Hey, mature people: Are you noticing how I'm cutting my food?
August 6, 2013 8:28 PM   Subscribe

So from what I understand you're supposed to do it zig-zag style, especially in a nice restaurant - fork-stab with your left hand, cut with your right hand, then switch fork to your right hand and eat. I don't do that.

I'm right handed, so trying to jab something with my fork in my left hand I feel like a klutz with poor motor skills. Seriously, I fumble around and look like a child.

So instead I fork-jab with my right hand, cut a piece or two with my left - which I find tremendously easier - then lay down my knife, and eat the bite(s).

Okay, so let's say you're in a fancy steakhouse on a business dinner, talking business things, and that latest article in the Business Money Times. And you look across the table and see me cutting my food like I mentioned above. Are you noticing? Are you giving a shit? Do I look like a redneck? Or is it 2013 and we don't care anymore.

Just wondering if I should really practice cutting the "proper" zig zag switcheroo way and perfecting that left hand fork-strength if I want to be taken seriously...or if it really just doesn't matter.
posted by windbox to Society & Culture (43 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I do this, too. Some folks think switching your fork from one hand to another is gauche. (Not me.)

Anyway, as long as you are tidy, I don't think this is a thing.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:32 PM on August 6, 2013

Switching your fork is normal in 'Murica, but not elsewhere. FWIW.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:35 PM on August 6, 2013 [22 favorites]

Not to confuse things, but what you describe as zig-zag style is pretty normal American style. Continental style would mean always keeping your fork in your left hand, cutting with your right and then eating with your left.

I learned to eat Continental style (although I'm American) and have literally never noticed how anyone else in the world eats unless someone pointed out, which in itself is rude, or if someone at the table is left-handed and mentions it in the context of wanting to sit in a place at the table which makes it easier for them (although I don't find it challenging to eat continental-style while sitting next to anyone of any handed-ness).

It kind of sounds like you're eating like an American lefty, if the little that I've paid attention to this matter tells me anything. And I like the whole idea of etiquette, I'm not a philistine, I just really don't think this one matters so long as food gets to your mouth without falling on your shirt. Etiquette rules are to make everyone feel comfortable, and to find your eating style offensive if it does not actually cause discomfort to others would be silly.
posted by padraigin at 8:35 PM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think that technically, proper "American" style is that you complete cutting your food into little bits before you do the switch. So, if you have a steak, you cut the entire edible portion into bites before putting your knife down. I think I'd notice constant switching, which would look cumbersome and awkward, but I don't care about people using either American or "European" style (cut as you go, use the fork in the left hand) normally.
posted by LionIndex at 8:37 PM on August 6, 2013

How are you holding your fork? Honestly when people just hold their fork in their fist or something I do notice. I don't judge them for it, but yes, I notice. I don't think I would notice if you were just doing it "correctly" but with the wrong hands, and if I did I would probably just assume you were left handed, since you're doing the agile part with your left hand.
posted by brainmouse at 8:39 PM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I notice. I also may notice if you cut multiple bites at once (instead of just one).
posted by J. Wilson at 8:39 PM on August 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

As I understand it, proper American style does not involve cutting up the whole portion at once, but just a bite or two. Then switch and eat those bites, then switch back to cut more.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:40 PM on August 6, 2013 [13 favorites]

I (American) eat continental style (fork in left hand, knife in right, no switching) and I notice when others don't, only to the extent that it looks so clumsy, awkward and a waste of movement to me.

But I don't make any judgement about the person's upbringing or manners. I frankly have no clue which way is considered "correct."

Side note, I am not on a mission to change how people eat, but there have been a few people who have noticed my preferred method, asked about it, and then changed.
posted by The Deej at 8:40 PM on August 6, 2013

Ha, it turns out Slate recently had a piece about the zig-zag approach being silly. Also, the way you do is is younger and more "coastal."

Wikipedia says you and I have a hybrid style that is more modern.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:42 PM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

We just had this conversation, and it was really interesting.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:56 PM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Guys, read windbox's description. It is not correct American or correct European style. Which is fine, but the question is specifically about whether people notice that neither style is being used correctly, not about whether one or the other of the styles not being used is preferred.
posted by brainmouse at 9:00 PM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

No, no one's going to notice. No one except occasionally nosy-type in-laws or friends (your family and close circle have already seen it as 'normal'.) Maybe older formal people who have minimal or no experience with Europeans would note it, but I don't think most people notice. Don't bother trying to reeducate your hands on your eating style, because dropping stuff is a lot more noticeable than smooth, natural movements. Anecdata: I'm left-handed and self-taught to eat 'Continental' style and I think it's been remarked on twice in my life.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:06 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay, so let's say you're in a fancy steakhouse on a business dinner, talking business things, and that latest article in the Business Money Times. And you look across the table and see me cutting my food like I mentioned above. Are you noticing? Are you giving a shit? Do I look like a redneck? Or is it 2013 and we don't care anymore.

