According to an article in The Guardian online yesterday, it seems we are ditching the traditional European style of fork holding in favour of the American custom of ‘fork switching’. What does this mean? Well, American writer Tim Dowling (a Guardian regular favourite of ours!) says that apparently the British (he lives there) have begun to use the ‘cut and switch’ technique for their forks – that is, once they have cut up a piece of food, they put the knife down and swap the fork from it’s traditional place in the left hand to the right hand. Tim takes this information from a new survey (who bothers doing these surveys?), which says that 23% of UK adults have now adopted the American practice, discarding the old European traditions of cutlery etiquette!
Who doesn’t remember as a child, being taught exactly how to hold a knife and fork and how to use it properly and politely at the table? Not just for the sake of good manners, but in order to eat a meal efficiently and safely – as in, never lick your knife! There are usually very good reasons for having firm control of your cutlery, and that involves not slashing your tongue with the knife blade!
Perhaps the age of travel has encouraged us to discard our pre-learned ways at the table, in favour of what might seem a more fashionable method of eating? Have you noticed this change happening in Ireland? Next time you are at lunch or dinner with a friend, observe their cutlery manouvres! If they adopt the trendy Stateside preference for changing the fork from left to right hand, you can point out to them that they’ve been watching far too much American tv! It does seem a rather cumbersome way to go about enjoying a plate of food – every mouthful would involve the cutting of the food, then the laying down of the knife, then the swapping of the fork to the right hand to put it’s contents in your mouth. Why would you do that when you can just cut the food and pop it in your mouth neatly with the same hand, and with less chance of dropping it mid-air? Who knows!
Follow our quick and easy guide to basic cutlery etiquette – as we know it to be!:
- The knife should be held in the right hand with the handle firmly tucked into the palm. The index finger should lie along the handle, this helps to control the movement of the knife. Holding your knife like a pencil is incorrect and allows little control over your cutting actions.
- The fork should be held in the left hand, prongs down into the food at an angle. If it is held correctly, handle firm in the palm of the hand, and index finger resting along the top, there should never be a need to stab it upright into the food being prepared for cutting, holding it a slight angle firmly gives control, securing the food on the plate while you make the cutting motion with your knife. When you hold your fork like a pencil then it is hard to control and the ungainly stabbing motion comes into play!
- However, if you are eating spaghetti or tagliatelle, then it makes sense to hold the fork in your right hand (presuming you’re right handed) and a spoon in the left – this way you can hold the prongs of your fork up to the bowl of the spoon in order to help you twirl the pasta strands onto your fork. Less messy than trying to twirl it without the aid of the spoon –unless you are a pasta twirling expert!
- Also, if you are eating a meal which needs no cutting, for example a risotto, the fork in the right hand is correct as a lone piece of cutlery. Held prongs up, between thumb and index finger, with the handle balanced on the rest of the fingers, this enables you to scoop up your food neatly in manageable mouthfuls. The palm should never clasp around the handle of the fork as this makes an awkward shovelling action!
- If your meal is accompanied by lots of breaks for good chat in a restaurant, you may wish to signal to waiting staff that you are not done yet, by placing the knife and fork down on either side of the plate, the fork with prongs down, and pointing a little inward to the food – this says, ‘I am only taking a break’, and the poor waiting staff will not be tempted to whisk your meal away from you.
- However, when you are finished, simply lay the cutlery on the plate – fork on the right, knife on the left, close together in the lower centre of the plate. This says you are not going to eat anymore and enables those looking after you to remove the plate from the table.