Continental Dining vs American Dining
I admit, I am part of the American minorityhat refuses to juggle my eating utensils. I cut, hack and slash with the knife in my right hand and sling the food to my gaping mouth with the fork in my left hand. This makes me both a no-nonsense and continental kind of guy. Or so I've been told by no less an authority than myself. But what do the professional etiquette experts say about the conflicting techniques– the American way and the way the rest of us chow down? Before I get into that, I have learned that being a professional etiquette arbiter is a tougher job than it used to be.
Listen to Letitia Baldrige, the renowned author of eight etiquette books, who says: “Social manners have changed dramatically. Kids today and for the last 20 years have held the fork and knife in unbelievable ways. They hold the fork with a fist and the knife like a saw and they shovel it in. It doesn't matter to them which way they hold their knife and fork. They eat every which way. I'm amazed they get food into their mouths at all.” As for Ms. Baldrige's personal preference, she's on my side and prefers the labor-efficient continental approach.
“It is a much easier way to eat. It is much neater and there is no banging of flatware. Eating American-style, you put the knife down and clang. Continental is silent and efficient. But some people think it is faddish and elitist. We're the only people in the world who eat this way, putting the knife down and changing the fork from the left to the right hand.” Why do we do it? The custom of American eating was the way everyone ate until about 1840. In 1852 it came out in a French etiquette book that if you wanted to eat in a more fashionable manner, you would not switch the fork to the other hand. Before long, Europeans of all classes started using that style. In certain business sectors, if you don't eat continental-style, you look as if you just got off the cabbage truck. A strong believer in the American style is Judith Martin, who has written the Miss Manners column since 1978 and is author of four Miss Manners books.
“For Americans, it is more proper to eat American-style and it looks silly to eat European-style if you were not born in Europe. I'm a firm believer, for which I get a great deal of hate mail, that the American style is more dignified, slower, more complicated, as opposed to a quick shove-it-in method. People who use the European style point out that it is more efficient. But I say efficiency is not a virtue when it comes to stuffing food in your face. It is not proper etiquette or good for your health. Doctors don't ever say: ‘You're not eating fast enough.’ I am a great believer in American etiquette for Americans on all counts. Our forefathers wanted an American etiquette that would reflect the egalitarianism of America and not Europe, that was based on court life.
“My feelings get stirred up when I hear people arguing vehemently for aping European ways when we have a much more sophisticated and aesthetically pleasing American standard of our own. I agree with Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, who wrote that Americans should have a dignified American etiquette.” Well, thanks a lot, Ms. Martin. Here we are, talking about how to get grub from the plate to our chompers, and you make me feel like a subversive.
The final comment I leave for Ms. Baldrige, who offered this nugget of indisputable wisdom: “It is most important to eat neatly. You are a dining success if you don't get food on your clothes.” The next time we consider etiquette, we will look into the question of the proper way to share table scraps with our dog. Do you let it get up on the table, as I prefer? Or do you just toss the tidbits over your shoulder and let the lively little creature make a leaping catch, as my wife enjoys doing? No, no, I meant that the dog makes a leaping catch, not my wife. See? I just can't avoid conflict. - From a 1996 article by Mike Royko for the Chicago Tribune
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia