often been included in jokes from our client where they deride the dining practices of my U.S. colleagues. An example of a recent point of ridicule was the U.S. practice of eating from a fork in the right hand after having just cut the food with their fork in the left hand and how “uncivilized” they appeared in doing so.

Having lived in the U.S. now for some time, I am relatively immune these days to even noticing this sort of thing but I do remember when I first came to the U.S. also thinking that quite a few people had failed to learn basic table manners and cutlery proficiency, and judging them based on that perception.

I mentioned this to my team (containing both those who report to me and those who I report to) and suggested that they perhaps be more aware of how they were being perceived and change their eating habits. This was met with open hostility. Not only did they disagree that there was a need to alter their behavior, they thought it was the Europeans who were being intolerant and rude.

I think the obvious course here is for me to let it go, but at the same time I feel as if, especially when visiting in Europe, it is our team who is being culturally insensitive. These same colleagues have changed their eating and other behaviors to match our Asian counterparts on past projects. Is this something I should press or let it go? And how should I respond when the client makes another joke about it?

I’d let it go, at least for the meals that are happening in the U.S.

I think it was totally reasonable to point it out — once. But you did, it was met with jeering, and I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere by pushing it.

I suspect what you’re running into is twofold: first, a feeling (which might be uniquely American, for all I know) that table manners are guided by the norms of the country where the meal is taking place — so your colleagues probably figure that if they’re dining in the U.S., then U.S. table manners reign; and second, a lack of concern about utensil rules that many Americans perceive as being rooted in snootiness.

However, when you’re talking about meals that take place in Europe, it’s perfectly reasonable to say, “Hey, this is a cultural difference that we should be aware of, just like we do X, Y, and Z when we’re working with clients in Asia.” From there, it’s up to others whether to act on that knowledge or not, and you shouldn’t keep pushing it — except with your direct reports, where you actually do have jurisdiction on this stuff. With them, it’s your prerogative to say “this is part of having a polished presentation when we work with clients in other cultures, and we’re going to adapt to that, just like we do with other cultural differences.”

As for what to say to the clients who you hear sneering about this, I’d go with a mild “it’s actually not considered incorrect here; it’s a different etiquette rule.”

And for the record, the clients are being rude themselves, since it’s rude to sneer about other people’s manners — and even a bit unsophisticated, since the cultural difference on fork-switching is well-known and shouldn’t be so astonishing to them.

{ 660 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Rusty Shackelford

    Yes; your European clients are not only rude, but surprisingly ignorant.

    Does anyone really think it’s incumbent upon Americans to use their knife and fork European-style when eating in Europe? I’ve tried, I really have, and I just can’t do it gracefully.

    Reply
    1. CityMouse

      I mean really, it is no different than telling someone who grew up eating with chopsticks that it is rude and they should use a fork. There is nothing inherently rude about fork switching, it is just different. Those people are just being jerks and OP’s colleagues are right to view it as a ridiculous request.

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        My feelings on the correctness of chopsticks will forever be influenced by going to an elaborate Chinese wedding banquet and noticing that all the waiters–recent immigrants, living in Chinatown and working at a Chinese restaurant–were eating their staff meal with forks.

        Since then I eat with whatever’s on the table, but encourage anyone wrestling with chopsticks to just ask for a fork.

        Reply
        1. Emi.

          Chinese-born Chinese use forks and drink Coke whenever they feel like it; American-born Chinese make sure to use chopsticks and drink tea.

          Reply
        2. nnn

          Reminds me of my young, sheltered teenage self encountering both sushi and chopsticks for the first time, desperately trying to seem worldly and competent when I had no idea what to do,stealthily looking over to my Japanese classmate so I could emulate her . . . only to see her pick up a fork.

          Reply
          1. Julia

            How would you eat sushi with a fork??

            If you can’t eat chopsticks, for sushi it’s actually acceptable to eat by hand. But a fork? Where would you poke into the sushi without it all falling apart?

            Reply
    2. paul

      I’m going to let my hick flag fly here: Who the hell even notices what utensil is in which hand? Aren’t there a lot of other things in life that actually matter?

      Reply
      1. cheeky

        Lots of people do notice. I certainly notice when people really don’t hold their utensils correctly- like with their fists, for example.

        Reply
        1. FiveWheels

          I notice – though I somehow didn’t notice for years that a colleague ate with his fork in his right and and his knife in his left!

          It sends a message, namely that for whatever reason this person did not learn the “formal” way to use cutlery. That can be a good thing, a bad thing or totally neutral depending on who you’re with.

          Lots of etiquette is simply about signifying group membership.

          Reply
          1. Kinsley M.

            Well I use my knife in my left hand, but I’m also left handed. I’d never be able to cut like steak for example with my right hand. It seems rather rude to judge people for using their knife in their left hand when it may in fact just be their dominant hand.

            However, I do use my fork with my left hand after I’ve cut, not my right.

            Reply
            1. FiveWheels

              All the lefties I know eat in the normal European style with knife in right hand – presumably from a lifetime of training. I would have a lot of difficulty using a knife in my left hand, though – but if I’d been taught to my whole life, I think I probably could.

              I don’t think it’s rudeness as such. Most of the time most people will either not notice or not care. But some of the time, cutlery usage signals membership of a social group and using it in a way that’s not standard for that group is a sign that you aren’t part of it.

              This happens in both directions and doesn’t of itself equate to rudeness.

              Reply
              1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

                I’m left-handed and I never learned to fork-switch. I didn’t even realize this was a thing until I was in high school. So if knives are involved, I’m eating like a right-handed European; if not, my fork or spoon is still in my left hand and I’m probably not doing much with my right hand at all.

                I was never formally taught anything about this (my understanding was always that this is the sort of thing that only the fabulously wealthy are formally taught, though that might not be a fair characterization). I think I just intuited from the place setting that fork=left, knife=right and never questioned it…and, apparently, never watched people closely enough to notice. At this point, I think that if I tried to cut meat with the knife in my left hand, or do anything with the fork in my right, I’d be hilariously incompetent at it. If people think I’m European-influenced, maybe that’s not such a terrible thing.

                Reply
                1. Mabel

                  Not only fabulously wealthy people (from the U. S.) are taught to cut with the knife in the right hand and then switch the fork back to the right to eat. I assume this is reversed for left-handed people.

                2. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

                  Oh no, I meant being formally taught about table manners in general, rather than just picking it up from watching people like I (imperfectly) did. It’s like the TV show cliche of “oh no, I have been invited to a ~*Fancy Dinner*~ and I might not know which fork to use when!”

                3. nonegiven

                  I don’t think I could cut anything without cutting myself if I did it differently. I use my fork in my right and my knife in my left and I keep my fork in my right hand to eat with.
                  I also scoop some food into my fork and not on the back of it. If you don’t like the way I eat, don’t watch. There was some point in my childhood where I just stopped GAF about a lot of things.

        2. Your Weird Uncle

          My stepson does this and it drives me nuts. I really want to train it out of him, but his mother doesn’t seem so concerned (and he’s at her house most of the time, soooo……).

          Reply
          1. many bells down

            My stepson does too. And at 16 he still can’t cut with a knife properly. Not like … he’s holding it wrong or in the wrong hand or something, but he hacks at his food like a toddler. We’ve tried to teach him but he seems oblivious.

            Reply
            1. CAndy

              Cut the guy some slack…. I had to show my 35-year-old brother how to use a cheese grater properly this evening.

              Reply
          2. Keli

            I’m still trying to get my own teenage children to stop picking up a steak with their hands and gnawing on it, so you’re further ahead than we are. (They only do this at home, but still…ewww.)

            Reply
        3. Queen of the File

          I feel like it would be somewhat more noticeable if I was using my utensils correctly but constantly dropping or flinging food about because of it…

          Reply
        4. Yomi

          Not saying you do this at all, but your comment reminds me to remind other people that when you’re dining with somebody, you don’t necessarily know why they’re holding their utensils the way they are. The people I’ve known who hold utensils and writing implements in a way that’s “not normal” have often had mobility or grip impairments that aren’t readily evident except in those kinds of situations.

          Of course, I was raised middle class in the rural American south, so in my world, if you’re not dribbling sauce on your chin, then the only thing that matters is if you’re enjoying the food or not.

          And if you do accidentally get sauce on your chin, just you know, wipe it off.

          Reply
            1. JessaB

              I went through this so many times, that I suggested that Alison put in the commenting guide to not be eating or drinking whilst reading AAM. Because seriously my sinuses have had enough Pepsi and I think others have also.

              Reply
              1. Candi

                I:

                1) Look away from the screen.
                2) Eat/drink.
                3) Swallow.
                4) Look back.

                Anything else is risking destroying my laptop. :P

                Reply
      2. JD

        Well. Now I have to start noticing…

        I distinctly recall being in the 7th grade and being told I ate like a trucker and I’ve always held my fork between my ring and middle fingers ever since.

        Reply
        1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          I went on a vacation with a British friend who informed me that I ate “like a savage” when I was in my 20s. It was a cruise ship with a formal dining room and the first time in my life I’d eaten in such a formal setting at all. I promptly learned European table etiquette and have followed it ever since. Including pushing rice and peas onto the back of my fork.

          It’s silly and inefficient and I don’t think I have ever once been complimented on my dining etiquette, but at least I’ve not since been insulted for it.

          Reply
          1. Wendy Darling

            Yep, I switched to European fork style after my European SO’s family mocked me for eating like a five year old.

            I refuse to push non-sticky foods onto the back of my fork though. Mashed potatoes? Fine. Rice? lolno. (And I have no idea how anyone eats peas ever without a spoon, tbh.) Also I take great pleasure in the fact that I can chopsticks rings around any of them, because a friend taught me proper chopstick form when I was 10.

            Reply
              1. Forrest Rhodes

                I eat my peas with honey;
                I’ve done it all my life.
                It may seem kind of funny,
                But it keeps them on my knife.

                Reply
                1. Emma

                  My gran’s version of that;

                  I eat my peas with honey
                  I’ve done so all my life
                  It makes the peas taste funny
                  But it keeps them on the knife!

                  (I miss my gran. She liked the phrase “where there’s no fence there’s no ceiling” – a spoonerism of “where there’s no sense there’s no feeling” – and taught me the word “bitch” when I was 5. By calling me it. ❤)

              2. Wendy Darling

                No. And given that fact I have no idea how anyone effectively conveys peas to their mouth.

                I guess it’s lucky I don’t even care for peas because I cannot figure out how to eat them.

                Reply
                1. Yomi

                  The only way to effectively convey peas to your mouth is when they’re in something else, like a stew or a pot pie.

                  And even then, IMHO, the proper thing to do is to carefully pick them out and leave them in a pile on the side because peas are probably my least favorite “edible” item of all time.

                  (I wouldn’t pick the peas out at a formal dinner or a business meal, I’m not that much of a weirdo).

                2. Anon and alone

                  And even then, IMHO, the proper thing to do is to carefully pick them out and leave them in a pile on the side

                  I quite agree Yomi. I’m glad that I’m of an age now that if I don’t want to eat peas, I don’t have to. lol

              3. BenAdminGeek

                I do whenever possible. It’s a much more efficient pea-transferrance method.

                Also, the back of fork method seems very inefficient.

                Reply
                1. Trig

                  I am flabbergasted at eating anything of the back of my fork. HOW DOES IT STAY ON. WHY COULD THAT POSSIBLY BE ANY MORE POLITE?!

                  Thank heavens I don’t go about in polite society.

                2. Borne

                  I’ve noticed that the shape of the forks are different between North America and the rest of the world. The tines of the forks in North America seem long – long enough to reach your tonsils? Whereas the more ‘European’ style forks are broader between the handle and tines and the tines are shorter, i.e. not as long as the tines of the North American forks. Therefore seems more suitable for placing food at the back of the fork.

            1. Falling Diphthong

              We went to dim sum for the first time when my daughter was 12 months old, and she was as good with chopsticks as she was with a fork.

              It seems to be something like learning one keyboard layout, and the longer you use it the harder it is to direct the small muscles in your hands to do something else.

              Reply
            2. Elizabeth H.

              One of the most interesting things about this issue to me (I said this in the original thread too) is that both sides think that the other side is babyish, uncouth, barbarian-like. I feel like having the same perspective but completely opposite way around is actually really rare for etiquette disputes. Usually when there’s an etiquette dispute it’s something like “This way is more appropriate, proper etc.” vs “That is overly formal, distant-seeming, stiff, unnecessary.”

              I’m American and I admit, I find the European silverware method totally uncouth. It reminds me of like a band of raiders grabbing the food with both hands in order to stuff it in their mouths as fast as possible. Also totally bizarre to use a knife with your non-dominant hand.

              Reply
              1. Kim

                But we don’t use our knife with our non-dominant hand, we use our fork with our non-dominant hand. Cut with right, eat with left, and cut as you go. I’ve had several American guests over for dinner, and most cut a lot of their food and then switch forks to eat all their cut food. Instead of, you know, cut-eat-cut-eat etc. Speaking for myself, it reminds me of meals for children or the elderly, who are unable to cut their own food and therefore have to have it cut for them.

                But I would never snub someone over it, because I was raised to keep my fork left and my knife right and my mouth shut if I saw ‘weird’ but harmless behaviour.

                Reply
                1. BananaPants

                  In the US, I was raised to cut-eat-cut-eat (with switching) so as not to risk shoveling food down my gullet faster than dining companions. I learned that it’s considered un-couth to pre-cut your plate of food, just like you shouldn’t butter your entire piece of bread or roll but rather butter each bite.

                  My mother was way too hung up on ettiquette.

                2. Elizabeth H.

                  Oh right maybe I knew that but blocked it out because it seems EVEN WEIRDER ;)
                  I can’t speak for all Americans but you’re definitely not supposed to cut “a lot” or even more than one bite at a time, that actually is not good table manners, you’re supposed to just cut one bite at a time then switch. It is evocative of cutting up children’s food for them in the US, too.

              2. Parcae

                Another American here. Growing up, my brother was scolded constantly for eating in the European method. Our parents were horrified at the thought that he might one day eat that way in front of a date or at a job interview! I was more obedient (and less ambidextrous) as a kid, but now as an adult, I’ll sometimes skip the utensil switching if I think no one’s watching. It’s so much faster!

                Reply
                1. INSEAD alum

                  I’m American. My parents spent a year in the UK when I was very young and was placed in a British “infants” (elementary) school at the age of 4. The “dinner ladies” commented about my lack of proper utensil use.

                  Ever since then, I’ve eaten in the European method.

                  I think OP’s colleagues are wrong to characterize these cultural differences as “civilized” versus “savage,” though. This is one case where they’re just…different.

            3. wb

              Is this why Brits mash their peas? Like, ‘well this is impossible, should we start using our utensils in a logical and efficient manner?’ “nah, lets just mash the peas” ‘oh, yes, that’s a much better idea.’

              Reply
              1. British pea expert

                I’ve never known anyone to mash their peas. Are you thinking of mushy peas? The texture of mushy peas is achieved not by mashing, but by soaking in bicarbonate of soda, and simmering for a long time.

                Reply
            4. Elizabeth West

              Youre supposed to smash the peas onto the fork a little bit. If you have mashed potatoes or something else slightly sticky, that will help them stay on. Or you can push them on the fork and then make a tiny pyramid at the end of the fork with another food and they will stay on (most of the time). I still find rice somewhat tricky, especially if it’s very dry. Sometimes I just give up and drop the knife and use the fork like a shovel (right-handed). I can do it using the pyramid trick if there is sauce.

              Reply
          2. EmKay

            Yeah, I think “f*ck you” would have been an appropriate response here. There’s pointing something out politely and discreetly, and there’s being an ass. Your friend was being an ass.

            Reply
          3. Chez Nico

            Mashing food onto cutlery is insulting the kitchen. If the chef wanted you to have mashed peas, they would have mashed them.

            Reply
            1. xyz

              That’s a bit silly. Can I cut my steak, or should I assume the chef would have cut it if she didnt want me to just tear bits off with my teeth? Personally, I spear the peas with the tines rather than mashing, but each to their own seems to be the message here.

              Reply
      3. CityMouse

        Which is funny because I am right handed ish (I can switch, I just don’t normally) but my mom and sister are strongly left handed and when I eat next to one of them I switch to eating left handed to avoid bumping elbows.

        Reply
        1. Right Handed Bride

          My left-handed husband and I switched sides at the sweetheart table at our wedding because I was worried that would be the dinner we’d bump elbows with me in a huge white gown!

          Reply
        2. FiveWheels

          I’m very strongly right handed, and if I’m eating with only a fork I’ll use my right hand. I don’t think I could successfully wield a knife in my left hand, but American style just seems odd to me.

          First time I noticed it was on TV and I thought the guy, a serial killer, was deliberately eating strangely to frighten his victim.

          First time I noticed it in real life I was with a very close American friend, in a steakhouse in London. I was slightly horrified as to what he saw going to do next and trying to work out if it would be more awkward to correct him or pretend I hadn’t noticed. It later turned out that he’d never seen European – style and was also desperately trying Not To Look!

          Reply
          1. Anoushka

            Ha ha! That’s fantastic that you thought it was a serial killer’s mind f***.

            I do the fork switch thing and it annoys the living daylights out of my UK SO. I think I’m going to start eating in a more menacing way just to see if he loses it completely.

            Reply
            1. FiveWheels

              Heh. Yeah the dude was eating a juicy steak very slowly while his victim watched. We’re watching the show and talking about how sick this guy is. He’s being so deliberate and slow and awkward BECAUSE HE’LL KILL HER SLOWLY TOO! Or perhaps he’s mocking her lower social class? He’s like HA HA I AM OLD MONEY AND YOU WORK FOR A LIVING, SEE HOW I EAT LIKE A PEASANT!

              To be honest I was kinda disappointed to discover there was no secret message.

              Reply
        1. sunny-dee

          Yep, I’m left-handed, so I eat “European” style, but I also have learned to eat with my elbows tucked in squarely at my sides so I don’t bump elbows. There are people I have known for years — some coworkers, some friends — who will all of a sudden notice I’m eating “backwards” after dozens of meals together.

          Anyone who is that obsessed with how someone holds a fork (barring something truly bizarre) has no problems in their life and may be a little bored.

          Reply
      4. kb

        I’m interested that 1) People notice because it isn’t something that’s on my radar at all 2) They notice and assume the other person is doing something wrong. I tend to assume most people know just as much, if not more, than I do, so if I noticed I would become concerned *I* am doing it wrong.

        Reply
      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I suspect some of the “noticing” in the U.S. may also correlate with class background and expectations of what “proper” table etiquette entails. But as CityMouse and others have noted, etiquette norms are very different by country (I would say also by region in the inter-country and intra-country sense), and I’d argue they differ by class background, also. But I think this is similar to code-switching: one form of etiquette isn’t inherently “wrong,” but it might not be appropriate for the specific social context (e.g., showing up in jeans to a black-tie event).

        That said, fork-switching has become nearly universally accepted by prevailing U.S. etiquette norms regardless of class background, etc., and European-style utensil use is also fine. So it makes no sense to make fun of people for eating in that manner when they’re in the U.S., particularly when they would not ridicule someone for eating “European-style.” And as Rusty and Alison note, sneering at or ridiculing people for their manners is pretty appalling behavior (and considered poor etiquette) in most of the world, including most European countries.

        Reply
        1. paul

          It just seems so much minutia to me. Like, using your knife in lieu of a fork at a business dinner? I can see that causing comment (whereas it’d be fine at a camp or a cookout). But which hand holds which utensil and how they’re oriented? That’s on par, to me, with caring about what knot someone tied their tie with at a formal event. Just so petty that I’d be more put off by the person caring than someone possibly having committed a minor faux pas.

          Reply
          1. Kyrielle

            Yep. I don’t care how someone is holding / handling their cutlery unless a) it’s my kids _and_ I’m working on etiquette with them (explicitly) at the time, b) it’s putting me (or my kids) at risk of being stabbed/injured, or c) it’s causing food to fly about.

            You want to keep the fork in the same hand? Great. You want to switch hands? Great. Fork left/knife right or vice versa? Great.

            Hey this fork makes a neat catapult? …um, _now_ I feel the need to step in and comment.

            Reply
          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I get that, but it’s not minutiae to people who notice—it’s on par with shaking hands using the wrong hand. Noticeable, slightly off, but not inherently “bad,” depending. And I think it’s valuable for people to know that a non-zero percent of the U.S. workforce might notice, particularly in certain white-collar professions, and that it could affect client relations. That said, I don’t think that means Americans should change their eating habits in the U.S.

            I notice the switching, but I think it’s because I was raised with European utensil etiquette, and my family was pretty strict about it. So as a kid, I noticed when people switched their forks because I had been trained to pay close attention that I didn’t switch my fork. I still sometimes notice how people eat, but I don’t say anything because (1) it’s insanely rude; and (2) there’s no need to police others or say anything when they’re eating in a perfectly reasonable/appropriate manner. It’s not like food is falling out of their mouth.

            Reply
            1. TootsNYC

              “it’s on par with shaking hands using the wrong hand.”

              There’s one crucial difference.

              Which hand I extend to shake with –involves you.– You have to interact directly with me.

              Which hand I use to take food from my plate to my mouth doesn’t involve you in the slightest.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                Sure it does; other people see you do it. Same as they see if you can’t spell, or if you wear your bikini out and about. It doesn’t mean anybody’s going to arrest you, but they absolutely get to judge you even if all they do is see it.

                Reply
              2. Karen D

                Agreed.

                And apparently I’m wrong in EVERY culture. I don’t fork-switch, but I have always eaten with the fork in my right hand and the knife in my left – tines down when I am cutting, tines up when using the fork as a scoop (rice, corn, etc.) I have been “corrected” before on the tines thing, but I just looked at the person, said, “that makes absolutely zero sense” and carried on eating as logic would dictate.

                Reply
                1. aebhel

                  I also do this, and am frankly baffled that anyone would care. If I’m not chewing with my mouth open or dumping food in my lap, why is this an issue at all?

                  (I realize that it’s a class thing, and complicated by the American relationship to class signaling being very different than the European one, but seriously, if people are offended by how I use a knife and fork, they need to find a hobby)

                2. TheBard

                  I do the exact same thing. I’m ambidextrous, and when I learned to use a knife, my right hand was using the fork, so I just started cutting with the left. It’s so much more efficient and I’ve never had anyone comment on it. It just seems like such a bizarre thing to care about.

                3. krysb

                  WHAT’S THE POINT OF CURVED TINES IF YOU DON’T USE THEM TO SCOOP. Seriously. I’m a lower-class (raised), rural American. None of this makes sense to me.

                4. Yomi

                  I honestly have no idea how I hold my silverware when I eat, and the first time I saw a place setting with more than three utensils (knife, spoon, and fork) was in college. Which might have also been the first time I saw a bread plate.

                  Thankfully, it being college, an older lady at my table quietly instructed us freshmen on the bare bones of what we were supposed to do, and all of that made sense enough to me that I’ve kept with it. But other than that, for the most part I only adopt new table manners and etiquette if they make sense or if it’s not really here or there if I do it or not. For example, not sticking your chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice. That’s a silly thing to do anyway, so it doesn’t bother me to just…not do that.

                  But if you want me to follow a big intricate dance just to signal that I “belong” in the setting, I’d rather just not belong.

