Tag Archives: eating

Oh, fork.

forks

I’ve had several weird experiences eating in the States.  Don’t get me wrong, the food is generally great (and certainly more consistent than in the UK), no it’s not the food.  And it’s certainly not the service, because that’s probably the best in the world.  It’s…the staring.

It happened at a golf-club in Sonoma.  And again at a restaurant overlooking Pittsburgh.  And, actually, countless other times too.  There I am, eating my dinner and the place goes kind of quiet and I realise there are myriad eyes following my cutlery.

The truth is, we eat differently and it’s our fault (good Lord, can I not write a single flippin’ post without apologising on behalf of my country?).

The usual American way is to use the knife in the right hand for cutting food and then transfer the fork to the right hand for eating it.  The European way is to hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand throughout the meal.  So how did that happen, then?

Well as I said, it’s the Brits’ fault.  We actually kept forks a secret from you!  Anyway, let’s start at the very beginning for, as Julie Andrews once sang, “that’s a very good place to start”.

When the world was young and Henry VIII was busy with all that marrying, divorcing and beheading stuff, we all used to eat with a spoon and dagger.  You’d press down firmly on the meat with the spoon, slice a piece off and then spike it on the end of the dagger to eat it.  Afterwards, you’d transfer the spoon to the right hand to scoop up the gravy and remaining bits and bobs.  It’s worth noting that eating your peas politely was never a problem in this particular culinary setting, as we were all veg-dodgers at the time and peas didn’t become at all fashionable until around 1700.  Anyway, I digress..

Then (around 1600) those clever and sophisticated Italians made forks really fashionable and the French went wild for them.  They reached Britain about the same time The Mayflower was leaving, but British men regarded forks as being foppish and effeminate and refused to use them for decades (although they were declared a pretty present for a bride).  Eventually, they caught on in Britain too, and, having no further need to spike meat, as the fork was now used for that, we rounded off the ends of our knives to become the dinner knives we know and use today.

The problem was, the naughty cutlery manufacturers in Sheffield (who shipped cutlery to the States in the early days, before you made your own) ‘forgot’ to tell our good cousins across the pond about forks.  The first thing most Americans knew was that Sheffield was sending rubbish knives; they were no good for stabbing meat anymore!  So, they cut the meat with the knife but then ate it with the spoon.  About forty years later we finally started sending forks to the US (but they took a good long while to get out to the less populated areas), by which time the method of eating was pretty much ingrained and no-one saw any reason to change, as their current method was perfectly good.  Forks eventually got substituted for spoons because they were more efficient, but other than that the method of eating has stayed the same.

The net result of which is that I seem to bring any restaurant (in a non-tourist area) to a standstill by eating the European way!

Or maybe I just had gravy on my chin?  Yep – it was probably the gravy.  Oh well, I’ve expounded on the whole ‘fork’ theory now, so might as well leave this post up, eh?

Right, got to go and see if I can find anything to write about that doesn’t involve apologising for my ancestors!

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Filed under English Quirks, Englishness, history