It's 2013, I have eaten meals with people from a dozen different countries and backgrounds and listened to them and understood what they were saying without even glancing at the way food was getting into their mouths because we live in the world now, not some simpering preppie castle. Unless you're spraying food everywhere or using a fork to hack your sushi up, I don't give a fuck how you cut your steak. Relax. Chew with your mouth closed though.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:06 PM on August 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

I think whether people will notice depends a lot on who you eat with. I know a few people who would notice, and many people who would not. One way to tell might be to observe whether your dining companion is keeping their elbows off the table - if they are, they might be more strongly etiquette-aware.

But yes, I think in nearly every environment these days you just need to be unobtrusive about how you're cutting (not noisy, not throwing bits of gristle around) and you're good.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:08 PM on August 6, 2013

As a classy professional person who has business dinners, it is possible I would notice, but I wouldn't hold it against you in any way. People eat differently in different parts of the world and even if I knew you'd lived your whole life in the town next to me with parents from the exact same background as mine, "fork holding" is just not high on my list of etiquette sins that require condemnation.

If you held your fork in a clenched fist ("like a truck driver," as my mother used to admonish, but that seems unfair as I've never met a truck driver who holds his or her fork that way) that would be more noticeable but if your manners were otherwise unremarkable I'd assume you had a minor motor problem you were compensating for and dismiss it from my mind and never notice it again. If you were chewing with your mouth open and picking your teeth at the table while discussing politics and religion in a confrontational manner, THEN I would start to get judgy about your fork use methods.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:14 PM on August 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

Wow, this isn't even a thing in Australia. I had no idea about this. Everyone eats steak with the same hand they jabbed it with, so, continental style. So on my next trip to the US, will I be judged for being uncouth?

Seriously, I'd look at anyone weird who did the zig-zag. I have never seen it before, and I never noticed it on my past trip. I would not notice the opposite-- someone eating continetnal style-- and I assume a lefty would eat continental style but left handed.

I think it really doesn't matter. If anything, the switch seems kinda inefficient, trite, and outdated/pretentious according to that article.

If you're that worried about it, come live in Australia.
posted by Dimes at 9:20 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would notice. I would judge. I would choose not to do business with you if that business would ever involve taking you out to dinner with someone of any importance.

I am not all people, but you can't really tell who is like me and who is not in advance. I know a businessman who takes potential partners out to breakfast to test their table manners, figuring that people treat breakfast more casually and so their true natures would come out. He'll withhold access to multi-million dollar deals to people who can't eat properly, who salt their food without tasting it first, or who otherwise can't get what he considers to be very simple rules correct. Nothing about this man's manners would suggest that this is what he's looking for.

I would advise you to learn to use a knife and fork (and all other silverware) properly because it's fairly simply stuff, and it just can't hurt you to be able to eat well. On the other hand, it certainly can hurt you if the person eating with you has the capacity to judge you to your detriment.
posted by Capri at 10:40 PM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I would notice. You are not eating with American or European table manners. It's worth learning how to do it properly.
posted by Houstonian at 10:51 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I might notice, but it wouldn't matter to me one whit, especially considering the number and variety of "correct" ways to cut and eat meat.

After reading a few of the above comments, I'm considering adopting your style. Appears to be a good way to limit my interactions with ridiculously judgemental people.
posted by she's not there at 11:30 PM on August 6, 2013 [12 favorites]

Brit here. I've seen Americans do this and it is... bemusing. It looks like unnecessary duplicated effort and all the switcheroo stuff looks needlessly complicated, like reaching over to change gear in your car with your left hand.

Although British table manners are nothing to write home about, the idea that using your fork in your left hand and your knife in your right is difficult would strike most people as unusual.

Young children are taught, successfully, to eat with fork in left and knife in right here. So for someone unused to American customs, it would look like you either didn't know how to eat properly or had a medical issue affecting the left side of your body.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:20 AM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would assume that you're left-handed and using your utensils in an augmented Continental style, because people who are left-handed often use utensils in nonstandard ways. If you are living a lifestyle with high pressure situations in fancy restaurants, it might be worth your while to learn a variety of styles for eating, just like, say, it is worth one's time to learn how to eat well with chopsticks if you enjoy Asian food, or twirl your pasta easily if you are a big fan of Italian. If you have average or higher precision motor skills in your hands then it shouldn't take you too long to learn. (And if you don't, a pox on anyone who would think you a rube for using your own hands the way that's best for you.)