                5. Y

                  WHAT’S THE POINT OF CURVED TINES IF YOU DON’T USE THEM TO SCOOP

                  Fork tines are curved so that when you put the food to your mouth, you don’t have to raise your elbow so far and jab it into the next person along.

                6. Y

                  (Which is also why scooping is rude: then, the tines go the opposite way, so you have to lift your elbow right up and jab the person next to you in the eye).

            2. Elizabeth H.

              Right, I notice, but I’m the kind of person who just notices stuff in general bc I am interested in the world and have always been in the habit of tending to observe other people, probably bc of being a little shy/quiet/reserved and just interested in watching people before jumping in. It doesn’t mean I CARE or judge because of it, I just notice.

              Reply
          3. FiveWheels

            Oh I absolutely know people who care what knot is used. On the most basic level, most men I know can’t easily tie a bow tie themselves, and wear very convincing fake ones.

            People with the real bow ties are saying “I am very comfortable at black tie events” and/or “I’m b insufferable snob”. People with fakes are saying “I’m uncomfortable at these events” and/or “I couldn’t care less about petty snobbery”.

            Reply
            1. Y

              most men I know can’t easily tie a bow tie themselves, and wear very convincing fake ones.

              It’s easy to tell fake ones: they are the ones that are tied perfectly tight and even.

              Reply
            2. Y

              (Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the secret to tying a real bow tie? Use a pencil to poke the final loop through.)

              Reply
        2. Falling Diphthong

          I believe the ruling of old Miss Manners was that if you really wanted to pick a fight about it–which would be counter to all her other teachings–the American style of switching the fork back and forth was more pointlessly fiddly and ergo more correct. With a loud unspoken SO THERE.

          Reply
          1. MCMonkeyBean

            Yeah, how can an extra step be considered somehow more barbaric?

            Also, that kind of thing seems like it would be muscle memory and very difficult to change for client dinners.

            Reply
        3. wb

          “And as Rusty and Alison note, sneering at or ridiculing people for their manners is pretty appalling behavior (and considered poor etiquette) in most of the world, including most European countries.”

          …unless the target is American, then game on. Who doesn’t like sneering at uncouth Americans?

          Reply
          1. Kim

            Myself and most other European people.
            But then again, ya’ll are too busy to complain about Europeans being hoity toity to learn real manners
            (Just kidding!)

            Reply
          2. Nico M

            That’s why US cutlery etiquette looks so silly. Yous are supposed to be the uncouth/unstuffy cousins, so the switching nonsense is naively charming / dreadfully petit-bourgeois

            Reply
        4. #WearAllTheHats

          Indeed, Princess Consuela Banana Hammock. Indeed.

          I was taught how to eat “properly”. More importantly, I was taught in the School of Life that people who care about that aren’t people I give two sh–s about.

          Now I TRY to follow “when in Rome…” when I’m in Rome, so to speak. Avoiding shaking hands and eating with your wiping hand and all of that. But at home, boo, I’m an ambidextrous wiper and I have TP and soap, so it’s all good in the hood.

          I sound terse, but #AintNobodyGotTimeFahDat. And no, I’m not a millennial. And yes, I earn an excellent wage despite my “savagery” at the dinner table and rampant overuse of hashtags. Life is just too damn short.

          Reply
      6. Anon Anon

        I do. But, I’ve seen plenty of people who keep their fork in their left hand who pile half their plate onto the back of their fork. Every country’s dining customs are a little different.

        Reply
        1. LCL

          People keep referring to the back of the fork. What does that mean? Do you keep the fork face up, and pile the food on the part between the tines and the handle? Or do you flip the fork over, so the food is put on the back of the tines? Or do you just mash the soft food so it sticks to the fork? I gots to know!

          Reply
            1. Falling Diphthong

              I know from literature that Brits pile peas on the back of their forks, but I have never been able to fathom why they would do this.

              Reply
                1. Cordelia Vorkosigan

                  Right? This is what spoons are for! Why deliberately use an inefficient tool for the job?

              1. Never Nicky

                No we don’t. We either stab them, or use the fork like a spoon. Mashing your food with your fork is for children. Or at least in the circles I move in (middle class mostly)

                Reply
                1. FiveWheels

                  I put them on the back of the fork; mashing, stabbing, and flipping were all Not Done in my family. I was never formally taught, I just learned by osmosis. As a child the joke of the “I eat my peas with honey” says that the speaker couldn’t eat peas “properly”.

                  Sometimes I have been known to flip my fork, but in my mind I equate it with eating microwave meals on my pyjamas or whatever… Like that beyond casual, nobody is watching, don’t care feeling.

                2. Elizabeth West

                  I was told to put them on the back and push them in the tiniest bit if they seem in danger of rolling off. Not MASH them, just secure them. But I guess it differs depending on whether your auntie tells you or Debrett’s tells you.

              2. Heaven

                I must be a weird Brit surrounded by weird Brits, then, because I have never seen a single person do this in my life, including eating with my uni housemates, most of whom came from a significantly higher class than I do, nor have I ever read it anywhere.

                You learn something new every day, I guess – and, for the record, I ‘scoop’ my peas/rice/etc. up into the dip of the fork.

                Reply
                1. Brit2

                  + 1.

                  No one I’ve ever shared a meal with, has ever used the back of a fork to eat.

                  The hand switching doesn’t bother me at a business dinner, but I would wonder why a fork was being used to cut food when they have a knife.

          1. Tuesday

            I didn’t understand either and had to look it up. Apparently the British way is to pile your food on to the back side of the fork, as in tines facing down. That’s baffling to me. The utensil is clearly built to be used the other way. I don’t get it. I also wonder if that still holds if you’re eating a meal where nothing needs to be cut. Like, if you were just eating a bowl of rice, would you still wield a knife just to push stuff on to the back of the fork?

            The differences in cultures makes the world a varied and wonderful place, but this just seems silly.

            Reply
          2. MillersSpring

            Yes, many Brits flip the fork over and pile mushy food onto the back of the tines, sometimes even pasting it there with their knife. I’ve met Europeans who considered it odd.

            Reply
            1. Helena

              But we aren’t flipping it! That’s the point!

              You stick your fork into whatever you are cutting, tines down. Then you cut it, and lift your fork up, still tines down, towards your mouth. No flipping, It’s done specifically to avoid flipping. It is the flipping part that is uncouth.

              Reply
              1. Y

                It’s done specifically to avoid flipping

                And to avoid jabbing your neighbour with your elbow. That’s why the tines bend the way they do: so that they bring the food you your mouth when you hold the fork straight up, you don’t need to flap your elbow out to get it there.

                Reply
      7. Specialk9

        They absolutely notice! I’ve lived abroad a lot. One friend’s 60-year-old aunt made an insinuation that Americans switch hands and put the newly empty left hand in the lap, so they can diddle themselves under the table. I… had no idea how to respond to that, as a young teenager, or frankly now.

        So here’s the deal. They know customs change across countries (they cannot be in international business without having traveled even 1 country over), and have seen lots of Americans. What they are doing is venting anti-Americanism, with only the thinnest veneer.

        It’s really common, and ugly. I dealt with it a TON, despite being more traveled than most of them. It’s a pasttime for many Europeans (doubtless more so with the current political situation).

        Please do not enable the harassers. They are in the wrong, and you have enabled them, and turned yourself into a tool of nationalistic bullying. Not cool, OP.

        Reply
        1. INSEAD alum

          Yep. Completely agree with this. If you’re in international business you should expect different cultures to follow different etiquette.

          Reply
      8. LawPancake

        I actually only notice now because I remember reading the letter the first time it was published and it being the very first time I’d ever thought about it. Which, I guess, has contributed somewhat to my anxiety about “passing” among the higher socioeconomic classes (in the sense that I didn’t even know it was a thing, what else don’t I know about?).

        Reply
      9. Kimberlee, Esq.

        Agreed. I had never even heard of this fork-switching thing, and honestly, if I met someone who was hung up on it, I would judge them harshly as classists just as they judge me for eating “incorrectly.”

        Reply
    3. Artemesia

      I lived in Europe for awhile and adopted their use of utensils and it is easy to do and a lot more graceful than the clunky hand switching we do. That said — hand switching is the American style and Miss Manners once made the point that efficiency is the opposite of refined in most etiquettes. The argument that you can hose down food faster using the European style is not an argument for elegance of refined etiquette. By reckoning the US style is more evolved.

      I do think it is probably useful to conform to local norms as much as possible which means trying to use European styles in Europe if you can do it — but that makes it incumbent on the rude jerks visiting the US to also switch to US styles — not thinking that is happening with these rude clients.

      Reply
      1. Anony Mouse

        I also lived in Europe for several years and ended up switching to the left-hand fork and right-hand knife style of eating because I found it more convenient. Since moving back to the US, I’ve had encountered several people who thought I was “snooty” or “uppity” for eating in way that isn’t “normal.” Needless to say, there are rude people in every culture.

        Reply
        1. teclatrans

          As a teenager I picked up the European way of eating from an immigrant classmate. I liked the way it made me feel more graceful (American style leaves a free arm which I tend to lean on, the opposite of table manners.) I happily displayed my newfound table etiquette on a visit to my grandmother, the one person in my life who cared about such things (my parents being 60s folks with zero desire to confirm to clasa-bases social norms), sure that this wash the visit where I wouldn’t be corrected and subjected to criticisms of my upbringing. Imagine my surprise when my grandmother (born in the 1920s, for reference) was aghast and disgusted by the uncouth approach to food — imagine, being in such a rush to eat that one couldn’t take the time to be civilized and put the knife down on the plate where it belongs, and just…keeping the fork in cutting position. That’s what we have to train children out of once they have learned to cut their meat! So, that was a failure. In the end, I ate European style when I lived in Europe, and I eat American style in America.

          OP, I think mocking and deriding people from a different country for eating in a different style was a totally asshole move, and I can see why your co-workers would dismiss their opinions. (If one American had demonstrated a totally different way of eating, their horror might have been more justified; at the same time, their mocking would have been clearly cruel. I suspect tjis was really a form of Eurocentrism or anti-American group bonding that you were being invited to join in, not true confusion about cross-cultural dining customs.)

          Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        “but that makes it incumbent on the rude jerks visiting the US to also switch to US styles — not thinking that is happening with these rude clients.”

        yeah, I bet it doesn’t!

        Reply
    4. Thinking Outside the Boss

      My wife is from Ireland, I have an Irish mother-in-law, plus my wife has 9 brothers and sisters (with some living in Continental Europe), combined with their spouses, and not one of them has felt the need to point out that I swap hands with my utensils.

      Definitely rude clients. And anyone who truly cares about this issue has too much time on their hands.

      Reply
      1. Solidad

        I have dined with European royalty. Multiple times. Never once did they ever point out that I was eating American-style.

        People with true class care only that everyone is comfortable. The purpose of manners and etiquette is to make people more comfortable. To use proper etiquette as a bludgeon or to make people feel inferior is a perversion.

        Reply
        1. Lora

          AMEN.

          OP, your European colleagues need to pull up their pants, their insecurity is showing.

          The polite thing to do when someone makes a faux pas is to pretend you didn’t notice and never mention it ever. The only possible exception I can think of is when my family was eating a meal with a Moroccan exchange student’s family: it was eaten with hands, no utensils, using bits of flatbread to scoop up food. The custom is to eat with one’s right hand only because traditionally the left hand is used for unsanitary things, and you wouldn’t want to get germs into a shared platter of food. The host took my aunt and uncle aside to politely explain this in private where it wouldn’t be too embarrassing. But this serves a function – so you’re not unwittingly signaling to the other people at the table that you’re getting your gross dirty fingers in their food, much as we wouldn’t want someone handling a salad bar or buffet with their bare hands.

          I feel bad for these Europeans who never had the joy of eating Doro Wat with injera. No utensils allowed! You fold up bits of the injera flatbread in your fingers and use it to grab the chicken and eggs and mop up the sauce from the plate. But you have to do it with one hand and no utensils and it’s actually hard to tear off even-sized pieces with one hand. If you like spicy food though, totally worth learning!

          Reply
    5. The OG Anonsie

      I think it depends on the setting and who you’re with. Most of my friends roll their eyes pretty hard at the idea that visiting Americans should change their utensil use, and that’s sort of the prevailing attitude I hear in general. But they’re also spread around the north end of the continent, UK, and Scandinavia.

      I’ve encountered a pretty different opinion farther south from acquaintances. I’m not sure if it’s actually regional or just the people I’ve happened to hit, say, because the people I make friends with are the kind of people to be deeply unconcerned with stuff like this.

      Reply
      1. Solidad

        When I was an exchange student in Germany there was a Swedish girl who openly mocked how Americans couldn’t do x, y, and z properly. She made the mistake of doing this once in front of a friend of mine. He was really down to earth and you might have mistaken him for the hired help given his demeanor. He was, however, a wealthy member of the vestiges of the German aristocracy and was a descendant of Queen Victoria. He also had some sort of Swedish elite blood. I don’t know what he said to her in Swedish. She never made any sort of commentary again about Americans.

        Through him a met a lot of wealthy, powerful people including several royals of various nations. None of them ever criticized American table manners. Every single one had a way of putting you at ease.

        I think manners policing comes from people who have some need to feel superior.

        Reply
        1. teclatrans

          Yeah, I suspect these clients weren’t really manners policing so much as siezing on something that they felt demonstrated their clear cultural superiority.

          Reply
    6. Jennifer M.

      When I am in Europe I eat the European way. When I’m in the US I eat the American way. In other regions, I just match what everyone else is doing – if they eat European style, so do I. I am very right hand dominant, but have actually found it quite easy to adapt to eating the European way.

      Reply
    7. MHR

      I was very nearly sent to manners camp as a child for eating off of my fork before switching back to my right hand. My socialite and WWII veteran grandfather was appalled, he told me that it was bad table manners and also was a way in which they used to catch Nazi spies during the war.

      Reply
        1. T3k

          Heh, I’m an American and as a kid I always counted like a German. Teachers finally had to explain to me it looked bad (like giving the middle finger) to get me to switch.

          Reply
          1. AMPG

            I actually switched in college to the “German” way when I took Intro to ASL, because that’s the sign for 3. Holding up the index, middle, and ring fingers is the sign for W.

            Reply
    8. Merci Dee

      In general, I can see the point for most etiquette. It’s nice to spend pleasant time with friends or acquaintances without everyone acting as though he or she were raised in a barn. I get it.

      Having said that, of all the things to consider with etiquette, I don’t see the point in making a fuss over how one holds utensils. I think, as others have said, that everyone’s doing a great job as long as they’re able to get food from the plate to the mouth with a minimum of mess. How one holds utensils shouldn’t be the point of the exercise; enjoying a wonderful meal with wonderful company should be the goal.

      Having said all that . . . .

      I tend to eat my meals with a mash-up of the American and Continental styles. I admit freely that I’m OCD and have the weird habit of eating my meals by finishing one food at a time (eat all the meat, then eat all the potatoes, then eat all the beans, etc.). So I go Continental when I’m eating my meat; it’s efficient, my fork is already stabbed into a luscious piece of steak, so I eat it with my left hand. Once all of the meat is gone and I don’t need my knife any longer, I set it aside and switch the fork to my right hand to finish the remainder of my meal. Works for me, and I don’t really care what anyone else thinks at that point because I’m full of delicious dinner and happy with the world. :)

      Reply
      1. Pebbles

        Someone else besides me does this? So I’m not the only weird one out there? ;)

        Do you also rotate your plate so that whatever you are going to eat next is right in front of you?

        Reply
        1. Merci Dee

          Yes. I also turn my plate as I eat. And, as Canadian Natasha mentioned below, I do not let the different foods on my plate touch. That totally grosses me out. People have told me before that I’m crazy, because everything gets all mixed up after I’ve eaten it, anyway. And I agree that’s true — but it doesn’t mean that my food has to look like a mixed-up pig’s slop bucket on the way down.

          Reply
      2. Canadian Natasha

        Hello fellow one-food-at-a-time eaters! I’ve never been diagnosed OCD but have always eaten food one thing at a time. I also don’t like the different things to touch and mix flavours. *Shudder*

        I’ve used​ either European or Canadian style cutlery technique depending on my mood ever since I read a few etiquette books in my teens and taught myself euro style.

        And I’m proficient in chopstick use thanks to my parents making fried rice quite often in my childhood. (Yay, budget meals!) When my Chinese friend and I went out for Vietnamese food we had a good laugh when I used chopsticks and she had a fork.

        I’m with the majority here: The European clients were being jerks. ‘Nuff said.

        Reply
        1. Merci Dee

          I wish I could use chopsticks easily and well. Unfortunately, I’ve inherited short and blocky fingers from my dad, so I have a really hard time holding the sticks correctly. By the time I get them properly positioned, I don’t have any fingers left over to actually get them to work. But I still give it a try every once in a while, just to be able to say that it’s something I’m working on.

          Reply
          1. Canadian Natasha

            Sounds like between the two of us we’d make one set of average length fingers. Mine are exceptionally long and gangly- which probably does help with the chopstick maneuvering now that you mention it. (I’m told they’d also come in handy – pun intended- if I ever decide to learn piano). ;)

            Reply
    9. Not Rebee

      In this case I would rather do whatever is most graceful. I mean, sure I could try to eat European style and toss food all over the place, but really what would you prefer? Someone who gracefully fork switches or someone who doesn’t and eats like someone lacking in basic motor skills?

      Reply
    10. BananaPants

      I’ve tried to not switch my fork from my left to my right (I’m a rightie) and it feels clumsy and awkward. Whether my European colleagues want to mock me or not, it’s how I’ve been eating since I was a child and it’s how I’m comfortable.

      I’ve never objected to my European colleagues not switching their forks when here in the US, just as they’ve never said a word about my switching of the fork when in Europe. It seems pretty tacky to call out a business partner on a cultural difference that doesn’t hurt anyone.

      Reply
  2. AlexandrinaVictoria

    When I (an American) lived in England, my co-workers made it a group sport to teach me to use a knife and fork “correctly.” It was all in good fun, and it actually does make much more sense! Ridiculing others on their manners, however, is definitely not classy. Do you think it might be inherent anti-Americanism?

    Reply
    1. Manders

      I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds with a political discussion, but something I noticed while traveling in Europe was that Europeans can read a lot into whoever’s president in America at the time. If the current American president is portrayed as having certain qualities in European media, that can lead to a perception that Americans all act like the president.

      When Bush was president, I lived in France for a while, and while I was young at the time I definitely remember some ribbing about freedom fries and the president’s tendency to misspeak. When Obama was president, people seemed more interested in American culture and the questions I got were more along the lines of why the whole country didn’t love some of the reforms he had proposed.

      I haven’t been back there this year, but it wouldn’t surprise me if current attitudes are shifting towards seeing Americans as boorish or uncultured and seeking confirmation for that opinion.

      Reply
      1. Blue Anne

        I’m not sure it depends on the president. I lived in Scotland through the end of Dubya and all of Obama, almost up until the last election. There was anti-American discussion all the way through, even in front of me, from friends.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Yes. Being an American abroad during Dubya’s presidency cured me of wanting to live abroad, despite having done it most of my life. The anti-Anericanism was so grinding and unrelenting and stupid. I have no idea how it was under Obama because as I said, I was cured of living abroad. Too bad, because I was the kind of American they kept saying they wish they met. Ironic, even.

          Reply
          1. Blue Anne

            Yes! Oh but we don’t mean YOU, Blue Anne – after all, you’re one of the good ones, you left!

            Ugh.

            Reply
          2. Lab Monkey

            I got the same treatment in Australia. It was always “…no offense” after something strikingly rude and broad. Exhausting.

            Reply
        2. INSEAD alum

          At INSEAD, it’s a tradition to have “national weeks,” where social activities focus on a particular country. These are scheduled at the beginning of the academic year, and there are more applications than slots available. Students vote on the proposals to select them.

          In my promotion (INSEAD-speak for “class year”), we had a US week. This was during the 2009 election. I was told that was the first time in quite a while when the proposal for US week was one of those selected.

          Reply
      2. Ann O'Nemity

        My experience was very different. I did my study abroad when George W. Bush was president. And although there was a lot of anti-Bush discussion, there was always an acknowledgement that the actions of actions of the government were not necessarily representative of the American people.

        I think there’s an assumption that Europeans stereotype Americans like our sitting president, or our celebrities, or a Texan caricature, but I just didn’t encounter that attitude at all.

        Reply
        1. Manders

          Maybe I’m wrong! I wasn’t hanging out with exactly the same group of people each time, so it’s also totally possible I just ended up with a group that was less exacting about manners. I was a kid during Bush’s presidency so it’s also possible people felt more comfortable correcting my manners back then.

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Oh, that’s fascinating! Literally the only time people have been actively rude to me was when W was our president, and they all identified him as the reason they were being rude. But I think this varies depending on the country and why you’re there—I think people understand that Americans who study abroad are demonstrably curious about the world beyond and are trying to learn about it.

          Reply
          1. Emi.

            Can you elaborate on this? Like, they were rudely telling you how much they hated him, or they announced that they were going to cut in line because they hated your president, or what?

            Reply
            1. paul

              I’m wondering if that’s unique to Americans too; did Italians get more guff when Berlusconi was in charge?

              Reply
              1. Treecat

                I would bet good money that no, they did not.

                It’s a consequence of the fact that American media is everywhere. Our movies, our television shows, our music, our video games, and our commercial products saturate the world, and combined with the fact that the US economy is so influential, it means that people outside the US pay disproportionate attention to the US. This has the unfortunate double effect of a) making other people sick of the US and its stuff (understandably!), which sometimes/often gets vented on hapless US travelers and emigrants, and b) making non-Americans think they know way more about the US than they actually do. To watch our television and movies is not to experience life in the US. My husband is Australian, and we now live in the US, and he’s often been surprised at how different the reality of US life is from what he had expected given the American media he’d grown up watching.

                Furthermore, there are bigots, snobs, and assholes in every nation. Some people are just going to judge you on something like where you were born.

                Reply
                1. TL -

                  Oh yes! I’m an American in New Zealand and one of my Kiwi classmates was proof-reading my paper and she marked several American phrases as not sounding right. I cheerfully said, “those are correct in American English but I’ll change them since I’m here” and she started telling me that they get a lot of American TV so she was pretty sure that she was right about the phrases being off….
                  She’s really nice but I was pretty incredulous that someone was arguing with me about my native dialect!

                2. Candi

                  People in other countries may or may not have the background to realize how much of Hollywood still has “boys’ club” and other backwards issues, nevermind other areas of consummable media. Then there’s the people who often to publish quick stories without research, and don’t always get bit in the butt over it. I feel bad for good reporters.

                  Education (in the widespread rather then institutional sense) and research are great tools for understanding, but they take work -and even those who are willing may just not have the time. :(

            2. Liz T

              I do remember being at a pub meet-up for other Americans living in London, and a Brit standing next to me at the bar did a half-hearted “f*ck Bush!” It was really more for the benefit of his friends, but I pointed out that the Americans he was yelling at mostly agreed with him.

              Reply
            3. Blue Anne

              One Independence Day I was out in the park with a couple other American expats. We had an American flag and a couple Tesco disposable barbecues.

