Monday, April 12, 2010

Knife and Fork

Once, I was eating breakfast at John's mom's house and I noticed her frowning at my place setting.  "You don't have a teaspoon, Jaime, let me get you one," she said, turning into the kitchen.  "Oh, that's ok, thanks," I said brightly.  "I'll just use my fork!"  She laughed and placed a teaspoon by my napkin.  "Don't be so uncouth, dear," she said, patting my arm.  Although I know she was joking (or at least, I think she was), in general, silverware and the use of silverware play an entirely different role in British/European culture than in American culture. 

I remember going into a teriyaki restaurant with my mom for lunch in Edgewood a couple years back.  When my food came, I realized there was only a fork resting neatly in the middle of the paper napkin.  "Where's the knife, where's the KNIFE?"  I said, panicked.  "I need to cut my CHICKEN!"  "Calm down," my mom said tersely.  "Why do you need a knife?"  She gesticulated to the waitress and asked her to bring us chopsticks instead.  While that solved my knife quandary, it still didn't hide the fact that after living in the UK for two years, I'd finally adapted to the "proper" way of eating, that is, with an actual knife and fork at all times, rather than using my fork as a knife as well - which is common in the States. 

"I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean - using your knife as a fork as well," said one British friend, clearly confused by my caveman-like eating habits.  "You know," I said.  "Like this."  And I demonstrated by putting down my knife, picking my fork up in my right hand instead and gnashing it down on my sausage and cutting off a piece (with a bit of trouble, the casing was a bit ... erm ... tough on that particular banger) and elegantly putting it into my mouth with some mashed potatoes.  "Mmm ... yum.  See?"  He looked disgusted.  "Well, that's all very good, but what happens if you're trying to cut something tougher, like beef?" he asked.  "Oh, well then, I would hold it in place with my fork in my left hand and cut with the knife in my right hand, like you do," I replied.  He looked relieved.  Until I continued:  "Then, I would put down my knife and fork and switch hands again so I'm only using my fork to eat again."  He rolled his eyes.  "That's annoying," he said.  "Yeah, I know," I said, with my mouth full.  "Thatsch why wesh eatsh witch jush a forskh."

I only started learning how to eat with a knife and fork in both hands for the duration of the meal (at least, the starter and main courses - I still insist on gnashing down on any dessert with my fork or spoon) and must admit it was difficult to adjust at first.  I wasn't used to holding my fork in my left hand and kept missing my mouth, especially with peas or other small items.  In fact, the first time I ate in front of American friends after living abroad, one commented, "Why do you eat so funny?" 

At home, I still put down a knife for show next to my place setting, as I don't always find it necessary for my meal but as John actually eats properly every time, he always requires a knife.  Next time I face a dining dilemma, however, I'll just ask for chopsticks.

Photo source


  1. gnashing the banger. euphamism of my day.

  2. This is so true. I always thought the reason Lauren only eats with a fork was because of her student ways. It was only when I went to see her family in VA and had a proper sit down dinner with her Grandad and we were having salmon for dinner that I realised that Americans eat with just a fork. This amazed me! I was the only one eating with a knife and fork. have to say I have learnt the knack of eating with just a fork now.

  3. Haha, John tried once and was like, "NEVER AGAIN!"

  4. I don't like eating with a knife and a fork! I am gonna stick with my american ways! I tried it, and did not enjoy it. Americans use their right hand for eating, keeping their left hand free to serve themselves seconds!

    Living with a British Asian though, I have learned to eat with my hands! I even have conquered the technique of scooping the food up in my fingers and shoveling it into my mouth using my thumb. How lovely. :)

  5. Great, then I can learn from you and Bindy how to eat with my hands properly!


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