The thing about using your right hand to hold the fork and your left to cut is that cutting is the action that requires precision and control, and so is best done with your dominant hand. Stabbing with the fork is a more blunt force action, so you don't need to be as controlled about it. It's odd to me that you would find it easy at all to cut with your left; I find it quite difficult and I'm not too shabby with my left hand despite being right-handed.

Honestly I would notice. But I wouldn't judge you - I might be curious. I am definitely the type of person to teach someone how to twirl pasta if they're eating messily, but I also encourage eating sushi with hands and so-on, and am very into food and food culture in general. The people who are going to think less of you for using your utensils in a nonstandard way are usually ignorable. But you might have a lifestyle where you can't ignore these types of people - that is when you should spend some time on this. Think about it like acquiring any other skill, like playing serviceable golf or changing your oil or basic dancing. It might be annoying but it will remove a regular source of stress for you.
posted by Mizu at 12:27 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm American and I do the zig-zag because I find it difficult to cut with my left hand. When I lived in the American Midwest, no one remarked on it, and I never noticed how others did it. When I moved to Europe, people started commenting. Now I'm more self-conscious, and I notice how others use utensils.

Personally, I'm trying to adapt to European style (although tines-down still strange feels to me). If you're worried that you look strange eating in "hybrid" style, it might help to practice European style.

However, I agree with others that as long as you're not death-gripping your fork, slumping over your plate, getting food all over the place, or chewing with your mouth closed, you're probably fine for most meals and for most fellow diners.
posted by neushoorn at 1:21 AM on August 7, 2013

Things I note:
- Zig zag cutting and eating.
- "Wrapping" spaghetti around a fork using a knife (Never saw this before in my life before moving to England. So so so weird and splashy and distracting and ugh.)
- Holding a fork way too close to the prongs
- Chewing with mouth open
- Holding the knife like a pencil
- Cutting up more than a bite and then eating each piece one after another without a break

I grew up using chopsticks first and these all irk me. I note all these things and if it were in a professional setting I would silently judge.
posted by like_neon at 1:34 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay, so let's say you're in a fancy steakhouse on a business dinner, talking business things, and that latest article in the Business Money Times

I would notice.*

Would I care? Heck no, to each his own etc.

Would other people care? Where I am [especially in Official Serious Time Business Setting] the whole zig-zag American way of cutting is considered.... uncouth.

Here's the thing though, the way you describe it sounds just like a continental left-handed person would do it. That's perfectly normal and nowhere near as strange as doing the American Switcheroo and flipping your utensils for every other bite.

* But I'd just assume you're left-handed and then look away so I don't get infected.
posted by xqwzts at 2:22 AM on August 7, 2013

i would probably not even notice and would not care despite my stuffy upbringing. just watch your elbows though. if i did notice i may wonder if you are left-handed or ambidextrous. i eat continental style as i am somewhat ambidextrous and do some things right-handed and other things left-handed. i usually don't even know it until someone asks me if i'm a lefty. it's good to keep 'em guessing. ;)
posted by wildflower at 2:22 AM on August 7, 2013

(Left-handed) American here.

I was taught that proper manners mean keeping your fork in your main hand (for me that's the left, for my siblings it's their right), and using your secondary hand for your knife. One cuts off no more than two or three bites before laying down the knife, then eating. Cutting up ALL the food at once is usually considered to be poor manners; on a related note, one tears off only one or two bites of bread at a time. (For extra credit: never use a restaurant napkin to blow you nose!)

I probably would notice if you swapped your fork from hand to hand; but as that's an acceptable variation in table manners, it wouldn't count against you! What I WOULD count as bad manners is holding your fork in your fist like a shovel, generally-sloppy eating like a pig at a trough, chewing with your mouth open, setting a purse or other personal property on the table, or having your cell phone anywhere but off and out of sight.
posted by easily confused at 2:27 AM on August 7, 2013

As long as you didn't pick up a whole steak and eat it while holding it in your hands like a piece of watermelon I wouldn't notice how you cut it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:18 AM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am American and have never heard of any of these eating styles and wouldn't notice.
posted by KogeLiz at 3:24 AM on August 7, 2013

During that recent thread on the blue, I realized that I didn't know how I held my knife and fork and had to wait until dinner to look at how I was doing it. If I never noticed how I ate myself, I probably wouldn't notice how you did.