              Dude came up, literally pissed in our barbecue, and told us the English still owned us. (He was Scottish…)

              Reply
            4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              The most direct nastiness came from people who were, in some form, providing a service. But there was low-level rudeness from pretty much anyone who was native-born, especially native-born Londoners. I found that especially bizarre because it contradicted all my prior experiences with Brits.

              On my first stint, the customs officer at Heathrow pretty nastily joked about not granting me a visa because of my “idiot President” (this was in late 2005/early 2006) and his “war” (he used the scare quotes on war, not me), stating that they didn’t need anymore Americans ruining the UK. He also said some choice things about Blair. Then I was pretty lengthily harangued by a docent at the British Library, who joked that he wouldn’t allow me to sign up for a library card because they only allowed access to “critical thinkers who were not persuaded by a fear-mongering war criminal” (he was referring to W). A barista refused to give me change for my tea and said it was an American-only tax for inveigling the UK in a “failing and never-ending war.” And at nearly all social events, when people introduced me as an American, I was immediately asked (1) how I/we could have reelected W; (2) how I could be “complacent” about my President’s policy decisions; and/or (3) how I felt about [the Iraq War/murdering children/Abu Ghraib, etc.]. The second time (early 2008, pre-election), I received much lower-level criticism along the lines of “good riddance W is going to be gone.”

              But no one cut ahead of me in line. They were just pretty actively awful until they figured out whether they approved of my personal politics, which in most cases I did not share because how dare anyone treat people that way?

              Reply
              1. Gaia

                Every cab I have ever been in while in the UK has involved asking me 1. how I can stand living in a country where children are killed in schools and we do nothing about it 2. how many guns do I own? 3. How I justify being a citizen of a country that murders children for oil/greed/whatever

                I’m not sure what it is with cab drivers in the UK or if I just attract ones that really hate Americans but damn. The one on 45’s Inauguration Day was particularly egregious. I got an earful all the way to Heathrow.

                Reply
              2. Candi

                I hope you escalated the barista. That’s just ridiculous.

                What I don’t get is England HAS a multi-party system that swaps off dominance. Simple logic states that not everyone in a country will agree with the reigning power. This is a deliberate ignorance of basic human mental makeup, as well as just plain rude.

                I also remember the articles mentioning that the UK gave the US documents about the whole Iraq situation, which were part of the intel folded into the consideration to go to war. Documents in Word those who turned on Track Changes had great fun with later. Six of one, half dozen of the other. Politicians, you serve, you don’t rule.

                Reply
          2. Rebecca in Dallas

            I was in Madrid back in March of 2005. Not only was Dubya president, but the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombings occured while I was there. Strangers were really, really awful to me.

            Reply
            1. Rebecca in Dallas

              Haha, I do remember a Spanish guy striking up a conversation with my parents on the subway, though. He was like, “I don’t care what people say, I like your president Bush!” And my parents didn’t have the heart to tell him that they did *not* like Bush, this stranger was the first one who had been friendly to us!

              Reply
          3. INSEAD alum

            Russians liked Bush when he was president because he was “tough on terrorism” They hated Obama ostensibly because of the sanctions after the Crimea crisis, because they perceived him to be weak. (No comment on whether any of this true.)

            They like Trump for obvious reasons. By now have largely retconned Bush into the “dislike” camp.

            However, in Moscow about a year ago, I had a taxi driver who was a Crimean Tatar (one of the indigenous Turkic-speaking people in Crimea). He could not shut up about how wonderful Bush was, how much he liked US foreign policy, how Bush had “moral clarity” (he knew the phrase), how awful Putin is, etc.

            Reply
      3. Annoy-Mouse

        As a Brit, I don’t think it’s inherent anti-americanism. Often, I think it might be the opposite- at least in Britain, we get SO MUCH american media and news, that it’s often hard not to think of it as *our* media and news, sometimes. There’s a kind of one-way familiarity I guess? Which makes it easy for us to feel its ok to comment on your politics/society, and whatever else, in a way that we might not even comment on, say, German politics/society. I’m not saying that’s right or anything, but I think it goes some way to explaining the phenomenon.

        Ok I just realised I misread your post, and you were talking about the people in the OP’s question, who did rudely comment on the American table-manners, and not about your coworkers. I’m still going to post this because it seems germane, but know, AlexandrinaVictoria, that I think you may well be right regarding OP’s European clients.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          The British where I worked were utterly the worst with anti-Americanism. (But it was a crazy dysfunctional workplace so YMMV.) It got so very awful.

          Reply
      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I’ve had this experience, too, Manders, but I suspect it has more to do with the stereotype of the “ugly American” than with who is serving as president. That said, in my very limited experience living abroad, I did find that people were more willing to say something rude/belittling if they found the American President distasteful (I suspect they still thought rude things but were more willing to let them slide if they liked the president).

        Reply
      5. FiveWheels

        “Freedom fries” as I remember it was nothing to do with so the president was, and everything to do with hilarious (but possibly spurious) suggestions that a chunk of the American population was comically anti French. Given that we in the UK have a history of not being overly fond of the French it was entertaining all round.

        I can only speak for me and my friends, but in my peer group the feeling is that the majority of Americans are normal, decent people but the extremists are a) very extreme and b) very loud about it. I don’t think I know anyone who expects all or most Americans to fit the stereotype.

        Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          Somewhere around 2002 we got a restaurant check that emphasized that they were proud to serve FREEDOM fries, not namby French fries. (Apparently changing the menus to reflect fry ethnicity would have been too much work, so someone had the bright idea of adding it to the ‘thank you for dining with us’ section of the bill.) My husband was livid and wrote a note back, and the waiter chased us down outside to assure us that he also thought the freedom fries were stupid.

          It was a thing.

          Reply
          1. FiveWheels

            I seem to remember I found it hilarious to order freedom fries in UK McDonald’s, especially after a drink or ten. Bonus points of I used a terrible Deep South accent. The staff never seemed to be amused.

            Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Freedom fries was a real (and brief) thing after the war in Iraq. It wasn’t the President’s doing, but it was associated with the President’s request that Congress authorize the use of force in Iraq.

          Congressman Bob Ney had french fries renamed “freedom fries” on the Congressional cafeteria menus after France declined to join us in bombing Iraq. I interned in D.C. shortly after the change, and a lot of menus (temporarily) changed—you could kind of figure out the political leanings of the owners based on whether or not they used “freedom fries.” Most of it died out by 2006, when Ney left Congress and popular opinion about the war had turned.

          It wasn’t anti-French for the sake of being anti-French—it was about a very specific foreign policy issue. I think it was juvenile, but it was associated with a specific political outlook regarding Iraq.

          Reply
          1. Leenie

            Oh shoot – I should have refreshed before I posted. PCBH was way more specific and informative than I was.

            Reply
          2. Turtle Candle

            I remember this vividly, because at the time I was dating a Canadian and I had an uphill battle convincing him that, no, no, really, everyone I knew thought it was incredibly stupid too, and that I’d never actually seen a menu with Freedom Fries on it. (I lived in California at the time.) For some reason the media where he lived (Ottawa) seemed to be implying that most Americans thought it was a great idea.

            Reply
            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I mean, common sense or accuracy does not seem to be a limiting factor for aggressive ignorance :) It’s not like the American lexicon converted to “Freedom Bread” and “Freedom Toast” or “Freedom kissing” because all of that is exceedingly silly. And, imo, the same was true for “freedom fries,” which as the French embassy noted at the time, come from Belgium. But doing something that exceedingly silly certainly invokes certain stereotypes about Americans, no?

              Reply
        3. Leenie

          Apologies for the off topic, but Freedom fries started when the French didn’t support the US going into Iraq and some Congressman made them change the name of French fries in the Congressional Cafeteria. I remember it like it was yesterday.

          Reply
      6. Beckie

        It really depends — I traveled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia during GWB’s presidency, and the majority of people I encountered couldn’t have been more gracious. I think there’s often a sense that the Americans who travel don’t fit negative American stereotypes. (Also, Americans are traveling less, so the “loud American” traveler stereotype has been supplanted by loud tourists from other locations.)

        Reply
        1. Manders

          Well, there goes my theory! I clearly need to finish and fully absorb my morning coffee before posting, because that should have been obvious.

          Reply
    2. Blue Anne

      When I (also American) lived in Scotland, my ex-husband’s extremely proper grandmother always made pointed comments about it. It bugged the heck out of me. It’s not more or less polite, it’s just cultural, and definitely better than ending up with crud on my face because I’m eating with a hand I’m not used to.

      Reply
    3. Emi.

      It reminds me of the European students who studied abroad at my school in the US and wanted to Europeansplain what we should do and think about all kinds of things they didn’t understand *and* gripe about how culturally insensitive and ignorant Americans are.

      Reply
  3. Susan Calvin

    Oh wow, I remember that original comment section being a heady mix of hot mess and entertainingly educational. I’d like to apologize for, in hindsight, probably feeding a troll at some point in there.

    Reply
    1. The OG Anonsie

      Oh yeah, that comment section was a tire fire. It jumped up from my memory the second I read the post title today!

      Reply
    2. Juli G.

      I know! I was surprised this was one Allison reran when she would be busy. I suppose most people are adults that can handle themselves.

      Reply
  4. Kristine

    The “zig zag” or switching of hands while eating, ostensibly “American,” actually originated in Europe, and was traditional and Europe for a long time.

    Reply
  5. Lady Phoenix

    I learned how to eat “European” style during a college workshop. I can understand some logic between cutting with your dominant hand (since I use an exacto knife multiple times)…

    HOWEVER, I honestly think it is not up to the “guest” to decide how the “host” should display their manners unless said “manners” cause harm or cause a mess. If it doesn’t than the guest needs to keep their mouth shut and eat.

    Reply
    1. Amber T

      That’s just it – what are the point of the etiquette and manners here? It’s rude to chew with your mouth open because that’s pretty gross to see and hear when you’re at the dinner table. But switching hands? Nah. That falls under the “who cares” umbrella for me.

      (Says the girl who cut up all of her food at the beginning of the meal so she didn’t have to pick up her knife again until she got mercilessly made fun of for it in college, but still does it when eating alone.)

      Reply
      1. Talvi

        Says the girl who cut up all of her food at the beginning of the meal so she didn’t have to pick up her knife again

        My entire family does this! So much less fuss…

        Reply
      2. Infinity Anon

        I agree. If they were doing something like chewing with their mouth open or talking with their mouth full, that would need correction. “Incorrect” utensil use (unless they are dropping food) just doesn’t rise to the level of rudeness where correcting it would be appropriate.

        Reply
      3. MissDisplaced

        (Says the girl who cut up all of her food at the beginning of the meal so she didn’t have to pick up her knife again until she got mercilessly made fun of for it in college, but still does it when eating alone.)

        Oh, me too!

        Reply
    2. BananaPants

      I had some visitors from China who had never been in the US before, and they were pretty rude dining companions by US standards – including basically yelling at the table, chewing with their mouths open, and two of them even spitting (!) at the table. None of us said a word to them but after they left there was some of, “What was with the freaking spitting?!”

      Reply
  6. Ypsiguy

    Wait! There is no universally correct way to use your fork. The “correct” way in Europe (to keep the fork in the left hand as you transfer food to your mouth) is emphatically not the “correct” way in the United States (to transfer the fork to the right hand before moving the food to your mouth).

    I’m actually surprised that any Europeans aren’t aware of this difference between European and United States table manners. (North American? I guess I don’t know what is done in Canada).

    Commenting on this would be as rude as a westerner commenting on “slurping” of soup by a Japanese colleague, for example. Please let this go; your USA colleagues are behaving correctly, as they have been taught.

    Reply
    1. Jwal

      I think the original posting was the first time that I realised that the US does it differently. I think it comes from the fact the way one is used to is the way that is easiest to do (because that’s what you’re doing all the time). It then becomes strange that others would prefer to use a “less efficient” or “less sensible” method.

      However obviously efficiency and sensibility are subjective, and as you say there is no Correct Way to do it.

      But yeah, count me among Europeans (Brit) that hadn’t heard of it!

      Reply
    2. Emma

      I think people are well aware! Because the US is such a huge, and often not-great cultural influence in a lot of Europe, many Europeans delight in undermining US culture at every possible opportunity, as a kind of act of defiance.

      It sort of makes sense on a grand geo-political level, but is extremely rude on an individual level, especially when leveraged against actual Americans who are just trying to have a productive business dinner.

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        Exactly. “I have gripes with the foreign policy stances of your country, so will personally belittle you over made-up insults.”

        Reply
        1. Emma

          Specialk9, it’s not really about policy or the US government – I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s lots to disparage there, but complaining about eating habits isn’t the method. This kind of behavior is about culture, which absolutely is contributed to by traveling American businesspeople, so there isn’t that element of scapegoating random Americans for things they have limited control over.

          But also, it’s *culture*. You’re not gonna make a difference over the soup. And it’s neither the time nor the place to try.

          Reply
      2. Jen RO

        This blog was where I found out that the world doesn’t cut food the same way! I’m well-read and well-travelled, with a lot of foreign friends etc… but table manners aren’t a regular topic of conversation.

        …and the funny part is that I am European and I cut my food the “American” way. After I read about the other way, I tried to stop switching hands and gave up halfway through the meal.

        Reply
      3. FiveWheels

        I personally wasn’t aware until after I’d seen a friend do it and a TV character do it in quick succession, and decided it was unlikely neither of them knew how to “properly” eat. I Googled it be realised the amazing truth.

        I know so many people here in the UK who don’t follow “proper” table etiquette that “this person doesn’t follow proper etiquette” was a more obvious explanation than “this entire country which is in many ways similar to my own does this little thing differently”.

        There certainly is a lot of anti Americanism in Europe, but the kind of person who would laugh at American table manners would probably also laugh at a local with “poor” manners too.

        Reply
      4. Miso

        I don’t think that many people are aware, honestly.
        When I was reading back into the archive I also read this post and that was honestly the first time I learnt that American people did it differently than us.
        And I watch a lot of American movies and shows – I guess that’s what you get from people on TV never eating their food…

        And to be honest, I wouldn’t have said anything, but I sure would have thought that people switching the fork have no manners. I sometimes eat like that at home, too, but my mother would kill me if she ever caught me eating like that in public or with anyone else than family present. She still scolds me even if it’s just family, so…

        (Seriously, I never ever thought of myself as a snob. Reading this comment section makes me think maybe I am a little bit…)

        Reply
      5. Hrovitnir

        Yes, this! We (NZ, not Europe) are absolutely saturated with US culture, with a side of “we’re the greatest!” Accordingly making fun of America/ns is light conversation*. Having a problem with certain cultural or political issues is one thing, but the reductionist conversations really aren’t cool, and being nasty to people for their country of origin is just gross.

        *Obviously this is only my experience, but it’s been my experience in many subcultures.

        Reply
    3. Anonymoose

      For the record, Canadian’s (at least on the west coast) also eat American style and switch hands with the fork.

      Reply
    4. Middle Name Jane

      Is it a thing that Japanese people “slurp” liquids? I never heard of that. Many years ago, I had a Japanese coworker, and for awhile we were cube neighbors. She used to slurp all her beverages and soups. It drove me insane because I thought it was incredibly rude, but I never said anything to her because I, in turn, didn’t want to be rude. My mother is the type of person who will correct someone’s table manners (any kind of manners actually), and I find that to be rude. So I make a point not to correct people.

      Reply
      1. Ypsiguy

        Yes, it is a thing, at least for hot noodle soups. As a non-Japanese person, I was absolutely taken aback the first time I encountered this. If you are somebody’s guest (at a restaurant or at their home), I understand, it is actually considered a little rude not to slurp your soup.

        I think it’s a result of eating piping-hot noodle soups–you need to get a little air in along with the noodles & the soup, to cool it off a little bit. Or perhaps it’s a flavor thing, the way a wine connoisseur will inhale a little air along with the wine to get the full flavor effect. But those are just theories of mine; I don’t really know if either might be true.

        Reply
      2. Suz

        I don’t know about Japan but it was very common when I was in China. So was loud belching at the table.

        Reply
      3. Banana

        Across East Asia, slurping soup and noodles it entirely normal.
        I had such a visceral reaction to this post having been an American kid raised partly in England with my English family. I’m sure my grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. corrected my usage of cutlery whenever they get the chance. I cannot stand it. Let people eat in peace!
        My kids eat noodles and soup with their Korean grandparents. Their dad says they can slurp away with family but not around other people, but as far as I’m concerned, eat however you want. As long as the food in enjoyed, I’m not going to sweat manners!

        Reply
      4. Manders

        Yep, that’s a thing. I haven’t travelled in Asia but my husband has, and from what I could tell, meal etiquette seemed looser in terms of making sounds/eating in ways Americans would find sloppy but there are a lot of expectations about how to properly thank someone for a meal, not imply that the portion you were given was too small, when to pour drinks for your tablemates, etc. He did say that he got cut a certain amount of slack for clearly being a cultural outsider.

        I remember one morning when I got a frantic message from him asking me to look up whether or not he should leave a bite of food on his plate because he was in China and could only remember Japanese etiquette.

        Reply
        1. Lissa

          Man, I would never ever say anything, and my brain is aware that there’s nothing wrong with different cultural standards like soup slurping, but I have such an aversion to wet mouth sounds that any time I encounter slurping I need to fight off irrational screams. I wish there was a way to desensitize myself to this kind of thing..

          Reply
        2. Turtle Candle

          Yep, when I was in Shanghai for business for a couple of months, I learned the very basics (stuff like “don’t leave your chopsticks sticking upright out of the rice bowl” and “leave a little on your plate”) but the person I was learning from basically said, you’re going to screw this up, but people will forgive you because you’re visibly a foreigner. Some of the rules of hospitality (how to thank people, who eats first, who pays, etc.) are sufficiently complex and subtle that you can’t really master them with a crash course.

          Reply
      5. Cherith Ponsonby

        I was taught to slurp when eating soba noodles in particular. I will always remember this, because I was gently corrected by someone who thought I didn’t know the etiquette, when in fact I knew perfectly well but was having trouble overcoming a lifetime of conditioning! It might also apply to other noodles in a broth, but as far as I’m aware you are not expected to make loud noises when eating miso soup or non-brothy noodles like yakiudon.

        Reply
  7. Snark

    It’s always an amusing paradox that the more you talk about the propriety and civility of others’ behavior, the less so your own becomes.

    Reply
    1. CM

      I remember the very first time I met a couple from Spain, I said, “Nice to meet you,” and they went off on a whole rant (in front of a group of people) about how Americans are so hypocritical and pretend they love everybody when in fact I don’t even know them and maybe once I get to know them, I won’t like them. I replied, “I take it back, then; it’s not nice to meet you.” They laughed but I wasn’t really joking and could never really get over that first impression of them.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        Anyone who reacts this way to normal civilities (there are phrases that basically mean ‘nice to meet you’ in Spanish as well) is just a boor. It is like people who think ‘How are you’ is a request to hear about their bowels.

        Reply
        1. LadyL

          This is how I feel about people who complain about using “no problem” in replace of “you’re welcome”. Someone cheerily saying, “No problem!” after you thanked them is trying to be courteous to you, and assure you that helping you was not a problem. Complaining that they didn’t receive your gratitude correctly makes *you* the glassbowl (to borrow a phrase from Carolyn Hax).

          Reply
          1. Lissa

            Seriously!! I have a lot of phrases I’m not a fan of, but assuming others need to cater to my preferences, or (worse) assuming that the use of this phrase says something negative about the other person is rude and self centered.

            Reply
      2. gmg

        This is all the more weird given that while sometimes our generic polite phrases don’t translate very directly (“you’re welcome” vs “de nada,” and so on) the usual Spanish-language response in this case is pretty close to the English (“mucho gusto,” which pretty much means “pleased to meet you”).

        Reply
        1. FiveWheels

          Also weird that “nice to meet you” is usually literally true. “Nice” is a very low bar, it’s not a declaration of adoration.

          Reply
        2. lawyer

          Yeah, or “un placer.” (short for “un placer conocerle,” which literally means “a pleasure to meet you”).

          Reply
          1. Marisol

            “Encantada” sounds pretty over-the-top when translated (viz “enchanted).” Don’t know if anyone says it anymore but a few people said that when I traveled in Spain in 1994.

            Reply
      3. Amber T

        My friend and I recently traveled to Ireland, so we were discussing cultural norms there (trying to figure out how not to offend anyone), and it broadened to cultural norms about the world. In America, if you make eye contact with someone, it’s pretty normal to smile and acknowledge them in a friendly way, but apparently that’s seen as fake/unnecessary elsewhere? I haven’t traveled much and haven’t experienced this first hand, but it does make the prospect of travel a bit more intimidating.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Well, that’s variable even within the U.S. I’m in a smaller Midwest locale so we smile like crazy, but I don’t do it so much when I’m in Chicago.

          It was Russia where I realized I’d hit a huge smile gap and that smiling in retail transactions was not helpful.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Seriously. I learned eye contact and smile differences when transplanted from the Bay Area to NYC.

            Reply
          2. Specialk9

            Oh god, no, don’t smile at Russians! They think you’ve got a shiv and are planning how to hurt them, or something. Although in their homes, they tend to be super smiley. On the street, get your gimlet gaze going.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              It is so ingrained in me that you smile at a service worker when a transaction is getting difficult and wow, was that not the way to go there.

              Reply
          3. CMart

            Go ahead and smile in Chicago! We’re cool with smiling at strangers. You just have to monitor who you’re smiling at, unless you want a disheveled woman on the bus telling you her life story while rummaging through her bag cart, or to be waylaid by an eager young adult wanting to know if you have a minute to save the children.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              I lived in Chicago for years. We weren’t offended by smiling, but it wasn’t the norm, either. Whereas where I live now people would probably be offended by *not* smiling.

              Reply
          4. Super Anon for This

            Like PCBH (I hope it’s alright to abbreviate your name) I learned about the smile differences moving within the U.S. I went from a tiny rural town in the northeast to a big city in the northwest. People in the big city I moved to just do not seem to ever smile at strangers, it feels hurtful until I remember it’s not me, they just don’t ever smile at strangers.

            Reply
            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Super ok to abbreviate the name! I think “PCBH” is infinitely easier for people to type, and it’s distinct enough that I know folks are referring to me when using the abbreviation :)

              Reply
          5. Turtle Candle

            I ran into that in China. I knew, intellectually, that Americans are… more smiley?… than a lot of other countries, especially in brief casual interactions. I mean, I knew that. And yet it’s such an ingrained thing for me that I spent the first two weeks with a gut-level feeling that everyone was furious with me. It took that long for me to realize that my instinct that people were angry was in fact simply born of the fact that they weren’t smiling. (I never could break myself of it. Smiling at people when I first interact with them is such a bone-deep reflex that I literally cannot stop it without great attention and effort. I suppose, in that sense, it’s the opposite of fake–it’s a deeply ingrained instinct, not a facade!)

            Reply
      4. fposte

        Yes, a friend of mine ran into the same thing with her German in-laws. It’s just that the customary phrases sound really literal to people who aren’t familiar with them. (“Je vous en prie” still amuses me sometimes.)

        Reply
        1. Kyrielle

          But the weird part is, “nice to meet you” literally doesn’t say you love the person or like them or want to be fast friends. “Nice weather.” “Nice to meet you.” It’s…so far seeming pleasant…to be making your acquaintance. That’s not exactly a profession of being close or a promise to like someone….

