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Fork etiquette

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Fork etiquette

Eating utensil etiquette describes the correct etiquette with the use of eating utensils.[1]

Chopstick etiquette

Forbidden is:

  • Placing the chopsticks straight up in a bowl of food; their resulting placement would resemble the twin incense sticks presented as an offering to the dead in East Asian cultures and would thereby remind observers, especially recently bereaved ones, of a funeral and the associated loss
  • Pointing or gesturing with the chopsticks in hand
  • Sticking the chopsticks into the food
  • Licking the chopsticks or biting the food off the chopsticks
  • Offering table members a taste of your meal using the chopsticks
  • Accepting a bowl using the hand you use to hold your chopsticks
  • Taking the food from the dish with the back of the chopsticks (not used for eating) to put it into your own bowl.
  • Taking food from the far side of a dish.

Obligations are:

  • Placing the chopsticks next to each other on the especially intended holder when you pause or finish eating
  • Taking the food in each dish starting from the side nearer to you.


Placement of the chopsticks

The correct handling of chopsticks goes as follows:

  • The lower chopstick is to be placed between thumb and hand, the end is kept in place using the ring finger. The lower chopstick should not move while picking food.
  • The upper chopstick balances on the thumb and is moved up and down using the middle and/or forefinger.[2]

Fork etiquette

When used in conjunction with a knife to cut and consume food in Western social settings, two forms of fork etiquette are common. In the European style, the diner keeps the fork in his or her left hand, while in the American style the fork is shifted between the left and right hands. The American style is most common in the United States.[3] but the European style is considered proper in other countries.[4][5]

Originally, the traditional European method, once the fork was adopted as a utensil, was to transfer the fork to the right hand after cutting food, as it had been considered proper for all utensils to be used with the right hand only. This tradition was brought to America by British colonists and is still in use in the United States. Europe adopted the more rapid style of eating in relatively modern times.[6]

European style

The European style, also called the continental style, is to hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. Once a bite-sized piece of food has been cut, it is conducted straight to the mouth by the left hand. The tines remain pointing down.

The knife and fork are both held with the handle running along the palm and extending out to be held by thumb and forefinger. This style is sometimes called "hidden handle" because the palm conceals the handle.

American style

In the American style, also called the zig-zag method or fork switching, the knife is initially held in the right hand and the fork in the left. Holding food to the plate with the fork tines-down, a single bite-sized piece is cut with the knife. The knife is then set down on the plate, the fork transferred from the left hand to the right hand, and the food is brought to the mouth for consumption. The fork is then transferred back to the left hand and the knife is picked up with the right.[3][7] In contrast to the European hidden handle grip, in the American style the fork is held much like a spoon or pen once it is transferred to the right hand to convey food to the mouth. Though called "American style", this style originated in Europe.[8]

Hybrid style

Though not endorsed by most etiquette guides, in the United States, a hybrid of the American and European styles is becoming prevalent. In this style, the fork is held in the dominant hand while cutting with the knife in off hand. The tines of the fork are normally kept up for use as a scoop.[8]

Southeast Asian style

The South East Asian style is similar to the European style, wherein the fork is held in the left hand throughout consumption (except with certain dishes when a fork is more suitable). The difference is that a spoon is often used in the right hand and knives are rarely used. Rice and soups are a staple of the diet in South East Asian countries, so using a spoon would be practical in such dishes. The spoon is the main utensil in bringing food into the mouth, in tandem with using a fork. The spoon could also be used for manipulating food in the plate and as an alternative for a knife. Often dishes require slicing before serving or sliced into small portions before cooking to relinquish the use of a knife.

Placement of forks

Tables are often set with two or more forks, meant to be used for different courses; for example, a salad fork, a meat fork, and a dessert fork. Some institutions wishing to give an impression of high formality set places with many different forks for meals of several courses, although many etiquette authorities regard this as vulgar and prefer that the appropriate cutlery be brought in with each course.[9]

It should not be necessary for the diner to distinguish between types of forks; forks are used in order from outside to inside, with the exception of oyster forks, which are placed on the right side, the tines nested in the bowl of a spoon.

Cutlery etiquette

In western countries, such as Australia and the United States, there are a variety of ways to signify that one has completed their meal. Of these, most often used is placing the fork at the 5 o'clock position, with the knife either in the top right corner or together with the fork at the 5 o'clock position. If one is still eating their meal the fork is to be placed at the 8 o'clock position and the knife at the 4 o'clock.[10] In European countries such as Germany, the placement of these utensils is at the 4 o’clock position. The placement of the utensils in this position also serves as an indicator to the waitress/waiter that your plate can be removed.

As fictional device

American spies are exposed by observation of their out-of-place forking technique in at least two American movies — O.S.S. (1946) and The Big Red One (1980).

References

Further reading

  • From Hand to Mouth, Or, How We Invented Knives, Forks, Spoons and Chopsticks, and the Manners to Go with Them by James Cross Giblin. New York: Crowell, 1987.
  • The Evolution of Useful Things by Henry Petroski. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
  • The History of Manners by Norbert Elias. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.

See also

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