For the record, I do the switching thing but backwards because I'm a lefty. I attempted to do the no switch eating technique but gave up out of fear that I'd accidentally fling my chicken breast across the room.
posted by octothorpe at 4:24 AM on August 7, 2013

This is how I eat! Fork in right hand, knife in left, because it is easier for me. I am also right handed. No one has ever said anything to me about it, not even at fancy business dinners. The only awkward thing is switching utensil sides when a table is set formally.
posted by echo0720 at 5:01 AM on August 7, 2013

I would notice and would judge, in all honesty. I suppose I might assume you're left-handed and temper my judgement a little, but I'd still be judging. My mother's background is such that being accepted by people of higher social class was a big deal (because education was your best bet for social mobility, but the elite dominated elite educational institutions). Needless to say, my mother drilled into us that holding your knife and fork properly is a big deal.

My family hang ups aside, my brother had an internship at NASA where they were obliged to sit through an etiquette lecture that covered how to hold a knife and fork, suggesting it is an issue in at least some career contexts.
posted by hoyland at 5:07 AM on August 7, 2013

I'm Australian. We eat British (continental) style.

I would notice; at first I would just think you were eating continental-style but left-handed. Except for the thing about cutting more than one bite before putting down your knife. That's...unusual, I think.

I was brought up with strict table manners, by a British-born father. *Sigh*. So yes, it would be noted in a 'Huh, that's non-standard' type of way. It wouldn't make a positive impression, to be totally honest.

But I'm not signing off on any multi-million dollar business deals, so there's that. :)
posted by Salamander at 5:20 AM on August 7, 2013

I eat continental style (fork always handled on the left, knife remains on the right side of me), always put my knife down when not actually cutting something, and tend to put my fork or spoon down between bites.

This sometimes gets me pegged as a European person, or as a person with European parents by people who I imagine are so bored with the conversation that they are hawkishly watching my utensils.

What it actually means (to me) is that I am an ambidexterous American person who wasn't observant enough to realize that I "should" have been switching back and forth like everyone else.

Many right handed people stab the food with the left handed fork because they feel their right hand is not sufficiently trustworthy in knife wielding. Which makes sense, you don't want to send your knife sailing across the room if you lose control of it. The work of pinning down the food is considerably less detailed than cutting, so the fork switches hands repeatedly to accommodate that. Other people do the switching thing because it's "what you're supposed to do."

The most important etiquette lesson I ever received is this one: your job is to make no impediment to others being comfortable. Embarrass no other diner. Do not call out anyone else's table manners, and draw no attention to your own. This includes people sucking the meat off of chicken bones at formal galas. If they call out yours don't remind them how rude it is to do so. Instead, thank them for letting you know, whether their instructions are right or not. (My sister tells a great story about being mortified by someone telling her their trick for remembering which bread plate and drinking glass are your own - make a b and a d with your fingers. Your bread plate is on the left and your glass lines up with your right hand. Of course, this lecture happened after my sister took someone else's water glass in her left hand. In our family the appropriate thing to do would be to flag a waiter or the host and quietly request a water, making no mention of yours having been pilfered. This comes with it's own problems, but whatever.)
posted by bilabial at 5:20 AM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ten years ago I would have noticed and wondered why you ate like a child who'd never been taught how to use cutlery. Nowadays I would notice and assume you were from the US. Either way, if that was your only dining quirk I wouldn't think less of you, just be kind of... amused at the idea that a grown adult couldn't handle a knife and fork properly at the same time.

However if you do that "cut ten bites off your steak then eat them one by one" thing I would judge that. If you hold your fork in a fist or like a shovel I would judge that. Either one is past the point of my being able to ignore it and well into rudeness/ill-mannered.

I'm shaking my head at the idea of zigzagging being "proper" anything. It's such a ridiculous way to eat. It amazes me that people intentionally teach their children to eat like this.
posted by Sternmeyer at 6:08 AM on August 7, 2013

Depending on the situation, I either switch (I think I mostly do this at home) or I'll eat in what that NPR article refers to as "Post-modern" - Continental but with the tines the other way round.