          Reply
        2. Miso

          But nice to meet you is basically the literal translation of the German phrase… No, it IS the literal translation.
          I understand it with other stuff (I haven’t met many Americans, but from what I read they are a lot, well, friendlier with strangers than we Germans are), but saying this specific phrase is too fake or whatever seems very strange to me.

          Reply
      5. Annie Moose

        How is that even a fake statement, anyway? It’s not saying anything about how you’re going to feel about someone in the future, all you’re saying is “right here, in this moment, this exchange of meeting you has not been unpleasant.”

        Even if you really don’t like talking to people, is there not at least a little bit of enjoyment to be gotten from having a cordial exchange with someone? I would think most people can derive even a little happiness from meeting a new person and having it go well, and this emotion could, in fact, be described as “nice”.

        Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          and in fact, maybe it means, “I’m glad I met you, because now I know I want to avoid you in the future!”

          Reply
      6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I would judge them, too. That’s really rude behavior, even by Spanish etiquette standards.

        Reply
      7. chomps

        @CM. Wow, those people are rude.

        I had a similar, but not rude experience when I studied abroad in Sweden. I was meeting relatives of my host family and I greeted them by saying “Nice to meet you” (I didn’t know much Swedish yet). Afterwards, my host father turned to me and asked “why do you say that when you greet someone? You just met them, you can’t know it’s nice to meet them!” And I was like “it doesn’t really mean anything (in this context), it’s just a thing you say.” I thought it was funny.

        Although your response is how I usually respond to stuff like that. Like if I something negative happens to someone and I say “I’m sorry” and they say “it’s not your fault” I say “cool, then I’m not sorry, [change subject].”

        Reply
      8. Kriss

        wait, so when they say “encanto” or “encanta” when they meet someone they are actually enchanted to meet you?

        Reply
    1. I Am Fergus

      If I was an employee and was told I had to eat a certain way I wouldn’t order another F$$$ING meal in my bosses presence. When it was time to order I would just say no thank you.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        You really think meeting clients in China you shouldn’t be expected to use chopsticks? Being told to behave in culturally appropriate ways is part of the job. (this does not extend to eating like a European when in the US)

        Reply
        1. Observer

          Actually, no. Not because there is something “wrong” with chop sticks. But because they can be hard (or even impossible) to use if you have not learned how. I don’t know if there is an implement that is used in the US and not in China, but if there were and someone from China were eating in the US, I would actually expect the host to provide a substitute that the Chinese guest could use.

          Reply
          1. Green

            Agreed. I am fairly proficient with chopsticks, but once you’ve traveled a great deal, you’ll find that forks and knives are unusual in some cultures (and in some you eat with your hands, or use bread). After watching a friend struggle during her first meal outside her own country (I cut her food for her), I often go back to the central rule of etiquette: etiquette exists to provide a framework in which we all know the rules and can feel comfortable. Whenever someone does not know the rules of etiquette and is not actively harming or disturbing others, making people feel welcome, appreciated and comfortable takes precedence. When it comes down to it, being gracious and kind is what this whole “polite” thing is about. So you can sneer at someone’s table manners after the fact (inherently impolite and itself a violation of etiquette), you can ignore the person’s perceived “breach” of etiquette and take pleasure in their company, or take the time to — in a friendly way — teach them the norms of your culture. The latter two choices seem best in keeping with the spirit of etiquette in the first place.

            Reply
            1. Jules the Third

              +1

              Polite should be a way to be *nice* to people. I dislike when it’s used to divide or denigrate.

              Reply
        2. Specialk9

          I am a huge fan of cultural appropriateness – I always recommend the series “Culture Shock” for a country, to give you a leg up on the local quirks, customs, and unwritten laws. Eg don’t flush after 10 pm or mow the lawn on Sunday – No way to know except by breaking a taboo and looking like a barbarian.

          But this is a case of bullying by mean co-workers. They are not nice people, and will just move the bullying goalposts.

          Reply
          1. Amber Rose

            I can’t eat rice with chopsticks. I mean, I can if I put nothing on my rice, but I find it kind of gross without a little soy sauce or something on it.

            Reply
          2. paul

            I’m clumsy as hell with them. My wife’s tried to teach my, a friend’s wife (from Schezuan) has tried to teach me, it’s horrible.

            To answer the hypothetical; I’d make an effort but if there was jeering and snobbery that I wasn’t particularly good with them I’d be miffed.

            Reply
            1. Clairels

              The secret is that Asians don’t actually use chopsticks to pick up their rice. They put the bowl close to their face and just shovel it in their mouth. Once you learn that it all makes sense.

              Reply
              1. paul

                yeah, that part I got. I can’t even manage grabbing the other stuff–like when she does a shuizhu or mapo tofu…can’t even grab the tofu chunks or whatever it is she puts in the shuizhu.

                Reply
                1. Turtle Candle

                  My brother is currently living in Korea and when he first moved there and his coworkers took him out to lunch, he started gamely attacking the bowl of rice with his chopsticks until he noticed that his coworkers were all staring at him. “Isn’t that difficult?” one of them asked, and he allowed as to yes, it was, and another mercifully said, “We just use the spoon.”

        3. tigerlily

          I don’t think chopsticks is a good analogy. I realize it’s probably being used throughout this and the original comment thread, but they feel like two different issues to me. In China you use chopsticks because that’s what they use and that’s the utensil they offer you. In Europe, you’re still using a fork and knife just like your host is, you’re just holding it differently. Asking your staff to change the way they hold a fork and knife feels nit-picky in a way that using chopsticks doesn’t.

          Reply
          1. JessaB

            I used to be able to use chopsticks, with my arthritis worse, not so much. But I can get on with them and one of those flat porcelain spoons that I have no idea the name of. I do rice either with the lift the bowl and shovel or with the spoon. My hands just don’t do well any other way, and I’m on my way to needing adaptive forks and knives, so I kind of get really peeved at people who decide it’s a big deal how you get the food in your mouth as long as you’re not a slob and eating like a pig at a trough. Do they get annoyed at disabled Europeans who can’t possibly do it “right?”

            It’s like holding your pencil differently because you have a disability. A lot of the time I hold a pencil in between the first two fingers of my hand and my hand pretty well flat (like a old fashioned pen plotter when it draws an ekg. No thumb in it at all.)

            Reply
          2. Turtle Candle

            I actually find it significantly more difficult to use a knife and fork European-style than to use chopsticks. Not for manual dexterity reasons (I am not exactly a genius at chopstick use, although two months in China did a lot for my ability), but because of muscle memory. Using chopsticks may be difficult, but it’s the utensil in my hand; I’ll use it, possibly badly, but I can’t forget to use it because it’s what I have. Whereas I have been fork-switching since I was four years old or something like that, and unless I am paying sustained attention, my muscle memory will kick in and I’ll start doing it. If you told me “you must eat this plate of salmon the European style,” I could do it, but only if that was what I was focusing on. If I was distracted by attempting to have a conversation at the same time, thirty-one years of training would kick in and I’d start swapping.

            Reply
            1. Tax Nerd

              Same here on finding European-style fork use harder than chopsticks. I’m very right-handed, but I can eat with a fork in my left, though it’s awkward for me, and I worry about food flying. And that’s with tines up. I’d stab myself in the face if I tried to eat lefthanded with tines down.

              So when in Europe, and not sure that I was up for dealing with being judged on how I used a fork, I’d suggest Asian food. My companions would eat with a fork, and I’d eat with chopsticks. (Yay for Indonesian food in Holland!)

              Reply
        4. msmorlowe

          I think there is a massive difference between using chopsticks when eating with Asian clients and having to change how you use a knife and fork. No one should care how someone else precisely uses their utensils provided they are using the correct ones. I find these clients incredibly rude and really think OP should have told them to take a hike.

          Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I mean, the suggestion makes sense, as does treating “international” etiquette training as a business expense related to helping employees acquire a business skill.

        When I was in law school, they offered etiquette courses specifically so that people who did not have exposure to U.S. formal dining etiquette could gain that experience (think Pretty Woman, or foreign students). Providing that service didn’t make people feel attacked—it was clearly a resource to help them feel more confident. I don’t see Electric Hedgehog’s suggestion as being any different than any other training on how to behave in a manner that is culturally appropriate when eating outside the U.S. in a country with different norms.

        Reply
        1. the gold digger

          The guy who wrote Hillbilly Elegy writes about a dinner in law school where (I think I remember this properly) he went into the bathroom to call his girlfriend to ask which fork to use.

          Reply
          1. Emi.

            Yes! It really drove home for me what Miss Manners said about the origins of etiquette manuals–they were often criticized for being elitist, but they were really a democratizing force because they broke down the Fork Barrier to things like law careers.

            Reply
            1. Kate 2

              Yep! It might be apocryphal, but I was reading an article about Emily Post, and how when her etiquette book first came out in the 1920’s it was revolutionary. Suddenly things that only rich upper class people knew, hidden signals, were made available to middle and lower class people. They could disguise their origins to a certain extent and “pass”, which made a huge difference in their lives and the jobs available to them. I have a reprint of that book, and it even covers things like what words to use, what phrases, and so on.

              As well, I remember watching a video about how to set a table for a tea party. Every detail, even how to set out the cups, the lemon slices, sugar, etc, was covered. The narrator explained that this wasn’t meant to be nitpicky, it was meant to help you figure out where to put things, because it meant a lot to the guest. You didn’t want people to be forced to balance two things in one hand and serve themselves, or to make things hard to pick up, or easy to spill. So you thought carefully about how to set the table to make the experience easy and pleasant for your guest. And since women have been hosting tea parties for a long time, there was a body of knowledge from trial and error about the best way to do it, so you didn’t have to make mistakes to learn from.

              Reply
          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            He did write about it! My class lobbied the law school to offer training because we had so much socioeconomic diversity, and people were getting dinged in hiring for not knowing these soft skills, and it was recreating inequality in law hiring. Law school is kind of like a massive hazing process, and class background receives too little support (although a lot of law schools are now reconfiguring their programming to offer better support for first generation college/law students).

            I imagine it was much worse for J.D. Vance (the author of Hillbilly Elegy) because not only was it a “the practice of law has insane elitism issues” thing, it was a Yale Law thing, which is akin to normal legal elitism on steroids.

            Reply
    2. Lady Phoenix

      Only if these workers are going to eat in Europe (and in Asia, learn Asian table manners).

      Otherwise, why? As long as no one is talk with food in their mouth or stabbing their meat, why should they give a fly fork what their “guests” are thinking?

      Like I said before, unless the behavior is gross or harmful, guests should not be commenting on the host’s table manners.

      Reply
      1. Emilia Bedelia

        Well, commenting openly is certainly rude.

        But it’s also in the company’s interest to ensure that their employees are presenting themselves in an appropriate manner when they are representing the company. You can argue that fork-hand usage is not important and shouldn’t be monitored by a sane and reasonable company, but the fact is that some external clients will notice. It’s like requiring men to wear ties and women to wear pantyhose: for some jobs, image is very important and it’s in the company’s interest to say “When you’re carrying out your job, you need to behave in this way”

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          But if they change forks, the mean girls will just find something else to sneer about. Because the sneering is the point, not the fork.

          Reply
  8. Southpaw

    I had no idea there was an etiquette surrounding which hand you use when holding a fork. I guess in retrospect it makes sense — there are strong rules about it in certain cultures, like never eat using your left hand — but… I’m a lefty. I am always doing SOMETHING wrong.

    In this case, I always have the fork in my left hand. I guess I’ve been offending some weirdly rigid American sensibilities? But since I literally never heard this before, I guess I’m just not part of those circles!

    Reply
    1. Persephone Mulberry

      I admittedly haven’t clicked the links to find out what “etiquette” says, but IMO, it makes perfectly logical sense to hold your fork in your dominant hand, whichever one that is. I’ve never given it a moment’s thought beyond that.

      Reply
      1. FiveWheels

        I disagree, because a fork is basically a stabber-holder, whereas a knife is more active.

        Though if I’m only using a fork, I will use my dominant/right hand.

        Reply
    2. Snark

      No, this is not “weirdly rigid American sensibilities,” it’s just the way a lot of Americans of a certain age were taught to handle a fork. Nobody’s judging you for keeping the fork in one hand, and I notice plenty of Americans these days not doing the fork switch.

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        It’s true that a few people might think you’re being snooty if you eat in the European manner.

        But that’s because they’ve encountered people like these European snobs.

        Reply
        1. FiveWheels

          Wait, would socially obsessive Americans see euro eating as “you’re a snob/higher class /think you’re higher class” or would they think the euro is an idiot who doesn’t know how to use a fork?

          Reply
    3. Demon Llama

      I’m also a lefty and would get caught coming and going with these rules – I was taught to eat “right handed” as a European – so fork in left and knife in right. So far, so good… BUT a right-handed person would use their right hand to control a soup spoon, and spoons are placed on the right, next to the knives. And this is a step too far for my left-handedness, so I always eat soup with the spoon in my left hand…

      tl:dr – I’m a European who could not give less of a crap about what hand you are using for your fork, and in return would like to be given a multi-national pass for my soup-spoon handling.

      For me, the most tricky shift to adjust to when in the US is the custom in restaurants of removing an empty plate asap, even if other people at the table are still eating. This would be really out of place at a nice restaurant in the UK (from my experience), but I think it’s considered polite service in the US? It’s always a slight shock the first time when I’m travelling, but I’d never kick up a fuss about it!

      Reply
        1. CMart

          But why do you want to stare at your empty, dirty plate (and possibly the napkin you’ve folded on top of it)? It just creates an obstacle you have to maneuver around to continue enjoying the rest of your glass of wine.

          I don’t personally have any skin in this game. I was a server for a decade in “casual service” places where you’d get in a lot of trouble if you didn’t clear plates the second they were empty (speeds up service, often not quite enough dishes to go around for a full restaurant) and at high end places where you leave all the dishes until the bitter end lest you make Aunt Clara feel rushed. The casual style makes more sense to me personally, but I’m not bothered by the other way.

          Reply
            1. CMart

              It’s a nearly universal sign of “I am done enjoying my meal”. I’ve seen it both as a server and as a diner in every restaurant, trashy and Michelin and everything in between, here in the US from coast to coast.

              Reply
              1. Turtle Candle

                I do it for exactly this reason–in part because I have a very small appetite and can almost never finish an entire restaurant entree. If I’m in the kind of place where asking for a to-go box wouldn’t be gauche, I do that to signal “I’m done even though half the food is still here,” but without the napkin trick I would have spent a lot, a lot of time staring at food I wasn’t going to eat while the waiter hovered wondering whether I was paused or done.

                Reply
            2. CMart

              There is also the “crossed utensils in the middle of the plate” signal, but that seems less common than the napkin and even when employed are often obscured by the napkin placed on top.

              Reply
              1. Demon Llama

                Ahah! Another etiquette difference – we were taught crossed utensils were impolite (not sure how but… sure?) and one should leave cutlery neatly alongside each other on the plate to signal you’re done. It’s like shipping flags – there should be internationally adopted signals!

                Reply
                1. Kate 2

                  Yep, that’s how this American learned from Emily Post. Beside each other means you are done, crossed means you are still eating, even if the plate is mostly empty, so don’t take it away.

                2. Kickin' Crab

                  Interesting! I was taught that crossed utensils meant you weren’t done eating. To signal you’re done, knife and fork next to each other, fork tines down, handles of both at about 5 o’clock.

                  Source: diplomatic etiquette lessons during a HS internship at the US Dept of State. (We also covered the Euro-US fork issue in detail and were told to follow the style of the host.)

              2. Rana

                I learned that crossed utensils means “still eating.” Which makes sense if your eating “left-hand-holds-fork-right-hand-cuts” because that’s how they end up if you set them down briefly. But simply saying, “No, I’m still eating” is simpler still.

                Reply
      1. Brogrammer

        That one’s not about manners, it’s about the restaurant trying to turn the table faster. It’s actually fairly recent – I waited tables back in the early aughts in a chain diner and I was there when corporate instituted the “no empty plates on tables” policy. It sucked for the servers too, because customers who didn’t like it would be irritated and take it out on us.

        Reply
          1. Falling Diphthong

            That’s how we got the whole weird idea of eating salad at the start of the meal, rather than the end.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              True. Though I confess I rather like that one and follow it at home as well; it’s a good way to make sure the fresh veggies are the priority.

              Reply
              1. Emi.

                Yeah, seriously. If there’s sausage on my plate, no way am I going to “save room” for rabbit food.

                Reply
        1. Demon Llama

          Ahhhh ok I did not know that. I thought it was a general custom that people didn’t like having an empty plate left in front of them. I still wouldn’t kick up a fuss, but Mr Llama would probably take twice as long to leave the table if he thought he was being hurried. He’s a stubborn camelid, that one.

          Reply
      2. Elizabeth H.

        Yeah, I hate this so much. It’s embarrassing for people who aren’t finished yet to feel like the meal is supposed to be over and you’re not done yet, and especially if someone tries to take your plate away but you are still eating and have to tell the waiter that, because it makes you seem really focused/obsessed with eating the food (I think this isn’t a big deal to most people but I used to have an eating disorder and really dislike calling attention to my eating). I’m a slow eater and it sort of ruins the “enjoying a meal together” vibe.

        Reply
        1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

          And it can be embarrassing for the one who finished first, too! Like, “the waiter had to make a SPECIAL TRIP to this table just to deal with my plate, because I eat SO ABNORMALLY FAST. What is wrong with me?”

          Reply
    4. Sibley

      I’m also a lefty. I have to hold both the knife and fork in my left hand, so I switch constantly. If you have a problem with this, you can cut my food and then feed me because my right hand simply doesn’t work that well.

      There’s nothing wrong with my right hand, but my left hand is SO dominate that my right hand doesn’t have the same level of fine control and when I use it in that fashion, things don’t always go well. Mostly, I splatter some food on the table.

      Reply
    5. Manders

      I think American dining etiquette is usually focused on other things, like not chewing with your mouth open, not making certain noises when you eat, the kinds of conversation that are appropriate at dinner, etc. Most Americans wouldn’t notice how someone handles the fork at all.

      Now that I think about it, it’s common shorthand in American media to show a protagonist’s confusion with formal etiquette by having them be confused about being given too many pieces of cutlery or being scolded for using cutlery the wrong way. I don’t really know when that got started but I must have seen it in 10 or 20 different movies.

      Reply
    6. Amber T

      I honestly can’t even remember how I hold my knife and fork, it’s all muscle memory really. I’m pretty sure I do both. I don’t think it’s something that’s really *taught* in the States – you just do what feels right and is comfortable. For many it’s switching, but for many it’s not.

      Reply
    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      You haven’t been offending rigid American sensibilities. American etiquette accepts fork-switching or European-style utensil use. People sometimes notice if you’re eating European-style, but it’s a more significant etiquette breach to mention to someone that you’ve noticed than to let them do what they need to do. And frankly, I suspect 95% of Americans could not care less about whether people fork-switch.

      Reply
      1. Turtle Candle

        Yes. I fork switch, my husband doesn’t. (We’re both Americans from the West Coast.) I could not even tell you how our friends eat, because I don’t notice, and I’ve never observed anyone commenting on our fork styles–either of ours–except for a coworkers from the UK who, when visiting our California office, got snarky about it. (“Why yes, I am a barbarian, thank you kindly,” is what I said in response, while continuing to fork switch.) Certainly no Americans have ever commented on it to me, except in a very mild noncritical “aren’t cultural differences interesting?” way.

        Reply
  9. Kiki

    I’ve never once considered what hand I’m holding my fork in. I always thought that if the food made it to my mouth with unnecessary noise or mess then I was doing ok. At lunch today I will pay attention and see if I do it “correctly” or not.

    Reply
    1. Gandalf the Nude

      Thank you! Can we just rejoice in the fact that I managed not to get this meal down my front without focusing on the how?

      Reply
    2. paul

      I’m kind of curious; my fork goes in my right hand because I’m right handed. But I don’t even know if I switch utensils around at all while I’m eating.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer M.

        You probably do – when you are cutting something you use your right hand to hold the knife which makes sense. You most likely then put the knife down and switch your fork to the right hand. Europeans will generally take the knife and use it to put the food on the back of fork (in their left hand) and then just put the fork in their mouth (upside down from an American perspective).

        Reply
        1. Kiki

          Wait…they put food on the *back* of the fork? I can’t even imagine how that works or looks, and I’m trying really hard to.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Imagine how you hold your fork in your left hand when you’re holding your knife in your right (e.g., when cutting meat). Then keep the fork in that position (tines down, the back of the fork facing up), spear food with your fork, and then lift it to your mouth to eat. That’s what folks mean by eating on the “back” of the fork.

            Conversely, most Americans will either switch their fork to their dominant hand, or at a minimum, “flip” the fork with the tines facing upright to grab whatever food they’ve just cut.

            Reply
            1. Kiki

              Ah, ok. I thought you meant they put the food on top of the “bump” at the back of the fork and ate it off of there. What you described makes much more sense. I also very rarely eat anything that requires use of a knife and usually shovel my food so the idea of the fork being upside down in the first place took a second to figure out.

              Reply
              1. teclatrans

                Well, this too. The trick is that it’s not on the bump — you change the angle, so the tines are flat, and the ‘bump’ angles your hand down to the table. You then place food onto this flat surface with the aid of your knife. (Oh, hey, does the European style keep elbows closer to the body? Maybe that’s part of why American scooping with the fork seems gauche to some….) I loved eating European style because you use your knife as a little spatula, guiding food onto the fork, and with American style I always chase the food around my plate.

                Reply
                1. Y

                  Oh, hey, does the European style keep elbows closer to the body?

                  Precisely. You should really eat in a space that is no wider than your arms naturally hang down when you are sitting, not waving your elbows about like some demented chicken and making the people on either side of you have to duck away (which in turn would make the people next to them have to sway, and so on, and so on, all the way down the table — your flailing could be impacting twenty people or more).

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Ah, in that case you mash it on the tines or balance it as teclatrans describes.

                Or just move to Australia and use a splade, the world’s best utensil.

                Reply
                1. Cherith Ponsonby

                  Splayds are the best! Random trivia that I just learned: Splayd is a brand name, the generic term is “sporf” (plural sporves)

                  The fancy way I learned to eat peas was to hold your fork convex side up, stab some peas with it (you can use your knife as a backstop to stop them sliding around), then stab another row of peas so that the first row slides up the tines of the fork, optionally using your knife to keep the peas moving up. If you’re silly like young Cherith then you keep doing this as long as there is tine space, then you hold your pea-encrusted fork up and marvel at your prowess until your parents give you The Look.

          2. Kriss

            they stab the meat (or large veg) & then stack whatever else they are going to put on the back of the fork

            Reply
            1. TootsNYC

              which may be efficient, but it sure looks greedy! In this case, I’m w/ Miss Manners–arranging your utensils so you can eat the most food the fastest is bad manners!

              Reply
            2. Emi.

              Stack it on the meat that the tines are stuck through, or actually somehow balance peas on the back of the tines? Are European forks shaped differently from American ones?

              Reply
              1. BF50

                No, their food is overcooked. Yes, I know vast generalization there.

                I’m half kidding, but half not. My husband is Irish and I’m from Colorado. His people cook their steaks until they are hockey pucks and their peas until they are baby food. My people waltz our cattle by the fire and serve it bloody instead of actually cooking and we basically just blanch or vegetables and eat them raw. Every meal in our house is a culture war and our children can’t properly use their silverware in either method. Though they are only toddlers, so that might be part of the issue. :)

                Reply
              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Both! Folks stack on meat, mash onto the tines, and balance peas on the back of the tines. The forks aren’t differently shaped, but the process does seem kind of ridiculous to me (why do forks have a “scoop” shape if you’re not going to use it to its advantage? Might as well shape a fork like a pitchfork, then.)

                Reply
                1. Rana

                  For me, the bend of the fork means that the tines point downward without having to hold my hand vertically above the plate.

                  Usually I reserve the back-of-the-fork thing for foods like mashed potatoes. I’ll eat all the foods that are mashable or need cutting with a knife first, then switch to my right hand for scoopables at the end. (Or if it’s something like pasta, I’ll just start with the right.)

                  If you do it a lot, it’s actually not that hard. But, then, I also tend to prefer smaller, shorter forks, and this may be why. Those long pointy ones are trickier to use for mashing-on-the-back eating.

          3. BF50

            They hold the fork “upside down” with their left hand then use their knife in their right hand to smoosh the food against the back of the tines. It works best on slightly mushy food like mashed potatoes and overcooked peas. Then the put the food in their mouth with the fork still upside down. Frequently, they don’t put either utensil down.

            Reply
  10. Janelle

    It actually is wrong here in the US to do this fork switching as well. People do it but it isn’t considered proper. It actually drives me bonkers but I am a stickler for table manners.

    Reply
    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Whoa, since when is it considered improper in the US? I’ve gone through fancy-table-manners training, and switching was heavily emphasized.

      Reply
    2. MuseumChick

      Uhn, everything I’m finding online (Miss Manners etc) says that the “American” way is just fine. Could you provide sources? I would be really interested in reading them.

      Reply
    3. Snark

      Peter Post, from the Emily Post Institute, is on record saying that either is OK, and I’ve heard the same from Lizzie and Dan Post on the Awesome Ettiquette podcast. The fork switch is becoming outdated, but either approach is fine. And if you need it straight from the grande dame herself: ““Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.””

      The real question I have, actually, is why you choose to care enough for something so incredibly minor to “drive you bonkers.” Being this focused on the propriety of others’ behavior is kind of self-defeating.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        A second on the “bonkers” part. This is like being driven bonkers by the absence or presence of an Oxford comma (RIP, since Oxford no longer uses it, either). Life is too short!

        Reply
          1. JessaB

            Pardon me whilst I sit down with dropped jaw. Oxford what? No. They will pry my Oxford comma out of my cold, dead, and rigour mortised hands.

            Reply
          2. DictionaryGirl

            I work for the OED. We still use the Oxford comma, and it’s still standard across our publishing, as far as I’m aware!

            Reply
    4. Turquoise Cow

      I’ve actually been called out, usually by family members, for not switching hands. I forget why I had tried it once and found it a bit awkward but not terrible. Almost immediately someone (maybe my mom or one of my judgemental aunts) told me I was being weird. It wasn’t rude specifically, but was noticed as not the normal way of doing things.

      Reply
    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      The etiquette norms have changed—what you’re saying is no longer correct (since the 1980s, actually). It is considered proper manners in the U.S. to fork switch or eat European-style. See: Miss Manners, Emily Post, and nearly all other American etiquette guides.

      Reply
    6. sap

      This is emphatically not true historically and not true now. In traditional American manners, your left hand is supposed to be under the table unless you’re using a knife; this necessitates “fork switching.”. In many circles I’ve been in (fairly old, which I am saying to indicate that this is not a new thing) people have remarked about the rudeness of someone who DOESN’T fork switch but instead keeps their left hand at the table in the European style.

      Reply
      1. MissDisplaced

        I never thought about this sap, but you are right. I always unconsciously want to keep my left hand down on my lap when eating unless cutting food.

        Reply
        1. sap

          This is how I remind myself to turn my “good” manners on–concentrate on left hand lap and everything else seems to flow at least somewhat easily (also helps keep drinks from migrating to the left hand side of the table for instance since you never pick them up with left hand).

          Reply
          1. BF50

            Before studying in Spain I had a cultural awareness training where they told us to never put our hands in our laps during a meal. It was considered untrustworthy to have you hand not visible during a meal.

            So much harder for me to keep my hand on the table than it was to switch how I cut my food. That and personal space. More than once I accidentally ended up in a corner because I kept taking a half step back as a friend took a half step forward during a conversation, neither of us noticing until my back hit a wall.

            Reply
            1. sap

              This would be so hard for me because I’m so used to American manners that my default would definitely be, after 1 glass of wine, to concentrate on lapping my hand as a manners control. Thanks, WASPS, for ruining travel ;)

              Reply
  11. cheeky

    FWIW, Miss Manners says that the American practice of fork-switching is perfectly polite and was the European method until relatively recently. As she puts it: “Early European immigrants brought with them the eating methods prevailing in Europe at the time, and their American descendents have continued to use them. It was the Europeans who streamlined their method — or, as your wife would observe, made it cruder. Efficiency is not considered a virtue in dining.”

    Carry on. Your European counterparts are being rude.
    http://www.uexpress.com/miss-manners/2005/5/5/put-some-english-on-it

    Reply
    1. Joan Callamezzo

      Exactly. She addressed this in one of her earlier books and stated that since the “cut and switch” method was more difficult/less efficient, it was therefore considered from an etiquette POV to be more sophisticated. Regardless, yes, the Europeans are being awful here.

      I actually work with a lot of Europeans in an international company and they tend to retain their dining habits even after moving to the US. No one cares or comments on it–both the European and US methods are considered variations of correct table manners.

      Reply
        1. fposte

          It’s not so much that it’s a perfect correlation as that efficiency isn’t the end goal here and therefore doesn’t enhance the value of a method. You’re partaking in a civilized and social ritual, not just filling your belly.

          Reply
        2. WhirlwindMonk

          My personal theory that I haven’t bothered to research and see if it has any bearing on reality is that generally the more difficult way is more polite because it sends the message “My respect for you is such that I’m willing to perform these actions in a more difficult way because it means I get to engage in this event with you.” In other words, being with the other person/people is more important than making things easy for yourself.

          Reply
        3. CMart

          My guess would be that it forces you to slow down and be deliberate about enjoying the meal and the company. Eating “efficiently” reduces sharing a meal down to its most base: shoveling food into your mouth in order to consume calories for continued existence.

          Reply
        4. TootsNYC

          It’s the same basic philosophy behind the idea that you don’t put the ketchup bottle or cottage-cheese carton or grated cheese tub directly on the table.

          Reply
          1. Cherith Ponsonby

            Wait, do you mean that you ought to put the bottle/carton/tub on a coaster or other surface protector, or that you should decant the contents? I’m a classless heathen either way (except for milk, because you don’t always want to leave milk out in summer), just curious.

            (I love rules of etiquette the same way I love rules of language. It soothes my neuroses to know the excruciatingly polite way to behave, or to be able to construct a tortuously convoluted yet grammatically impeccable sentence, but in practice it’s all about getting the job done.)

            Reply
        5. wlp

          The increased efficiency of the European style vs. fork switching is something that my midwestern grandmother (silently) judged my european husband for, for several years, before she finally asked me why he’s always in such a hurry that he doesn’t have time to put his knife down between bites. I think that to her, more efficient came across as less willing to take time to enjoy meal that she had prepared.

          Reply
  12. Amber Rose

    People switch hands? I’ve never seen that. :O
    I mean, I’m not judging, you do you and all that, but I’m trying to picture doing that for every bite and I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

    Reply
    1. cheeky

      Are you not from the US? It’s really very simple. And in fact, it’s designed to put more time between your food and your bite, for politeness.

      Reply
      1. Amber Rose

        Nope, I’m in Canada. I married into a family of Americans though, and I’ve never seen them do it. I think everyone I know puts fork in right hand and knife in left, and cuts using the left hand.

        This whole conversation is reminding me about the debate on how to properly make scrambled eggs, when I learned that some people crack the eggs right into the pan and scramble them there, rather than whisking them in a bowl first. It’s more or less a non-issue, but it’s pretty interesting all the different ways people do things and how heated people can get over these minor differences in procedure.

        Reply
            1. Falling Diphthong

              *stabs chicken, flails, mutilates, retrieves from far side of kitchen, eventually just picks up with hands and gnaws like a Visigoth*

              Reply
        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          There was recently a whole thing with my friends group about the proper way to cook spaghetti. Do you break the noodles to fit in the pot or not. It was definitely fascinating. We all assume that the way we do things is the ‘normal’ way because it’s what we’re used to.

          Reply
          1. Specialk9

            My Italian BIL had a heart attack when we broke spaghetti, or cut it once cooked. There’s one way to twirl it too, apparently. Italians apparently really care?

            Reply
            1. Chi Chi Maria Lucia

              While I’m at it, how would folks suggest that I address a friend’s six year old boy who still uses his fingers to eat? Almost. Everything. (Except like, soup or yogurt.) I mean, like, macaroni, eggs, home fries, grilled chicken, steak, green beans, corn (not on the cob), a cut-up hot dog, . . They have meals with us fairly frequently. AND – ta-da! Never uses a napkin nor washes his hands after eating..

              Reply
              1. fposte

                How much effort are you in for? I think it’s fine to say “In this house, we eat like this”; I’m just questioning whether you really want to be apparently the first person to introduce this kid to utensils. You might pick specific battles–wash up before and after you eat, napkin use–rather than four candling fork handling.

                Do you know if he uses utensils at home or if there’s a reason his parents don’t, like maybe he has motor skills issues?

                Reply
                1. Emi.

                  Seconding that you should pitch it as “house rules,” rather than as “nice people do it this way,” but it sounds like the whole family’s eating with you–I would not correct a child’s manners in front of his parents, only when I’m his adult in charge.

                2. fposte

                  @Emi.–yeah, I thought about that. I do think in general house rules trump not correcting somebody else’s kid, but it can come at a cost to the adult relationship if there’s no buy-in from the grownups. I was assuming in CCML’s case she knew the other grownups would be okay with it.

                3. fposte

                  @Emi.–rats, I forgot that using the president’s name as a verb sends things to moderation, so another version of this may pop up later.

                  I thought about that. I do think in general house rules outweigh not correcting somebody else’s kid, but it can come at a cost to the adult relationship if there’s no buy-in from the grownups. I was assuming in CCML’s case she knew the other grownups would be okay with it.

                4. JessaB

                  Before you pitch this please make sure the child isn’t doing this due to either a physical disability that makes utensils HARD, in which case I’d be all over the parents for not letting me know to get adaptive ones, or bringing the kid’s utensils with them. And sometimes it’s a combination of adaptive utensil PLUS adaptive plate that has a weighted base and high back so they can scoop without things falling off the plate.

                  OR has a neuro-atypical brain that makes this necessary. The wash your hands or use a napkin part however, is NOT on.

                  But it’s the former special ed teacher in me that usually looks at things like this through a this behaviour must be adaptive for some reason to either the child or the parents. And if trying to use utensils sends the child into a screaming fit or throwing food one out of frustration, I’m going to go with, fingers work fine, would you like to try a piece of pita, naan or a nacho chip to scoop with?

                  Yeh I’m weird, but I’m very likely to be okay let’s eat with fingers. Remember that awfully silly scene in the Princess Diaries, when she eats a spoon of sorbet and gets total ice-brain and some of the dignitaries copy her silly movements, because well when the Queen or Princess does this you do it too? I’m kind of on that wave with it, if it makes my guests comfortable, then I’ll deal.

                5. Chi Chi Maria Lucia

                  Thanks all. There are no neurological nor motor skills issues. The kid uses his iPad at every meal with no problem . . .
                  Seriously though – there are no issues other than his parents’ laziness, I think. there are always empty threats and ultimatums for other behaviors, like, oh Idk…telling your grandmother to eff off?
                  I DO feel comfortable saying “You might have better luck if you used your fork.”, but it’s always: “No. I’m OK.”
                  The “in the house we” I actually would like to use, because I’d like to extend it to taking shoes off at the door, but I don’t know…that’s a tough one (for me) if the parents are there. I think if they weren’t I would try that.
                  Thinking about it as I type, I may try to dig out my children’s cutsie utensils and sell them as “special” for him to use.

              2. Marisol

                You could frame it as being really fun to eat like a grown-up. “Fergus, would you like to hold a grown-up knife and fork like your auntie Chi Chi? Here, I’ll show you.” If your kids are the same age, or a little older, that will also make it more compelling. You could also praise your kid’s table manners in the hope of inspiring some envy, or get your kid to help him learn. “Fergus, look how gracefully Percival cuts his steak with his knife. Would you like him to show you how he does that?”

                Reply
            2. Marillenbaum

              This makes me think of the scene in “Brooklyn” when Saorise Ronan’s character is about to have dinner with her Italian-American boyfriend’s family for the first time, and her housemates make her practice eating spaghetti beforehand so she doesn’t splash her future in-laws!

              Reply
            3. Emi.

              In “Brooklyn,” the Irish main character is going over to her Italian boyfriend’s house for dinner, and her roommates coach her for a week on how to eat spaghetti. I remember watching it and thinking “Okay, that settles it. I will never be able to date an Italian.”

              Reply
            4. Falling Diphthong

              One of my professors described meeting his fiancee’s Italian family (this was right after WW2) and asking for a fork and being told that southerners eat their pasta that way, like cannibals.

              Reply
        2. Specialk9

          I scramble in the pan because I hate doing extra dishes, but when others whisk before scrambling, I can taste the difference.

          Reply
          1. Amber Rose

            There’s a definite difference in texture, but I wouldn’t say the taste is heavily affected. Eggs still taste like eggs unless you add stuff like milk, which is another debate people take too seriously.

            Reply
        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Oh, that’s interesting. I have only seen left-handed folks cut with their knife in the left hand. Everyone else I know cuts using the right hand, then rests their knife on their plate and switches the fork to the right hand.

          Reply
          1. Amber Rose

            See that’s difficult to me, because I use the fork to hold the food still while I cut, which works better with my right hand since it’s stronger/more dexterous.

            And I know a lot of people don’t even really notice, but I do because I was once eating dinner when I decided to experiment with utensil holding. That’s the kind of person I am. xD

            Reply
            1. TL -

              I’m fairly ambidextrous and I eat in whatever way is most convenient, including switching fork hands depending on the handedness of the person next to me and using the knife with whatever hand makes it easier to cut (depending on the meat.)

              Reply
      2. hbc

        I highly doubt it’s “designed” for extra time for politeness sake. A rule that you lay your hands in your lap between cutting and eating would build in the time without requiring that you rearrange sharp objects every time, and why don’t you need the polite time between bites for things that don’t require a knife?

        There’s a lot of etiquette that’s justified with just-so stories because people aren’t willing to admit, “I dunno, it’s just what we do.”

        Reply
      3. TootsNYC

        I think it mostly means that you get to use your dominant hand for every complicated motion (cutting and eating both). So in a way, it’s lazier, because you don’t train your non-dominant hand to have some extra dexterity.

        Reply
    2. Courtney

      You don’t have to do it for every bite if you *gasp* cut all of your meat before you start eating it! I know that’s also not considered to be correct, but I’ve never understood why anyone cares about what hand someone else is eating with or in what order they eat and cut their meat.

      Reply
      1. Amber Rose

        No need to get all sarcastic. I don’t care, I just think it’s interesting that there’s so many different ways of doing it.

        Reply
        1. Courtney

          The gasp was actually mock horror I was directing at myself to acknowledge that I know the way I do it is technically wrong. No snark intended towards you!

          Reply
          1. Amber Rose

            Ah, my bad. I misunderstood. :)

            Sometimes if I have a small enough piece of meat, like half a chicken breast, I just stab it with my fork and take bites off it. I’m sure this is also scandalous. But the way I see it, if you aren’t picking it up with your hands and smearing it all over your face, or eating off the floor, we’re probably cool.

            Reply
      2. Artemesia

        Cutting all your meat before you start eating is, in face considered if not rude then childish. We cut up the child’s meat because it is efficient for us, but adults are supposed to cut a bite at a time and not prepare their plate as if for a small child.

        Reply
        1. Caro in the UK

          This is the criticism of the American method that I’ve heard before, that it’s infantile. Non-Americans can view cutting all the food up first before digging in as something which is done for and by children.

          I don’t care either way as long as you don’t talk with your mouth full!

          Reply
          1. fposte

            But this is a misunderstanding of American etiquette–as noted above, American etiquette doesn’t approve of cutting all the food up first either.

            Reply
            1. Caro in the UK

              Oh yes, I agree. I wasn’t saying that I view it that way, just that it’s what I’ve heard as the reason from people who apparently do!

              Reply
        2. Annie Moose

          Uh… what’s wrong with cutting up your meat? Why is that childish? You say “are supposed to” as if it’s some kind of international, perhaps even moral, law, but says who?

          Reply
          1. fposte

            Here’s the thing about culture–it’s like grammar, in that nobody’s going to come to your home and arrest you if you use the greengrocer’s apostrophe. But in both language and manners (as in pretty much everything else) people get to think what they want of you, and if you choose to deviate from accepted authorities, that thought is going to be more negative than if you followed them.

            Reply
            1. Brogrammer

              Grammar is a great parallel, in that as long as the basic function is performed (getting food to your mouth, conveying information) it seems like it shouldn’t matter, but it drives people nuts if you do it “wrong.”

              Fun fact: this is not limited to humans! Birds have grammar for their songs, and if you introduce a bird raised in captivity to a community of wild birds, the captive bird’s “grammar” will be slightly off and the wild birds will express their displeasure.

              Reply
              1. Courtney

                The reason I don’t view them as the same is that you’re talking to someone. You’re not cutting our food to/at anyone. I notice if my husband makes a grammar error when he’s talking to me because he’s talking to me, so I’m paying attention to his words. But I have no real reason to pay attention to his fork usage while we’re eating.

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  Setting aside the fact that I notice grammar whether the communication is addressed to me or not, what about the clothing parallel? Would you think any differently of somebody who came to your house barefoot and in only a Speedo? They’re not doing that to you either.

                2. Courtney

                  I don’t think that’s a reasonable comparison at all. Someone cutting up all their meat at once being equated to wearing a Speedo somewhere that clothes are expected? Come on. You will get kicked out of a store if you show up in just a Speedo. No restaurant will do the same because you cut up most of your meat before you took a bite of it. One is clearly way more noticeable/disruptive than the other.

            2. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

              Grammar is known to vary between different English-speaking regions, though. They say “The team is on the field” in the US and “The team are on the field” in the UK, and people probably have some idiosyncratic reasons why “their” version is “better” or “more logical” than the other, but that doesn’t change the fact that each is the accepted, normal usage in its respective region. We don’t expect the Brits to speak American English when they come here to the US, or vice versa — that would be ridiculous.

              (Plus, the “greengrocer’s apostrophe” is not even grammar — it’s orthography.)

              Reply
              1. fposte

                Heh. I like you. I would differentiate syntax from grammar as well as orthography, but in the current convention they’re all three conflated.

                And I’m absolutely in agreement that dress, language, and dining etiquette customs aren’t globally monolithic, and that the colleagues in this post were rather provincial.

                Reply
          2. nonymous

            What I was taught (in no uncertain terms and using very shaming language) by an Aunt when I was a child is that good table manners is the process of eating food in a way that your audience does not get exposed to the idea of mastication. Bites & sips should be small enough that they don’t interrupt the conversation flow. Likewise, when cutting up meat, you shouldn’t do so in a way that disrupts the Chef’s presentation on the plate.

            Reply
          3. Y

            Uh… what’s wrong with cutting up your meat?

            Wouldn’t it get cold a lot faster, what with the greater surface-area-to-volume ratio?

            Reply
        3. Courtney

          But why? I genuinely don’t understand why it matters to you when I cut my meat and how it could possibly be construed as rude when it has zero effect on you.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            I confess I don’t deeply care myself, but again think of it like dress–it has zero effect on you if somebody wears swimming briefs to dinner as well.

            Reply
          2. Falling Diphthong

            I mean, I don’t care, yet I could see myself leading a band of grammar vigilantes and abducting the greengrocers’ apostrophes under cover of darkness.

            Reply
            1. JanetM

              I have recurring fantasies of obtaining a Polaroid camera and film (maybe on eBay?), taking pictures of incorrect signs (“Welcome to Crabtree Common’s”), marking them up, and sending them to the managers with a note explaining the correction (“An apostrophe does not mean, ‘Look out! There’s an S a-coming!’).

              Reply
          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I don’t think it matters at all. But there is an etiquette norm about it, and I think that’s all Artemesia and fposte are saying. They’re not agreeing or disagreeing with the norm, but rather, explaining the rationale behind it. I suspect most polite people will not say anything or care about whether you cut up all your meat, first, because it would be insanely rude for them to do so.

            FWIW, when I see adults cut up all their meat (or other food) at the beginning of the meal, I assume they have small children.

            Reply
        4. TootsNYC

          The other criticism of cutting all your meat before you start is that you are declaring your intent is to eat as quickly and efficiently as possible.

          Which is rude for a seated dinner; the food is not supposed to be the main point–the company is. So anything you do that indicates your focus is on eating only, and especially the gluttony/greed of eating quickly, is considered rude. Like, hunching over your food, or eating fast, etc.

          Reply
      3. paul

        doesn’t it get cold faster that way? I don’t care if you do it or not, but I’d be worried about my food getting too cold to quickly

        Reply
        1. Courtney

          Well since I have two toddlers who need me to cut all of their food, get them milk, get them more of this and that, help them clean up whatever they spill, etc. (just insert lots of tiny neediness here), my food is unfortunately usually cold by the time I sit down regardless of how I cut it.

          Reply
          1. paul

            God, I know the toddler routine, we’ve got two. And my wife I work different schedules so it’s almost always just one of us with two toddlers at meal times. It gets better…right? Please say it gets better?

            Reply
          2. TootsNYC

            That’s why I started cutting up all my food at first. Because then I could just shove a bite in quickly in the middle without having to stop and cut it every time (bcs then I would get it cut, but I couldn’t eat it).

            Now I cut two or three pieces at once. I can’t bring myself to go back to cutting off each bite just as I’m ready to eat it.

            Reply
            1. Courtney

              Hmm, now I’m trying to remember whether this is a new habit of mine or one may began post-kids. Can anyone else not remember how they did certain things before having their children?

              Reply
      4. Anonygoose

        Riiiiiight? I don’t know why people think this is so difficult. I actually mostly eat European style, I guess (knife in right, fork in left, cut with each bite) but if I’m eating something difficult to cut (I’m looking at you, Mom’s well-done steak), you can bet I’m cutting it all up at once anyways. More efficient that way.

        Reply
    3. Nea

      While technically you’re supposed to do it every single bite, in my American experience what most people do is cut up half or all their portion at once, then switch and eat.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        As someone who prides himself on a perfectly medium rare steak, that fills me with horror. Great way to let the slices cool to stone cold even more rapidly, and let all the juice I painstakingly retained flow out onto your plate.