My mom has broken both her arms at different times and eats all sorts of different ways depending on how she's doing any particular day, but she would prefer to eat with her dominant hand and cannot because she's lost range of motion in that wrist. She manages to eat politely, so in general, if you can't manage to not eat like you're a piece of heavy construction equiptment, I will notice THAT, but I'm unlikely to notice if you've adopted any particular way of using your utensils as long as it's not helicopter style or something. I certainly won't say anything unless we're close enough that I feel like it's MORE wrong to not say something to you.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:29 AM on August 7, 2013

I'd notice, but I'm not sure I'd care very much. When eating, I hold the knife in the same hand I use to slice things in the kitchen. I can't think of any scenario where I'd hold a knife in my left hand.

I switch the fork to my left hand when cutting a bite of food on my plate, but I switch back to the right hand to eat because that's my dominant hand.
posted by emelenjr at 7:29 AM on August 7, 2013

Not only is it rude to call out poor table manners, but with regard to the American or Continental style of cutlery handling, there are no poor table manners to "call out". They're just different traditions. Unless you're a spy, a diplomat, an etiquette teacher, or a hand model, there's no reason to be overly conscious of one or the other. If it is the case that you are regularly inking high-octane deals with Continental-style snobs, then it may behoove you to switch, but that's not because of anything you've done wrong.

Sniffing that it's non-standard is as accurate, and as classy, as judging someone for saying "zed" for "zee." OMG LOL YOU DIDN'T LEARN THE ALPHABET CORRECTLY HUHUHUHU oh wait that word is different in different places.

Talk of "inefficiency" is rich. Show me the sweaty, exhausted man who has worn himself out from eating in the zig-zag fashion. His hands wracked with arthritis, a spray of steak all over his shirt and the walls, his ribs a xylophone of starvation. "If only I had conserved my energy," he croaks, before he finally, mercifully dies. A hush falls over the bistro, as an etiquette-minded patron drapes a tablecloth over his corpse, so that the other diners may be spared the gruesome sight of a fork in a left hand.

In my in-laws' culture, it is considered rude to leave any sort of knife on the table, unless it is currently in use. In my family's culture, a knife is just a normal part of the table setting. OMG WHICH IS CORRECT WHICH IS BARBARIC BLURRRRRGGHH oh wait nobody cares. When they're at a Western restaurant, they don't care that there are knives around, and when I'm at a Chinese restaurant, I don't care that knives aren't around. It has something to do with understanding that different people have different traditions about things.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:30 AM on August 7, 2013 [12 favorites]

Not only would I not notice, but if I somehow ever came across someone who not only noticed but was openly judging people for that - man, I'd be judging them but hard.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:30 AM on August 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Personally, no I wouldn't notice and wouldn't care if I did. But, as others have pointed out, some people might notice and they might count it against you or the company you're representing. It isn't fair but it's not a battle I'd fight either.

The thing I would notice (since it hasn't been mentioned yet) is if you use your knife like saw cutting back and forth. It can jiggle the table which I'd find annoying so only cut with any pressure in one direction.
posted by VTX at 10:54 AM on August 7, 2013

I'm American, but due to an Anglophile mother, part of a childhood in a former British colony, and a short stint of college in Wales, I eat in the method that feels most comfortable at the time.

If the dish requires cutting, I hold my fork in my left hand, tines down, cut with my right, and eat with my left, tines down, and keep my knife in my hand while I'm eating, as it tends to fall off the plate if I lay it down on the plate. I also hold my knife oddly, like a pencil, which I picked up in Wales and from what I understand is considered a lower-class way of holding it, but I find that more interesting than anything else. It just feels better for cutting.

If I'm eating a meal that doesn't require a knife, I usually hold my fork tines-up in my right hand.

My husband adopted my way of eating within a couple of years of our starting to date, but I think it may be a subconscious fuck-you to his strict grandfather who was painfully conscious of The Way Things Are Done and who yelled at my husband to correct him as a child when he held his fork in his left hand to eat with.
posted by telophase at 11:01 AM on August 7, 2013

And all that is to say that I don't judge people by the way they hold their cutlery. Perhaps I am judged by the way I hold mine, but if I'm going to not get a job or get passed over for promotion just because of the way I hold my knife and fork, that's a job where I expect I've already got serious problems.
posted by telophase at 11:02 AM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm 37 years old and never once noticed that my fellow Americans were swapping their knife and fork back and forth while eating until I read the recent Metafilter post about it. I cut with my left hand and use my fork, tines up, in my dominant right hand because its the most efficient way and any other method is quite simply illogical (Vulcans would use the same method and raise an eyebrow at anyone who does not). I may have missed out on some multi-million dollar business deals, though, so maybe I should switch.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 3:19 PM on August 7, 2013

« Older Walgreens vs Walgreens   |   Best product for darkening very short male hair? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.