        Reply
        1. Courtney W

          My steak always seems still warm to me while I’m eating it despite the fact that I definitely cut up about half of it before I start eating. However, I’m fairly sure that how I like my steak cooked would horrify you as well, so my opinion probably doesn’t count for much, haha.

          Reply
        2. Gandalf the Nude

          That’s the only exception to my cut it up first rule and the reason we don’t eat steak at home. It’s too difficult to cut meat with no table.

          Reply
          1. Marillenbaum

            When I was in middle school, my church youth group had an activity where someone’s husband (who was a chef) taught us about food prep and kitchen things, including the finger test to understand increasing levels of doneness. The thing I remember most was his insistence that well-done steak was an insult to the cow, and we were never to do it. I switched to medium-rare immediately, and have done it ever since.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Consumer Reports just debunked the finger test (which made me sad, because I’d only just learned about it); apparently it leaves stuff undercooked.

              Reply
            2. JessaB

              Oh no. Chefs are going to get an earful from me. I don’t normally go to good steak places because I cannot deal with the mouth feel of anything but well done steak. I canNOT. Not optional. Every time someone has insisted I eat at a steak house I check the menu for the obligatory “one chicken dish” and if they don’t have it, we’re not going. Because I will not be insulted for what is a physio neuro atypical problem that is never going to change. It’s the same thing with non-minced mushrooms. It’s not the flavour, that’s delish, it’s I cannot have them in my mouth.

              Reply
              1. Snark

                To be clear, I understand that the texture thing can be really hard to deal with, and I can’t even with shrimp for the same reason. But….I just have to ask, though, why you bother, in that case. Most good steakhouses have several options besides chicken and steak on the menu, and it really makes no sense to splurge on a $26 (or more!) on a prime, usually aged, steak, and cook it to well. Everything that makes that steak worth more than a $6.99 one at the grocery store is obliterated by cooking it to that temperature.

                Reply
                1. Falling Diphthong

                  I rarely eat at steakhouses, because grilled steak is the ultimate in “food I could very easily make at home, for far less in time and money.” (For my birthday, we went out for tapas.) But if for some reason I were–I like salt, fat, and carcinogens. Ramping up the carcinogens while getting rid of the soft texture is a plus. It’s like grilled sausage or bacon being even better than plain pork chop. (And I have zero interest in any red meat or poultry tartare, again for texture. Sashimi is fine.)

                2. Courtney

                  This really isn’t true. I always get my steak well done, and the flavor of it at a subpar/average steak restaurant is absolutely nothing like that of a high-end one. There is a clear difference in flavor and tenderness when you have a really great chef cooking it, well done or not.

            3. Brogrammer

              If the steak in question is tender enough to be eaten when cooked medium rare, I agree that cooking it more than that is a waste of an expensive piece of meat. But I’ve also eaten some borderline inedible meals because an inexperienced home cook trying to follow that rule had bought tough meat that would have been much better with a different cooking method.

              People who don’t like rare beef should save their money, many of the cheaper cuts are at their best when cooked low and slow.

              Reply
              1. Snark

                There’s several cuts of meat, skirt and hanger in particular, which I think only really come into their own when grilled to medium, maybe even medium plus.

                Reply
          1. Marillenbaum

            I very nearly got food poisoning once from a roommate’s little sister who cooked us dinner, only for me to discover the chicken was raw inside. I asked her about it, and she said “Oh, I made the chicken medium rare!” It’s times like that I wished Home Ec was a more common class.

            Reply
            1. JessaB

              OMG nooooo. Funny I was watching Next Food Network Star and someone almost got sent off for cutting the chicken and not washing her hands. She properly flipped the cutting board, but they did NOT eat the chicken. Fortunately for her someone was way worse. But NO. I used to think FN was annoying because I watched a lot of shows and every. single. one. of. them. was “wash your hands, see I’m washing my hands.” And I realise they’re right. You can’t go even one show without reminding people.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                This is my favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen—anytime someone undercooks chicken and “could have poisoned” one of the sous chef’s pregnant wives, I feel like PSA to folks who don’t realize how dangerous that stuff is makes the whole ridiculous series worth it.

                Reply
                1. Cherith Ponsonby

                  How many pregnant wives does the sous chef have? ;)

                  Undercooked chicken is a big thing on (Australian) MasterChef as well – it’s not quite an instant disqualification but it might as well be. I don’t think we have the same level of risk (or maybe I’m just extra cavalier about it) but it’s a good message to be sending.

  13. Sophia Brooks

    When I was growing up, I wanted to keep the fork in my left hand and my grandmother was appalled! I got the feeling it was a class signifier, and that Southern European immigrants did not switch hands, and therefore we needed to. It just seemed more efficient! I was also taught that I needed to rest my utensils while I was chewing what I had just put in my mouth.

    Reply
    1. nonymous

      Did she tell you to silently recite the alphabet song before the next bite? I have memories of fake-chewing to meet that standard.

      Reply
  14. Momofkings

    Interesting…When I was a freshman in college, I hung out with a couple coworkers from Norway who had come here for pilot school. As I spent time with them, I noticed they ate in the European style. At first I thought my parents didn’t teach me the right way to eat (I lived with my dad who was very hands off and only saw my mom once a month for a weekend) so I taught myself how to eat that way. Later on, I learned that there is an American style and a European style. I’ve stuck with the European style since it much less awkward for me (except I have to switch the silverware for formally set tables).

    Reply
  15. Jessie the First (or second)

    Miss Manners disagrees with you! It is simply a cultural difference at this point.

    “Knives, spoons and fingers were the implements of choice to spear, slurp and grab. Only one was needed at a time, so only the right hand was used. When the fork gradually came into European use, it, too, was brought to the mouth from only the right hand.
    This was the correct European way of eating, and European settlers brought it to America, where it remains the correct method.
    But in relatively modern times, Europeans started speeding things up by keeping the fork in the left hand even after it is used to steady food that is being cut by a knife held in the right hand.
    Those who point out that the European manner is more efficient are right. Those who claim it is older or more sophisticated — etiquette has never considered getting food into the mouth faster a mark of refinement — are wrong.”
    (Link to the letter coming in next post)

    Reply
  16. Cruciatus

    I remember my mom telling me about a book or movie where a spy was outed because he held his utensils incorrectly. I can’t remember that he was American or not, but that’s always kind of stuck with me. When in Europe (Germany most of the time) I hold my fork in my left hand (upside down) and knife with the right. And sometimes the Europeans are like “ohh!”, a little surprised I can do that, but it’s usually in good humor. But I sure did get tired of cutting my hamburgers with a knife and fork… When I’m in the U.S. (as I am most of the time) it’s…whatever works best for the situation. If I’m eating with other people I don’t know well I step it up a notch (which means more that I use both utensils and not just my fork for everything).

    Some people are commenting that they are surprised the Europeans don’t know there’s a cultural difference and I actually think it’s more they (these specific people) don’t care. Americans are often considered classless even when people *know* it’s a difference. Their way is the high class way and the American way is the low class way. (Note: I don’t think all Europeans think this, but I have seen these views before).

    Reply
    1. Spider

      There’s also the movie “O.S.S.” (1946, with Alan Ladd) which involves an American spy being outed by his table manners.

      Reply
    2. CarolynM

      “And sometimes the Europeans are like “ohh!”, a little surprised I can do that, but it’s usually in good humor. ”

      I had a very similar experience in Japan – proper manners and being able to credibly use chopsticks were met with delighted surprise almost everywhere I went! It was not because the Japanese people I encountered were stunned that an American could get through a meal without grossing them out or being offensive … it was distinctly something else, being pleased that someone outside of their culture would make an effort to fit in! I have about 10 words of Japanese, but with only those words, a big smile, some charades and making an effort to fit in, a lot of doors opened for me!

      For the record … I tend to eat with my knife in my right hand and my fork in my left, but it never occurred to me to judge anyone for doing it differently! The way I see it, if this is something you lose sleep over, be ever-so-thankful for your charmed, charmed life … yeesh!

      Reply
  17. LadyL

    Every time I read this letter I try to remember how I use a fork and knife, and I realize that I seldom if ever use a knife. I wonder if this is related to the fact that I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat steak or chicken, or other tough foods that require a strong knife. I think 90% of the time I use the edge of my fork to break up foods, and a knife isn’t required. I feel like I eat a lot of foods that don’t need cutting, like pasta or stir fry (the food is already in small chunks). I’m sure the fork-as-knife is considered bad manners by anyone who gets annoyed by which hand you hold a knife in, but I honestly had never thought about it before.

    Are there any other vegetarians out there who are similarly drawing a blank on knife protocols or is this just me?

    Reply
    1. Junior Dev

      Not a vegetarian but I rarely eat foods that require a knife and I agree with you. A lot of the formal ettiquite around food involves specific foods (many of which are considered “high class” on some level). Soup and salad having their own utensils assumes there will be separate courses for those foods, and knife ettiquite involves large cuts of meat.

      Portabello mushrooms are a vegan protein that you might need a knife to eat. Mmmmmmmm…yummy.

      Reply
      1. LadyL

        Oh yes, love a good portobello mushroom! I usually eat them as a burger replacement, but I do recall making stuffed portobellos once at home and being very excited to finally use the steak knives that came with our silverware. Don’t remember how I held them though, i feel like maybe knife in my left hand and fork in my right the whole time?

        Reply
      2. Snark

        I have several vegetarian friends, and if steak is on the menu, I make them a grilled portobello with a thick, grilled slice of a heirloom tomato on top and a dollop of bearnaise sauce and chimichurri. It’s so bloody good that meat-eaters have gotten envious and started requesting that too.

        Reply
    2. Paige Turner

      Same…the first thing that comes to mind when I think about using a knife and fork to cut food would be pancakes or waffles :)

      Reply
      1. LadyL

        The only waffle/pancake etiquette question that counts: do you use good delicious real maple syrup, or nasty brown corn syrup imitating maple?

        Reply
      2. Bette

        Wait, why do you need a knife to cut a waffle or pancake? Those are easily cut with the side of a fork.

        Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          and even pancakes–some forks sort of smush the pancakes in order to cut them–I like a nice, crisp line. I don’t like smashed pancake, not even the 1/8 inch that results from cutting with the side of my fork.

          Reply
    3. Kiki

      Vegetarian here. I honestly can’t remember the last time I used a knife. I’m all about pasta, stir fry, and sandwiches.

      I just ate lunch and held the fork in my right hand, but I know I also cut with my right hand, so either I am a utensil switcher or I hold the fork with my left hand when a knife is involved. I’m ambidextrous so it could go either way.

      Reply
    4. SuperPoodle

      I’m also a vegetarian and was looking through the comments to see if anyone else was going to mention this!

      I pretty much only eat with a fork in my dominant (right) hand, and just cut through any bigger portions with the side of the fork unless it’s unusually tough (in which case I almost invariably just cut with my left hand, because I’m so used to the fork in my right–it just never occurred to me to do otherwise and only in recent years did I worry I was being rude, but no one ever corrected me). I never really noticed the difference until I moved to London (I’m American) and saw all my friends eating tines down with fork in left and knife in right, but I still sort of put it down to the fact that I was the only vegetarian. I do wonder a bit if they were silently horrified at my table manners, but they never shied away for making fun of me for other things, like the American pronunciation of “herb” or my staunch distinction between “that” and “which.”

      There were plenty of cultural norms I got on board with pretty quickly, like not smiling to strangers on the street, not making eye contact on the tube, asking where the toilet was instead of the bath/restroom–all the small, easy ones. But I was only there a year and I’m sure there were many more things I didn’t assimilate to.

      I tend to be very absorbative of vocabulary pretty quickly, but less so of refined behavior, so it took me a while to notice the utensil differences, even after I was already thinking of pants as underwear, saying “I was meant to go to the library” instead of “supposed to,” and saying “maths.”

      I became vegetarian when I was 11, and very much built my table manners around what I was eating; now that I’m 35, it’s all pretty embedded, but I don’t know what other people do who are vegetarians but still ate meat for a significant portion of their lives. Did you change how you use a knife and fork? I’m so curious!

      Reply
    5. lex

      I’m another American vegetarian who rarely uses a knife. I am also pretty ambidextrous so on the rare occasion I need to use a knife I use it in my left hand while I keep my fork in my right which apparently makes me an animal unfit for sharing tables. :-P

      Reply
    6. Saturnalia

      *waves* hi, count me in this camp! The few times the seitan has been knife worthy, I seriously struggled with switching between the knife and fork in my right hand and wondered how anyone uses a knife. Now I know!

      Although now I am craving some well-charred, knife-worthy BBQ seitan strips…

      Reply
    7. Charlene

      I’m a vegetarian and I usually just use the side of my fork because I have to cut things up so rarely when I eat something and even if I do, it’s often something like pancakes. I do remember being taught that you should hold the fork in your left hand to stabilize the food and use the knife in your right hand, but I don’t even remember there being a rule about which hand you then ate with!

      Reply
  18. Orlando

    European here, if it matters.

    Yeah, when in Rome, the Roman style is correct. You don’t have to imitate it, but at least don’t try to correct the Romans!

    Reply
    1. JessaB

      Yes, the worst of all etiquette is correcting others when there’s no danger to anyone around. Exception being your kids at home when learning the basic rules so as not to look like animals.

      Reply
  19. Stop That Goat

    I guess I’m pretty uncouth. I’m fairly certain that I don’t swap hands in the middle of the process of cutting to entering my face but it would have never dawned on me that people were paying that close attention. I’m a bit clumsy so I’m largely focused on getting it into my mouth and not on my clothes though.

    Reply
    1. Courtney

      It also would never occur to me that people pay attention to these things. I couldn’t tell you which way my parents, brother, or husband do this, despite having eaten thousands of meals with each of them.

      Reply
    2. Alexa

      Same. I can’t imagine using my fork “upside down” – I’d have to carry a clean shirt with me for every meal!

      Reply
  20. Aphrodite

    It’s not rude to go by different etiquette rules when using dining utensils. It is always rude to point out, and especially to make fun of, others’ etiquette. Judging others for their proper manners means you need to re-taught your own.

    Reply
  21. MicroManagered

    Well I’ll be.

    I am somewhat ambidextrous in that I was left-handed originally but I got “switched” to right-handed as a kid (in Catholic school, which yes, they still did in the 1980s!). As a result, I do many things left-handed that people typically do with their writing-hand, such as eating.

    My mother used to scold me for not using a fork and knife correctly, but it turns out I just do it European style? Suck on that, MOM! LOL

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Though it depends how you hold the fork in that left hand–the grasp is relevant too. You could be a bold innovator on some completely new table manner :-).

      Reply
    2. Sophia Brooks

      I was switched in the 70s, and didn’t find out until my thirties that I had not invented a new, weird kind of knitting, I just knitted Continental Style instead of English.

      Reply
  22. CatCat

    Are you supposed to always hold the fork in your left hand in Europe, or only when cutting food with a knife and then eating the food?

    What if you are eating noodles?

    Reply
  23. I Am Fergus

    I have been with my fiancee 4 years I couldn’t tell you how she cuts her food and I don’t care. She’s not throwing it or acting like a 3 year old, so it doesn’t matter.

    Reply
  24. UK1331

    I’m British and I use utensils like an American, and I say these people are just being snobby. That was the whole reason these rules developed, to subtly communicate where you fall in the class hierarchy. Fair enough if someone is eating with their mouth open or flinging food every where, but if it’s just a case of how you hold a knife or whatever, people need to drop it.

    Reply
  25. babblemouth

    The Europeans are being rude.
    When I read the title, I was wondering if we’d be talking about eating pizza by hand with oil dripping down someone’s shirt or something (not that this would be any more acceptable in the US anyway)… but keep the fork in the right hand? That’s barely noteworthy.

    (FWIW, I am European)

    Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        well, they’re not offended. They’re judgmental.

        You can think something is substandard and not actually be personally offended by it.

        Reply
  26. Antilles

    I’ve never paid attention to it, but I seriously didn’t realize that people didn’t switch hands.
    You have a dominant hand, right? So when you’re actively cutting food, shouldn’t the cutting knife be in your dominant hand to avoid mishaps? And then when you’re done cutting food, it makes sense to keep the fork in your dominant hand for better control. Seems pretty logical.

    Reply
    1. Sydney

      I’m left handed so I hold the fork in my left hand and hold the knife in my right to eat. I think people who are left handed are somewhat adept at using their right hand for things since so much of society is geared towards right handed people.

      Reply
      1. Hedwig

        I think the way it generally works is that the knife stays in your dominant hand and the fork in your other hand. I occasionally eat that way, and even though I usually eat American style and am far from ambidextrous, I don’t have any trouble getting the fork in my mouth with my left hand when I do eat the more European way.

        Reply
    2. TootsNYC

      The “dominant hand” thing goes make sense–but the European style means that you develop dexterity in your left hand (for eating, at least) because you’ve always done it.

      There are things I do that strongly involve my non-dominant hand simply because two hands are necessary or useful. Just not eating.

      Reply
    3. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant

      Like Sydney, I’m left-handed and I hold my knife in my right hand (I would fear disaster if I were to do it the other way). This hand dominance question reminds me of an argument I once heard about whether left-handed people are at an advantage or a disadvantage when playing the violin:

      1) Left-handed people have an advantage because the fingers of their left hand are more dextrous*; thus, they have an easier time with the left-hand fingering technique than righties do.

      2) Holding the bow in your non-dominant hand is extremely suboptimal; they should play on special left-handed violins instead.

      I have no idea which is right; I’ve never played a string instrument myself. But it’s the same kind of issue: your dominant side has more dexterity, and dexterity is useful for both hands’ roles. So where do you put the extra dexterity, if you have the choice?

      *etymology, lol

      Reply
  27. NotToday

    I only have partial use of my left hand, and while I can cut meat/food with my fork in my left hand, eating with a fork in that hand means I WILL wind up wearing my meal. I’ve traveled in Europe and eaten American style without anyone batting an eye.

    Much more important things to focus on, IMHO.

    Reply
  28. Demon Llama

    On a separate, but FASCINATING note, when eating with chopsticks, apparently the further back you hold your chopsticks (i.e. away from the food), the classier you apparently appear, because the posher you were, the less you had to gobble your food and use the chopsticks to shovel rice towards your mouth.

    There are also loads of rules about leaving your chopsticks crossed or uncrossed, and definitely don’t leave them sticking up out of a bowl of rice…

    Of course, having this knowledge doesn’t make my chopstickery any more skillful. :(

    Reply
    1. H.C.

      Oh, I’ve been holding my chopsticks wrong from day one, but have no shame about it. (I use the scissor/”X” method rather than the traditional method printed on the chopstick wrapper.)

      Reply
    2. Specialk9

      I’m wondering if that’s country specific, since I learned that shoveling rice from plate to mouth 3″ away was polite, despite how it looks to Westerners. I think this is China specific, though.

      Reply
      1. nonymous

        Yes, shoveling from bowl held near to mouth is what I was taught too. Much fun had at expense of American relatives who tried to eat rice from a plate on the table with chopsticks.

        Reply
      2. Demon Llama

        Huh, go figure – I was told about the chopstick length thing in China… maybe both are true, depending on region or perhaps from different historic period?

        Reply
    3. Turquoise Cow

      I eat enough Asian food that I consider myself adept at chopsticks, but a few weeks ago, husband and I were at a new Korean Barbecue restaurant. Since it’s sometimes easier, I stabbed my meat with the chopstick instead of picking it up properly. The waitress immediately offered to bring me a fork, “in case I was having trouble with the chopsticks.” Never mind that I had eaten a lot of the meat, and the appetizers, with chopsticks, and without a problem. I was beyond fuming, and do not want to go back.

      Reply
      1. Kate 2

        Did she watch you eat earlier? She might not have noticed that you ate the earlier courses with ease, and just caught that one moment.

        Reply
    4. Suz

      “when eating with chopsticks, apparently the further back you hold your chopsticks (i.e. away from the food), the classier you apparently appear”
      When I was in China I was told there is a legend that says the further back you hold them, the farther away from home you’ll move when you get married. If you hold them near the tips, you’ll live close to your parents for the rest of your life.

      Reply
      1. Demon Llama

        That’s brilliant! I didn’t know that one. I can imagine my mother staring at my fingers accusingly every night, much as she did when I told her I was planning to apply to universities the other end of the country…

        Reply
      2. Emi.

        I wonder if this is tied to its being high-falutin’. If you’re all schmancy, you’ll end up with an important position in the court and abandon your filial duties?

        Reply
    5. Turtle Candle

      My coworkers in Shanghai commented on the same thing (in a “wow, how interesting!” way, not a sneering way)–but for them it wasn’t a classiness issue per se. It was just that to them foreigners held their chopsticks weirdly close to the tips (about halfway along the length), which they thought might be more difficult than how they held them (near the ends). Their theory was that we held chopsticks so that the effective length was about as long as a fork, which may be true.

      Reply
  29. Detective Amy Santiago

    Gosh, I wonder what they’d say about me cutting all my meat at once and then eating it?

    Reply
    1. Snark

      The chef might wince at how quickly you’re letting your food cool down, but otherwise, I don’t see why anybody’d judge that.

      Reply
    2. Courtney

      See above comments where I admitted to doing this and was told it was rude and/or childish. I never realized people actually cared that much about how others use their silverware.

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        I didn’t comment, but while I don’t care, I definitely hear my mom’s voice telling me that a lady switches hands and puts her left in her lap, and never cuts all her food at once, or chews with food visible, or talks with food in her mouth . I don’t care per se, but I know the rules. I care, though, if someone is being a prat while also wrong. (Not you, the co-workers)

        Reply
        1. Marillenbaum

          Putting your hand in your lap? How interesting–I’d been taught never to put my hands in my lap during the meal, lest your host think you are trying to dispose of something on the sly; instead, it was resting your wrists on the edge of the table. (Side note: did your parents ever sing the song “Mabel, Mabel, strong and able, get your elbows off the table!”?)

          Reply
      2. CMart

        I own the fact that it’s super childish and that I don’t particularly care (or agree). It usually helps me regulate my eating by taking smaller bites, and if you’re eating a dish that has a sauce accompaniment you get a much higher sauce:meat ratio.

        I saw elsewhere some medium-rare steak eater was horrified by this practice, but as a fellow medium-rare steak eater I’ve found that this actually preserves the done-ness of my steak. A steak that is perfectly med-rare when it’s brought to me, left intact to rest on my plate, will be medium or more by the time I get to the other end of it. It stops cooking when I cut it up and every bite is tender and delicious.

        Reply
  30. Mockingjay

    What most etiquette sticklers don’t consider is how much practice is needed to become adept holding utensils differently.

    I learned to eat European-style when I lived abroad. It took me a year to master eating salad neatly. Lettuce or tomato with vinaigrette is quite slippery! I am still trying to learn chopsticks.

    I wouldn’t expect someone who is briefly visiting another country to adopt a different utensil habit. Frequent business travelers might want to learn, but practice at home before the trip is strongly advised!

    Reply
    1. fposte

      That’s a really interesting point; it’s not simply knowing, it’s being able to develop the fine motor skills enough to make it actually work.

      Reply
      1. bearing

        And it’s *super* polite to out people who have disabilities affecting their fine motor control by sneering at their fork usage.

        Reply
    2. Annie Moose

      Yeah, I tried to teach myself how to eat European-style before a trip to England a couple years ago, and… it’s not that easy to just switch. It’s very awkward to eat with your left hand when you’re a righty who’s never eaten with your left hand! (and I imagine the reverse is true too; even if your right hand is your dominant one, I imagine it’s tricky to eat with if you’ve never done it before)

      I am significantly more dribbly, messy, and uncultured-seeming when I try to eat using a hand I’m not familiar with–if you want me to look reasonably classy, let me use the hand I’ve eaten with for 25 years! (give or take. I probably didn’t come out of the womb using a fork and knife)

      Reply
    3. Bye

      Okay hang on how are Europeans eating their salad?? I can’t even visualize how there is more than one way to do it with a fork.

      Reply
      1. CMart

        I’m having a hard time as well. Do right handed people, given a dish that does not require the use of a knife, still use their left hand for the fork?

        At best I can stab something and hopefully put it in my mouth with my left hand. Attempting to use it for more delicate activities like a salad with many small bits or (God forbid) use a spoon for soup would end up in far ruder consequences than using my right hand to eat.

        Reply
      2. Marillenbaum

        Strictly speaking , a salad is meant to be dressed and chopped before it is served for precisely this reason–traditionally, there is no such thing as a salad knife in a dinner service, because the acid from the dressing would damage the silver of the knife. Thus, one would eat salad only with a fork (the tines received less damage).

        Reply
    4. Jack

      Really? How much harder is it to put the fork in your mouth with your left hand instead of switching it to your right hand? If you were going to use the knife in your left hand then I can see the challenge, but just lifting the fork from the plate to you mouth is not difficult.

      Reply
    5. Turtle Candle

      Yyyyyyep. I’d rather be seen as mildly barbaric than to flip the steak onto the floor, or drop a tomato down my blouse.

      Also, I commented on this upthread, but I actually find non-fork-switching fork use a lot harder than eating with unfamiliar implements (like chopsticks, or injera, or my hands). Because with chopsticks or etc. I’m practicing a new skill, but with forks-that-I-do-not-switch I’m actively fighting thirty years of existing muscle memory. Eating with a knife and fork is something that I’ve done for so long that I just do it, without any conscious thought; doing it differently would require conscious thought and active attention, which is difficult if I’m also trying to carry on intelligent conversation.

      Changing your eating style, and doing so gracefully and neatly while also participating in conversation, is surprisingly difficult.

      Reply
  31. Fabulous

    I would do horribly in Europe… I have zero coordination of my left hand, aside from typing. I would probably drop my food more often than not if I tried the European way of eating. I can’t even wield my knife with my left hand as some others have mentioned doing. I have no option but to switch hands!

    Reply
    1. AwkwardKaterpillar

      Same here! My left hand is good for holding things and that’s about it. I do the ‘switching’ because I can’t be trusted to cut anything with my left hand. I’d probably end of somehow stabbing myself in the hand or flicking food across the table.

      Reply
  32. gingerbird

    I was always taught to switch hands. It was explained to me by my mother that eating without switching looked like you were shoveling food into your mouth. But more importantly, she taught me to never snivel at other’s table manners, especially if it was a person from another culture.

    And I’m aware that the European style of eating is more efficient, but since when has ettiquite been about efficiency? And do Americans really need to eat in a faster way? I mean, if it was all about efficiency, we’d just eat everything by hand and in sandwhich form.

    Reply
    1. Typhon Worker Bee

      I really don’t get the “eating without switching looks like you’re shovelling food into your mouth” explanation. If the few seconds it takes to transfer the fork into your right hand is literally the only time you’re pausing during a meal, you still look like you’re shovelling food. As long as you’re occasionally putting your cutlery down to take a sip of your drink or keep the conversation going, you don’t look like you’re shovelling, regardless of which hand your fork’s in.

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        It was a European class-signaling rule, that ironically Europeans have since dropped but the colonies continue.

        As an aside, the American accent is also closer to how royalty talked in the colonial era, and the current British accent how peasants talked. Kinda funny.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          My personal favorite there is the British aspirated “h” on “herb,” which is a Victorian middle-class hypercorrection, a sound added for fear of being thought lower class, even though the silent h was historically correct.

          Reply
  33. Erin

    I’m European, we’ve been taught to eat the same way. Europe is not one country, so the culture is not at all homogeneous, it’s ignorant of the European clients to forget that.

    Reply
  34. Marillenbaum

    How little these clients must be enjoying their own dinners, if they have so much time to dedicate to other people’s.

    Reply
  35. anon for this

    Wow, I’ve never been more glad to be in a role where working meals aren’t a thing!

    I think everyone involved in this should be inclined to extend a little more grace to the other guests at the table.

    Reply
  36. Ankaret Wells

    I’m European (at least until Brexit; I’m in the UK) and I’m sorry those people were being so rude and childish about their colleagues’ table manners. Don’t they have anything better to talk about? I don’t remember ever not knowing that Americans swap their fork over, but then I was reading Miss Manners when I was twelve.

    As long as no one’s spitting food at me or attacking me with cutlery, I couldn’t care less how they choose to eat.

    I doubt it’s anti-American feeling. I used to live near a very touristy city where I knew some professional misanthropes who liked to moan about everything visitors to their city did or said, and I never heard even them objecting to what fork people ate with. (They mostly seemed to be annoyed by overwrought kids of any nationality, and US credit cards not having Chip and PIN).

    If anything I’ve heard more sympathy towards Americans since the most recent election, though I move in a left wing bubble that might not be representative.

    Reply
  37. Catalina

    I’m neither American nor European, and I think this is probably less about this specific fork switching thing and more about the fact that many Europeans seem to relish sneering at Americans in general.

    Reply
  38. Michelle

    I’m 43 and I’ve never switched hands when eating. I’m right handed, but I have always held the fork in my left hand and use the same hand to bring the food to my mouth. I didn’t realize I was supposed to be switching hands.

    Reply
  39. Suz

    This reminded me of a business dinner on my 1st trip to China. One of the chicken dishes we were eating had bones in it. As I was eating I put my bones on my plate . Our server kept taking my plate full of food away and bringing me a new plate. I asked why she kept doing that and was told it was because my plate was dirty since I put the bones on it. Proper etiquette there is to put the bones on the table.

    Reply
    1. Fabulous

      Weird… I mean I understand the whole “plate is dirty with the bones” but I’d rather have my plate be dirty than the table!

      Reply
  40. boop the first

    Wow, I had no idea this was such a thing! I’m sure when I was a young’n, I probably switched hands. I can’t remember how that went, and at some point, I was taught to take the bite with my left hand, knife still at the ready.

    I agree that efficiency in food can be seen as a negative in our culture. Our rushed eating makes having such sad, short meal breaks “just fine”, and definitely contributes to my overeating in my case.

    At the same time, I cant imagine what it’s like to be so reliable on one dominant hand that turning a fork becomes a challenge. Am I just paranoid when I worry about someday losing ability in my dominant hand? As a kid I used to occasionally practice doing things with the left hand, just so I have a headstart on my imagined unfortunate future self, lol. It was very “handy” at the end of a busy week when I had a painting due but my left hand was the only one fit enough to finish the painting. Righty needed a break. You’ll never know.

    Reply
    1. Jack

      I’ve never done the fork switching and I’m an American because it always seemed so inefficient to me.

      And I tend to eat a bit faster than etiquette probably dictates (but not “shoveling” fast) because I don’t like cold food (assuming it’s not something that is supposed to be cold). I want to eat my food while it is still hot.

      Reply
      1. Rana

        I’m a super slow eater and I don’t fork switch. I can only imagine how many hours at the table, staring at cold food while everyone else is on to dessert, I’d end up taking, if I fork switched.

        Reply
  41. Jaguar

    I’m Canadian. Most people seem to eat in the European fashion here (including me), but I don’t know how prevalent any particular style is here. When I see someone doing the hand switch, I’m just astonished at how needlessly complicated it is.

    Reply
  42. OldJules

    As a person who has been foreign in multiple country and culture, honestly, this isn’t surprising to me. I’ve heard it from Americans too. I’ve been ridiculed by the way I enunciate things, how I phrase things, how I behave, my pinky placement when I have tea etc etc. Some people need to feel superior to others and in order to establish ‘dominance’ they pick at essentially minor infraction. You just learn to roll with it and work though it. Haters will hate and I am not changing who I am to please someone else’s idea of norm. Took me a lot of years to reach that conclusion, but I am sticking by it.

    Reply
    1. Orlando

      I really like your comment.

      We should include something like this in the school curriculum, instead of all the trivia about, I don’t know, lengths of rivers and whatnot.

      Reply
    2. Torrance

      Yeah, there are boors in every country. In America, I’ve been mocked and harassed because I have chosen not to Americanise my language. It’s always more of a reflection on them than it is on me, as long as I don’t use it as an excuse to assume things about Americans on the whole.

      (I wonder, perhaps, if this was an unfortunate letter to rerun, as the comments are already in need for a firmer hand than usual. ‘Euroweenies’, really?)

      Reply
      1. Orlando

        Yes, I was surprised. Usually, people are engaged and passionate, but there’s a certain standard. In this discussion there’s a certain amount of… animosity? That is not the norm here, as far as I’ve seen.

        Reply
  43. Allison

    If anything, I think it’d rude to travel (or move) to another country and criticize their manners.

    I probably told this story on the original post, but my parents told me the story of when they were at the Royal Henley Regatta in the 80’s, and they were eating, and some snooty woman said “oh you must be Americans” judging by the way they used their knives and forks. That story stuck with me for a long time, and for a while I actually tried to eat the way proper English people ate even though we were middle class Americans living in a Boston suburb. Oddly enough, when we traveled to England this June (in part to see the races at Henley, although I couldn’t make it to the Royal Regatta), I didn’t even think about how I ate my meat when trying hard not to be an ugly American. Then again, we didn’t eat in a lot of fancy places, so it probably didn’t matter.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      The spoon thing fascinates me! I only learned about it a couple of years ago. But then I just think spoons are the nicest of the utensils anyway.

      Reply
    2. Pathfinder Ryder

      Same (though Kiwi, not American)!

      A white Canadian date once laughed at me asking for a spoon in a nice restaurant but I have no idea of either continent’s way to eat with a knife :(

      Reply
  44. Oskiesque

    However, I also know how to eat and what utensils to use depending on the setting — cultural, class or otherwise. However, what doesn’t change, in any setting, is that making fun of others (for whatever reason) is rude and uncalled for.

    Reply
  45. Julia Gulia

    I have had several terse conversations in restaurants with people who felt the need to correct the behavior of my relatives. (My brother holds his fork like that because he is a lifelong practitioner of martial arts, and has broken his fingers so many times that he has lost significant fine motor control. My mother-in-law ordered that expensive steak well done because she has an auto-immune disease, and cannot eat meat any other way. Anything else you’d like to comment on that isn’t your business?)

    As soon as you correct the manners of someone else, you’ve already lost.

    Reply
    1. Gazebo Slayer

      This.

      (Also, there’s another dining etiquette behavior that needs to be staked through the heart and buried: the notion that declining to eat a food item is rude. A lot of people have dietary restrictions that are absolutely nothing personal. If you get offended that someone won’t eat something because it could make them sick or in some cases even kill them, YOU are the rude one. In fact, “rude” is too mild a term.)

      Reply
  46. FiveWheels

    Of course, even if American table habits are a horrific breach of etiquette, it is a considerably worse breach of etiquette for the Europeans to ridicule it.

    Reply
  47. TootsNYC

    Would these European colleagues rather have their American guests drop their food all over the place? This is also a dexterity issue.

    I’m sure they enjoy feeling superior. But they are showing how provincial they are. I’ve had Europeans come visit in the U.S., and nobody comments or makes snotty remarks about which fork they are using, and they don’t change their habits to “fit in” in the U.S.
    At least, the only people I’ve ever heard comment on it were narrow-minded people who suffered from a mistaken sense of their own superiority.
    Ahem.

    But the next time these Europeans say something, you might say, “They’re not using their forks AT you.”

    This aspect of table “manners” is the LEAST interactive of them all. Nobody else is involved in any way. Nothing’s being handed back and forth, etc.

    Reply
  48. Bella

    It’s the “uncivilized” judgement that I find concerning. If the European clients are looking down their nose at people who switch forks from one hand to another, what do they think of cultures and people who eat primarily with their hands? It’s one thing to favor the etiquette of your country. It’s another to feel that any other way of doing things is uncivilized.

    Reply
    1. Hrovitnir

      Hmm, maybe. It’s entirely possible that this is American-specific though. Making fun of Americans being boors is fairly common and doesn’t even necessarily mean they think terribly badly of the Americans.

      Reply
  49. Middle Name Jane

    I think the Europeans are being boors. As long as no one is shoveling food in their mouths with their hands and chewing with their mouths open, what the hell difference does it make how the fork is used? Making fun of someone is just as rude as the perceived etiquette gaffe. And in this case, I don’t think it’s a gaffe at all. It’s customary in the U.S. to switch hands for the fork. If I tried to use cutlery in the European style, I’d probably end up with food on my shirt. In a business setting, especially, I don’t want to struggle with eating and risk making a mess. I would use cutlery the way I always have so that I could eat with confidence.

    Reply
  50. Recruit-o-Rama

    I can’t imagine my life being so empty that I would notice or care how people hold their forks. I think every reasonable person knows there are cultural etiquette variances and anyone who insists they are so right to the point of sneering is a snobby boor not worth my time.

    Reply
  51. Annie Moose

    On the subject of European vs. American eating styles…

    I was in London a few years ago, and we ended up going to this really fabulous Mexican restaurant. I mean it was some of the best Mexican food I’ve had outside of Mexico. So we get tacos and tostadas and such, and we’re merrily eating away with our hands, because how on earth else are you going to eat a taco, when we suddenly realize we are the only people in sight eating with our hands. I dunno if it was an English thing as a whole, or if we just happened to stop in the restaurant on Use Forks and Knives for Everything Day, but once we noticed, it felt kind of… awkward. And yes, people were looking at us.

    (I still ate my tacos with my hands, though… I didn’t know anybody in the restaurant so I didn’t really care what they thought. Also, it’s hard to eat a tostada with a fork. Sorry, fellow patrons of that most excellent restaurant.)

    Reply
    1. Specialk9

      I have a friend who lived in India and learned to eat with her hands. She now ostentatiously eats with her hands at Indian restaurants in the US. It’s this funny reverse snobbery.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Miss Manners is a big champion of doing that with asparagus. She loves it when you can shock people by behaving correctly.

        Reply
        1. Marillenbaum

          I loved that! It was a fun one to bust out at the dinner table as a teenager (I liked to read etiquette books for fun).

          Reply
    2. Kate

      This reminds me of when I got teased for eating pizza with a knife and fork when we moved back to the US…but I was 12, as were the ones doing the teasing.

      Reply
  52. M-C

    Well, so far the comments show exactly the kind of insular, narrow-minded attitude that the Europeans here were addressing by focusing on one point of politeness.. Yes, the Europeans were unkind in making cruel fun of American manners. But let me remind y’all that they were making fun -out- of the actual Americans’ presence – they were gracefully including the dual national as one of their own because clearly the OP got the point of at least trying to be cross-culturally sensitive. You could even argue that they were being helpful in including them, even if indirectly, as they could then get back to their American colleagues and let them know what a poor impression they were making on their clients. How could the Europeans imagine that the Americans were not just behaving boorishly (in their opinion), but were actually such boors that they wouldn’t care at all about what impression they were making, or foolish enough to discount such an impression on -clients-?

    The telling detail here I think is that the same group makes efforts for Asian clients but not for the European ones. What’s the deal here with the difference in attitude? Do they misread the potential for profitable exchange in one place vs the other? How would they not perceive that politeness is at least as important for Europeans? Do they not understand that different countries/continents focus their perception of politeness in different places? Table manners seem pretty universal as a barometer of politeness though, if only because there’s such scope there to gross people out if things go wrong. And because most of the world is much more focused on a pleasant food experience than fast-food-addled Americans. So concentrating on that when you go to another country would be a good idea in general.

    I don’t know what to tell you, OP, as another bicontinental person I’ve often found myself in your shoes and born the brunt of cultural misunderstandings. All I’ve ever been able to do is mildly point out the other side’s point of view, and hope that brings some understanding. Of course much of the time that just leads to emphasizing my own semi-outsider status :-). But you can always hope that it sinks in somewhere. For your specific problem, I’d recommend emphasizing the client status of the offended parties, and making parallels to the Asian side, as that might serve best to wake them up to what they’re doing wrong. Don’t expect instant results though.. And as Allison points out, being more firm with your direct reports is totally something you should do, which might even bring obviously better results for your department that you can point to later.

    Reply
    1. paul

      The Americans weren’t the ones laughing at and sneering about what hand someone else ate with. So I’m not sure they were the narrow minded ones here, at all.

      I’ll also say that my impression is that etiquette is more extreme between the US and China or Japan than it is between the US and the UK, so it’s entirely likely that despite some cross cultural training they still likely did not have perfect manners in dealing with their Asian clients.

      I’ve got a good friend with a wife from Schezuan province (and her brand of New Mexican and Schezuan fusion is to die for but super spicy) , and one of my wife’s cousins is married to a very nice Russian woman. Two of my coworkers are Mexican and one of my agencies other employees is Polish. My wife is friends with a guy from Sudan that she met in classes and we hang out some. Hell, my wife was raised by Easterners, and I’m a high plains/mountains guy. We all grew up different ways of doing things. We all have our own default internal list of what is and isn’t normal or proper in different situations. We can all get along because we all make allowances.

      When you’re interacting with people of different nationalities, you just have to expect some differences and give some grace, particularly on finer points of etiquette, and that’s something the Europeans here weren’t doing.

      Reply
    2. Specialk9

      So we’re rude for pointing out that they’re mean bullies? Hey sorry. I guess my understanding of cultural sensitivity doesn’t include sneering at other cultures. I’m kinda backwards that way, I guess.

      Reply
    3. Sualah

      I would like to get more information about what OP meant by following Asian customs. I just can’t see everyone on the group all becoming chopstick masters. They probably still ate using forks and knives and spoons, but followed customs. And that was probably a better plan than trying to eat with chopsticks and possibly making a mess. I know I would not love to change my style of eating in front of clients and have a higher chance of dropping something, spilling something, making some kind of mess. So I don’t see any issue with continuing to eat the American way.

      Reply
      1. Middle Name Jane

        Exactly, Sualah. Our family ate Chinese food a lot when I was growing up, and my uncle taught my cousin and me how to use chopsticks. I’m really good at it and enjoy using them. I would feel comfortable using them in a business setting.

        But I’ve spent my whole life using forks and knives the American way, and I have no intention of changing to the European way. Sounds hypocritical, but that’s the way I feel. To me, it’s not worth quibbling over. They’re still forks and knives. What difference does it make which hands are used to hold them?

        Reply
      2. Kate 2

        Not to mention using your left hand as your dominant hand when eating is very difficult for people who have never done it. At least using chopsticks lets you use your dominant hand!!

        Reply
  53. EmilyG

    To me this has not too much to do with nationality and a lot to do with class signifiers, which makes it even more ooky and inappropriate to bring into the workplace.

    I’m American and eat things requiring a knife with the fork in my left hand (but if I’m eating a salad or something that doesn’t require a knife, I use my right hand–basically, I’m right-handed, but I don’t switch). I picked this up from my grandmother, who was required to eat that way by her sorority at a women’s college. I think it was one zillion percent about seeming “classy.” I just stuck with it because I find it easier.

    I think the European colleagues are being jerks, same as if they were making fun of someone’s accent or appearance. I hope the OP took them all to a BBQ restaurant the next time they were visiting the US and taught them how to enjoy themselves properly. :P

    Reply
  54. she was a fast machine

    If anything, the Europeans are being the rudest in this situation. Unless it’s a state dinner of some kind, who cares how they hold a fork? Lording your superiority over someone is the greatest sign of boorish behavior.

    Lord knows they’d freak at me; not only do I eat with the fork in the right hand, I cut my food with my left! And I’m right handed, so I’m doing it “wrong” both ways.

    Reply
    1. Emi.

      And if it were a state dinner, I like to think that most heads of state are polite enough not to laugh at other people’s manners.

      Reply
  55. self employed

    It’s interesting how incensed people seem to be getting when told their habits are not proper/formal table etiquette. It’s not a personal insult if you are doing it “wrong.” Lots of areas of etiquette are becoming more gray. It’s helpful to know what is proper for formal and business settings, and if you eschew it for convenience or preference, fine! But understand that certain situations have certain recommended behaviors. You wouldn’t belch loudly at a wedding ceremony even if you would at home on your couch. You can have different prefernces but still acknowledge the necessity for behaving more formally on certain occasions.

    Reply
    1. librarylass

      The thing is, “proper” by whose standards? No party here is dropping food on the table, spitting, or chewing with one’s mouth open. Why should European-style eating habits be considered more formal or proper? That’s a bunch of culturally chauvinist nonsense, and THAT is what is incensing people.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        But dropping food on the table, chewing with one’s mouth open, and spitting are only wrong by arbitrary standards as well. You can’t on the one hand reject the notion of standards and on the other support those you like.

        I don’t know where you stand on dress codes and styles, but it’s not that different from those. What makes an outfit formal or informal is not simply how much it covers, and an outfit can be improper without revealing any publicly illegal areas.

        Reply
        1. librarylass

          I think the difference to me here is that you CAN make an argument that those behaviors impact others’ enjoyment of the meal when people of two different cultures meet. Then adjustments in behavior and perception should be made on both sides. But what annoyed me the first time this topic came up and what continues to annoy me is that it makes literally not one bit of difference to your dining experience how I hold my fork, especially when we’re talking about a set of cultures where the dining utensils and behavior have such a large degree of overlap.

          What I reject is the idea that the European style is INHERENTLY more formal or proper. Nope, not buying it.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            *Any* behavior can impact somebody else’s enjoyment of the meal. You’re singling those out because they bother you, and it’s just so ingrained you’re not seeing that that’s a cultural thing.

            (Agreed that the European style isn’t inherently more formal or proper, though–not that the two things are the same anyway, as being more formal can actually be *improper*–American etiquette is absolutely its own structure that deserves no less respect.)

            Reply
            1. sap

              I think that spitting and dropping food on the table are different in how they impact someone else’s enjoyment and are, in fact, done AT someone. If you drop food on the table, you are making a mess that someone else is going to have to clean up (the waiter or person hosting you). If you’re eating with a person who will clean, they rightly be dreading bleaching your fucking tomato sauce out of their white table cloth rather than not being concerned about cleanup. That’s different than being annoyed about your fork hand, which creates no extra work.

              Similarly, spitting tends to get some spit on the person’s neighbors. While I suppose those neighbors could simply not be bothered by being spit on, if you are making my food, drink, or person wet/germy my meal is being directly impacted because it now contains chunks of your meal. That’s again pretty different from “your fork is dumb.”

              For me personally, knowing other people have spit on a food I am eating will cause me to gag and, if I try to push through that, vomit at the table, though I know that’s kindof extreme. But having someone else’s spit in ones food grosses most people out, and that’s because they don’t want to eat a foreign substance, not because they are squicked by simple rudeness.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                But that’s a difference to you because of the notions of taint and hygiene in the culture you’re in. You’re still defining circularly.

                Reply
                1. sap

                  I mean, spit is universally medically accepted to contain biological material that can spread infection. That’s objective–not cultural. While some culture may care less about disease spread through this method, acknowledging that spit can make you sick but fork usage can’t isn’t identifying a cultural difference in adverse effects; it’s identifying an actual effect that can happen regardless of whether the person who is coming into contact with the other’s fluids has any problem with the fluid exchange.

                  And whole agree that the “taint” issue is SOMEWHAT culturally defined as far as whether it’s okay to dirty the table, in cultures where food directly on table is fine, they either (1) don’t use a table cloth or (2) have kindof a messed up system as far as respecting service workers. I am unaware of any cultures where “table cloth with accumulated sauce” is the accepted default, though I don’t doubt that it may be the default when a household can’t spend a lot of time cleaning. So, this is a cultural difference about how much work it is okay to impose on others (assuming that the host isn’t the person defaulting to food on the table). Which is a fundamentally different type of cultural question from “this thing you do which has no impact on me whatsoever is nevertheless annoying me because you’re from a different place.” If you abstract it out, EVERYTHING, including criminal law is a cultural difference–and usually about which externalities are okay to impose on others. Cultural understanding usually stops when the externalities start.

                  I wouldn’t ever correct someone, even in my own home, for doing the fork thing or even eating with their mouth open. I would correct someone for intentionally putting food directly on the table (unless in that person’s own cultural context/home) or spitting (on my food, anywhere, because it’s less rude than not eating at all). These two rules of American etiquitte developed not because we find it low class to do the spitting or the food-leaving, but because we’ve decided that it’s not okay to spread illness and it’s not okay to potentially permanently alter your host/a restaurant’s property. That doesn’t make those rules BETTER than a different value assessment, but they do reflect value judgments about acceptable and unacceptable real-world effects that are not dependent on the diners’ feelings (the table will have food residue on it whether or not I’m fine with that; the food will have spit on it whether or not I’m fine with that). The other rules don’t–the way you use your fork or chew your food has no effect on anything other than my feelings.

                  These are cultural difference that are qualitatively different in why someone would want them enforced. Fork and chewing–someone who wants to enforce those has no reason other than “offends my sensibilities.” Food on table/spitting in my food–will be enforced because I am not willing to get sick/spend the 20 minutes cleaning up after your chicken residue/double the waiter’s tip. There’s an implicit expectation that I am willing to do those things, and I am fine saying “actually, I am not fine doing those things.”

                  Chew with your mouth closed has an equal ick factor for me as spit, by the way, so that isn’t why I’m drawing the line.

        2. Marillenbaum

          Precisely! It took a long time in history for Western Europe to go from “spit like this”, to “don’t spit in these cases” to “please don’t spit”. Very rarely is there a “pure rational” reason for doing a thing. It is social, cultural, and contextual–like 90% of the stuff that comes along with living cheek-by-jowl with our fellow human beings. One can, of course, decide to get in a strop about it and refuse to do anything that isn’t “reasonable”, but in my experience, that’s a lot of unnecessary friction that could be saved up for other things.

          Reply
      2. Specialk9

        Especially since Americans follow proper old European etiquette. I mean, you only get to make the rules so many times. If you choose to ignore your own rules of proper eating, ok, but don’t pretend your peasant eating style is now proper. :)

        Reply
    2. bearing

      But it *can* be a personal insult, or extremely rude if not personal, depending on when and in what manner one is told.

      Kindly and in private is one thing. Pointing it out at the table is another.

      Reply
  56. The Other Katie

    It’s not a matter of cultural sensitivity, even. By the time one is an adult, the use of eating utensils is an ingrained bodily habit, it’s not something easily changed. Better to eat competently in the way one is used to than attempt to switch and look like a rather messy child. (Having had experience of trying to switch, I can vouch for that being exactly what you look like.) The OP’s European colleagues are in the wrong here, and they’re the ones that should be deploying some cultural sensitivity. There’s nothing inherently better or worse about either approach.

    Reply
  57. bearing

    I’m bringing my whole American family (including children ages 17 down to 3) to London soon and this thread is giving me hives wondering if people will judge us terribly by our fork usage.

    Reply
    1. nonymous

      Eh, I’d mostly look at it as a educational opportunity. It might be worth doing some etiquette practice/research (esp if you are going to network professionally with kids in tow), but the real gem is to work with kiddos on being outside of their comfort zone and set up the possibility of surprise judgement. It’s no worse than the daily judgement that happens in the US, but it will be different and your children may be surprised.

      Reply
    2. Nea

      I’ve lived in England on and off. Nobody ever gave me crap about fork switching, but do NOT for the love of all that is British holy, pick up your pizza. Knife and fork that sucker and try not to think about Jon Stewart screaming.

      Reply
      1. DictionaryGirl

        I’m UK-born and bred, and we eat pizza with our hands! If you go to a restaurant that gives you a whole, uncut pizza then a lot of people will knife-and-fork it, but it’s perfectly okay to cut it into slices and then dig in with your hands. Pizza is definitely food that you can pick up, and I’d be weirded out if people thought it was weird.

        Reply
    3. The Other Katie

      I’ve lived in England for going on seven years now, and no one’s ever said anything to me in a general social setting. Most people won’t notice, and if they do they won’t care.

      Reply
    4. Hrovitnir

      Aw, don’t worry about it. Anyone who would genuinely hold it against you is being a dick, and most people wouldn’t care.

      Reply
    5. Rana

      My experience in traveling in a bunch of countries is that what’s far more likely to make you stand out is noise level. For example, when I was in Australia, it was mildly surprising to me how quietly the average Australian pitches their speaking voice. Then I came back to the US and it was like, WHOA Americans are LOUD!

      Reply
    6. Orlando

      I was going to leave this alone, but- seriously, this isn’t representative of most Europeans. If anything, I look at this thread and I’m really alarmed. I don’t doubt people’s experiences, but it feels really hurtful to see them manifested in generalisations and epithets, especially because the isolated examples people talk about don’t correspond to reality as I know it.

      Anyway, to address your actual question- no one I know would really care (or be rude enough to point it out). I don’t want to mislead you that there are no snobs in Europe, period: there are snobs everywhere. Maybe the anti-Americanism people are talking about is just a particular manifestation of snobbery. But please don’t imagine everyone, or even the majority, are like that. Most of us are pretty cool.

      Reply
  58. WorldTraveler

    In an interesting side story: I am an American and a while back I was working with my European counterparts in India (lets mix all the cultures!). We were at a buffet style dinner at the hotel one night and once I was finished with my first plate I went back for seconds. I learned later from a nice girl on my team that Europeans expect for everyone to wait until they are done and go back up as a group to get the next round of food. I found that weird but so interesting! I didn’t feel too embarrassed but I sure waited til everyone was done the next time around :)

    Reply
    1. MissDisplaced

      Hmm… Well maybe when in India? We had a large world meeting of employees from all over, and no one did this or expected this when it was buffet style.

      Reply
    2. TiffIf

      “go back up as a group to get the next round of food”

      That’s one I’ve never heard of, and in fact among my group of friends, we always have someone at the table–we go in shifts on purpose so that someone is always guarding the purses.

      We’re not actually paranoid about theft, but it is just a reasonable precaution.

      Reply
  59. Ian M

    My Filipino workmates have taught me the joy of eating with a spoon and fork two-handed. You use the fork int he left to hold the food, and the spoon in the right hand to cut food and convey it to your mouth, It makes eating rice/protein dished fast and easy without lit grains of rice getting everywhere.

    Reply
  60. MissDisplaced

    Having now traveled to Europe and dined with several of my colleagues, I have realized this difference (and maybe I remembered this letter!). I did try to use my utensils the in European fashion… but I was acutely aware of it, and a few times I admit I reverted back to American style for certain dishes. No one “corrected” me or said anything, at least not that I know of… but I felt a bit uncomfortable and gauche. No one wants that at a business dinner!

    It is worthwhile mentioning as I had never had any type of instruction in table manners or etiquette other than from my very lower middle-class parents, which makes it kind of hard now as an adult to learn the more refined ways as these habits are ingrained. I believe the European schools teach this type of thing when young? Americans seem to be taught to bolt their food as quickly as possible and get back to work–eating at desks and in cars is the norm.

    If you are doing business internationally, you may want to find some instruction in table etiquette or at least practice a little. It is true that many Americans are lacking in the finer points.

    Reply
    1. Recruit-o-Rama

      Finer points by which standards? European? We are not European so we have different (not lesser) standards. I won’t sneer at your standards if you dont sneer at mine and then we will both be acting in a civilized manner.

      Reply
      1. Emi.

        THANK YOU.

        Also, I went to European schools and we never studied table manners. We studied math, history, languages, and music, and we ate sandwiches out of plastic boxes, sitting on the ground.

        Reply
    2. Treecat

      I went to school in Paris in the 1990s and there was no instruction regarding table manners or manners of any kind. It was language, math, history, art… same as American schools. It was just in French, with the French system of evaluation (everything gets a score out of 20).

      It is true that at the time French schools tended to teach things like handwriting, which I did not experience in the US.

      Reply
    3. MissDisplaced

      Well, other than not chewing with your mouth open and using a napkin, I didn’t get much of any dining etiquette from my parents. So it has been a process. Other than parents, how DO people learn this?

      1. I was watching a documentary where they showed the young kids in France having lunch and serving other kids, and they had real plates and silverware, so I thought maybe they teach this? (Unlike US school divided trays and plastic forks).
      2. I worked with a girl who told me she went to some type of business etiquette school where fine dining was taught along with other things such as speaking, introductions and that type of thing. She didn’t say if this was through college or some other school.

      Reply
      1. C Moi

        I lived in France for a few years, and French elementary schools serve food family style, which means that students (with usually one adult) are at seated at small round tables with the food in shared bowls in the middle, so students have to share and pass. They absolutely consider it a part of education to teach children how to eat properly. They also have much more time in the day to eat, which means that you don’t have to scarf food down in fifteen minutes.

        That said, food culture is really important in general in France and I’d guess that *on average*, French families spend more time teaching dining etiquette than Americans do.

        Reply
  61. Isabelle

    I’m European, I have lived in various European countries and I have never once met someone who cares about this.
    I think these clients are rude snobs and are not representative of European culture at all.

    Reply
  62. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    I don’t fork-switch- because I’m left handed. But I have no idea what other gaffes I commit!

    Reply
    1. FCJ

      I was just going to say that! I wasn’t taught the “correct” way to hold knife and fork as a kid, but I do it automatically anyway because of my handedness. I think the first time someone mentioned it to me I said, “Well, yeah… that’s how I hold my fork.”

      Reply
  63. Jessica

    A country lord once came to court to petition the king. He was invited to tea, and when the tea was served, the country lord poured it into his saucer to cool. All the attending nobles gasped and smirked among themselves about the outdated, provincial manners of the country lord, who was terribly embarrassed at his misstep. In response, the king immediately poured his own tea into his saucer.

    Reply
    1. overcaffeinatedandqueer

      To Kill a Mockingbird: the family servant made lunch and Scout brought a country friend home. He put maple syrup on everything and ate really messily!

      Scout was about to comment when the serval said, “He’s your guest, Scout, and if he want t’ et up the tablecloth, you let him!”

      Reply
    2. Marillenbaum

      I heard a similar story once: a head of state was entertaining and poured some of his coffee into his saucer; of course, the guests follow suit. Then, he adds a little milk to the saucer; so too do the guests. Then, he puts the saucer on the floor for his dog!

      Reply
  64. LoiraSafada

    I work internationally, and if I made fun of the habits or customs of the people in the countries where I work or where my colleagues are from, I’d be out of a job, and for good reason. If anything, it all just feels incredibly classist and childish.

    Reply
  65. Kate

    I am half french, half american, grew up in both countries and now work internationally. Your clients are being rude. This is a well known cultural difference. There is another one related to whether you keep your hands on or off the table. Most europeans could not care less (don’t your clients have actual business to worry about?). I know that, having grown up doing both, I tend to switch back and forth (between switching and not switching hands) – not necessarily based on where I am – and if anyone called me out for it, I would be rolling my eyes (at best).

    Reply
  66. R R

    I wonder if the Euroweenies were so particular about our fork-holding style while we were kicking Germany’s behind for them – twice.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Not if they were German Euroweenies.

      (Now I want to cook hot dogs with garlic or something and call them euroweenies.)

      Reply
    2. MacAilbert

      Americans didn’t show up in significant numbers in WW1 until Germany’s Spring Offensives had already collapsed and Germany was in permanent retreat. In WW2, 80% of Germany’s fighting and dying was carried out on the Eastern Front, with Russia doing the brunt the Allied work there. In the West, Britain and the Commonwealth kept up pretty significant numbers. In neither war did the US carry the brunt of the war effort.

      Reply
      1. Hrovitnir

        Thank you. I know this has potential to turn into a terrible derail, but the attitude you’re responding to gives me heartburn.

        Reply
    3. MacAilbert

      Also, Patton was a gigantic fan of French culture and language, and was rather pleased to have a proper formal dinner with Vichy forces after capturing them in North Africa.

      Reply
  67. lily in nyc

    I find the class snobbishness in the UK to be so amusing! I just picture the “twits” from Monty Python who are all inbred idiots from the nobility.

    Reply
  68. Recruit-o-Rama

    The thing is, I love learning about other cultures and the fork switching thing is something I would try, but only ignore it’s brought up in an “isn’t this an interesting difference in our cultures!” Kind of way rather than in a “you’re such an uncivilized, low class fast food addled brute of an American” kind of way. I am not sure what’s so hard to understand about the approach being so boorish and all the “why are you so mad?” Reactions.

    Reply
  69. Alienor

    This reminds me of some (not all) British English speakers’ insistence on sneering at American English speakers, claiming that Americans are incapable of spelling properly and that the way we conjugate the verb “to get” is a crime against grammar. The truth is that like eating styles, neither one is inherently right or wrong, and sneering at people for using the correct language or table manners for their country–especially when you’re both *in* that country– is rude no matter what.

    Reply
    1. Doreen Green

      Your comment reminded me anew of the embarrassment I felt when, as an American studying in the UK, I had to give a presentation in a university-level poetry course. A British student in the course flat-out interrupted me to correct my pronunciation of “enjambment,” which she pronounced in a sort of stereotypical French accent, as if I were the stupidest person she could ever imagine. The professor did not step in, and I got very flustered until thankfully a fellow American student agreed with me. Now when I think of it, I wish I had reminded that British student that we were studying American poets. :)

      Reply
  70. Fire

    Woah! I had no idea about this. I’m American, but eat the European way (well, knife in left and fork in right, but I don’t ever switch them, just cut with my left hand), and was relentlessly mocked for it, including by my parents. I always assumed the zigzag was more refined, because otherwise why would I be made fun of for not doing something in a super convoluted way?

    Reply
  71. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    I can eat nicely by American standards for weddings and such, and am seen to have good etiquette for formal things- but I am dying laughing to think how these Europeans would gag at my usual table manners.

    I eat like a fast-moving Dumpster or starving pet a lot of the time, since I usually eat in a hurry and by myself. Silverware is usually used where indicated, but I have trouble doing any other manners outside of a formal or work setting. And I have a huge tendency to bolt food, since it was limited for me in formative years, then at 21-25 I struggled with crash dieting and having to worry if there would be enough money to meet food needs. (There was always meals, but not very much, and couldn’t afford to cater to many preferences).

    I try to slow down, but it’s an ingrained habit like the fork thing.

    Reply
  72. lily in nyc

    I find the class snobbishness to be so amusing! I just picture the “twits” from Monty Python who are all inbred idiots from the nobility.

    Reply
  73. Nacho

    Meh. It’s one thing to change your manners when eating with chopsticks. They’re an entirely different utensil, and a lot of their etiquette no-nos are rooted in funeral rites and dead people. Switching hands to cut and eat is just a different cultural norm though, and I feel like the onus should be on people to not be an asshole about different cultures, rather than on changing how they eat to appease assholes who feel like making fun of another person’s culture.

    Reply
  74. Maaike

    I think a lot of commentors are missing the point. Sure the Europeans are rude and etiquette is subjective, absolutely true. However, the issue is that the US colleagues are getting judged for their eating habits which can cost business. Yeah the European clients are rude, but you can´t do anything about that, and your moral indignation will not change a thing. In higher level jobs (business, politics) cultural capital (eating habits, the books you´ve read, the music you listen to) unfortunately just straight up matters, study after study shows that.

    OP better drop it as her suggestion was ill-received, but it is not a stupid idea. Many organisations have cultural sensitivity classes when they send people abroad. Maybe it could be included as a part of that if the organisation has it.

    Reply
  75. Emi.

    This reminds me of the worst date ever, from Twin Peaks (link in my username, jump to 1:48).
    Dick Tremayne: Lucy, may I ask you something? Do you find it odd that I don’t switch my fork when I eat–that I lift it to my mouth with my left hand?
    Lucy: My mother calls it “piling.”

    Reply
  76. kindnessisitsownreward

    I’ve worked for an international company too and hosted many a multinational dinner. Most Europeans and Middle Easterners have impeccable manners, which includes politely ignoring another’s table manners unless it is
    —Talking with one’s mouth full of food
    —Waving one’s fork around like a conductor’s wand while talking
    –Grabbing food off someone else’s plate.

    Stay away from those three fairly egregious lapses of common manners and everything should be fine. :)

    Reply
    1. AJ

      —Waving one’s fork around like a conductor’s wand while talking

      I live in Hong Kong and am often appalled at what foreigners do with their chopsticks while waiting for food.

      Yes, the conductor’s baton – absolutely. And the drumsticks. And the pretend moustache. And the sword play. To name but a few.

      Reply
  77. Heather

    My european mother used to yell at me about this. Now I use my cutlery backwards to avoid switching because it offended her so much…

    Reply
  78. Rhodoferax

    Apparently, the Monty Pythons once stayed at a little hotel where Terry Gilliam, who is American, ate his food like this. The hotel owner came over and said “In this country, we do not use our cutlery in that manner.” That hotel owner was the inspiration for Basil Fawlty.

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  79. Elizabeth West

    I remember this one, I think.
    I trained myself to eat European style just for fun after I first went there in the early 1980s; it was my first experience with it. After a while, I reverted to American style, but I went back to the European custom so I wouldn’t stick out so much in Britain when I returned. Now I can’t eat without a knife, haha. And I’ve mastered peas! I win! \0/

    But I wasn’t obligated to do that; I chose to do it on my own. The people making fun are being rude, no question. It’s very bad manners to point out someone else’s bad manners, especially if you are a complete arse about it.

    Reply
  80. Recruit-o-Rama

    Ok so I read all about this on the internet today and the overall “Americans are so uncivilized” attitude STILL grates, BUT I am going to dinner tonight with out of town friends who live in a big west coast city and who are pretty “cultured”. Not only will I give this euro style thing a try, I will observe how they eat and report back, in case anyone cares. Facinating!

    Reply
    1. Recruit-o-Rama

      ok, we all eat like savages. I eat slowly though so even though I fork switch, it hardly qualifies as shoveling food into my mouth like a neandrathal, so I still reject that notion.

      Reply
  81. Sabine the Very Mean

    As a person who grew up hungry, I’m appalled that this level of critique happens. If I ever heard someone say such a thing, I’d honestly discount them completely. How utterly null. No one taught me how to eat w a fork and I learned to eat fast.

    Reply
  82. ThisGuy

    I’m going to go out on a limb here…

    In 2017, no normal, well-adjusted, decent human being cares enough about fork switching to judge someone over it one way or the other.

    Reply
  83. Melissa

    I feel like the Eurpoeans in this equation are out of touch. I’m a dual British/US citizen who was born, raised and continues to live and work in the UK. I also happen to use my knife and fork in the American way described. It has literally never been commented upon by a friend, colleague or stranger. In fact, the only people who have ever brought it up has been my American family in a casual “it’s weird which habits you pick up from your parents and which you don’t” sort of way. I don’t know how formal the setting of these meals is but unless it’s a gala with ten different utensils for each hand then I’d let it go. You noted it politely to your team once; I think you can let it stand at that.

    Reply
  84. AJ

    I remember thinking the way Americans use cutlery was childish, i.e. the holding of the utensils and the cutting everything up first. But I was only 5 or 6 years old at the time. “Look at me, I can use a knife and fork better than those grown-ups” in more than likely too loud a voice.

    Nowadays, I do think it’s ineffective. You can’t cut meat if you’re holding a knife and fork in your fingertips, as I have seen. But the cutting up of the food and the hand switching end up with people using the fork as a shovel. Barely has one forkful been put in the mouth than the next forkful is readied and shoved in. This is not everyone of course but, for those who do this, the constant shovelling is not… well… pretty.

    Reply
  85. Jules the Third

    The entire concept of judging someone for which hand they use for the fork, or which way the tines of the fork go, is mind-boggling to me. Different cultures have different methods. It’s great to be aware of and thoughtful about those methods, but if so, you should also be thoughtful about exceptions (disability, handed-ness), be respectful, be flexible.

    The problem isn’t ‘there are cultural differences’, it’s that the European clients are sneering at the US colleagues. The problem is not the etiquette, it’s the sneer. I would push back at that if I saw it, in a ‘vive la difference’ sort of tone. Just like I do with my 9yo child, who is way better at respect and diversity than these adults.

    (says left-handed, non-zig-zag, tines-up, decent chopsticker, right-handed mediterranean / african food eating, Midwestern etiquette trained me)

    Reply
  86. Oska

    I’m Norwegian and lived in the UK for a few years. I was visiting some friends, and met two other friends of theirs there, one of which was American. He kept making fun of his own American-ness throughout the conversation, all in a light-hearted tone. I finally asked him, only half in jest, whether it was mandatory for an American in the UK to put themselves down to avoid being seen as a stereotypically arrogant American. He laughed, then his face fell, and he whispered: “Yes.”

    While in the UK, I worked in an environment with people from all over the world (mostly Europe and Asia, some from South-America; no North-Americans in the UK office, probably because we had an office in the US). While we’d poke fun at each other’s national stereotypes sometimes, it was nothing like the anti-American bias. I didn’t see it play out often, but I’m pretty sure the cutlery thing is just a symptom of a general attitude towards Americans.

    Reply
  87. Becca

    I uh. I don’t know which one I use??? I distinctly remember being frustrated with both methods as a child. I tried first non-switch. But my non-dominant hand combined with my childish lack of coordination (I mean, I didn’t entirely grow out of that…) was terrible at getting food to my mouth. But I didn’t want to waste time switching hands every bite either.
    But I have no idea what I settled on and now I’m going to be overthinking it next time. I think I might use the tines up non-switch method mentioned in the Slate article.

    But it would never occur to me that any of the methods are poor table manners???? FFS. I agree, the clients are really rude to *sneer* at something so trivial, and not even to their face!

    Reply
    1. Becca

      Come to think of it, I think I tried using the knife in my left and fork in my right as well. That was worse than the opposite.

      Reply
  88. Kirk Tentaprice

    It might have got lost in condemnation of the sneering European snobs, but the phrase that jumped out at me was “when the client makes another joke about it”.

    Is it possible that the cultural mismatch here was that the clients didn’t expect to be taken seriously?

    Reply

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