Forking Bastards

Sep. 2 - I eat like a savage.

Trine's been telling me that for years. Back when I hardly knew her, in fact, I remember a dinner party where she explained the difference in table etiquette between Scandinavia and America—and I remember how we all laughed. This was, after all, Chicago, and she was addressing a group of reasonably well-bred native Americans. (No, it wasn't a Cherokee roundtable: that would be a group of Native Americans. Capitalization is destiny.)

In America, we're brought up to hold the fork in our left hand to secure our food while we cut it with the knife in our right; then to set the knife down on the plate, then switch the fork to our right hand, which we then use to bring the food to our mouths.

Trine explained, to our merriment, that this was not merely savage but also inefficient. She demonstrated the "proper" way to eat: fork in left hand, knife in right; fork secures food, knife cuts food; fork in left hand brings food to mouth. Knife is never released from right hand.

We laughed and laughed at the sight of this lovely savage with her curious ways, poised over her plate with a utensil in each hand, jabbing forkfuls of food into her mouth with her left hand while her right hand remained on the table beside her plate, knife at the ready—as though she were preparing to fight off pirates while she finished off her pork cutlet.

We acknowledged that her method may have had efficiency on its side, and we swore up and down that none of us were sticklers for etiquette and that she was welcome to eat however she chose as far as we were concerned—but we warned her that her so-called etiquette would be dismissed as bad manners just about anywhere in America.

She shrugged and kept eating the way she'd been raised to eat.

Now it's my turn to be the savage. Sunday night was just the latest in a long string of dinners at which my "manners" were a subject of fascination and conversation. I was reassured that I could eat however I wanted and that no judgments were being made about my upbringing—but surely I realized, didn't I, that my use of dinner utensils was not merely, er, different, but inefficient?

I decided that rather than shrug and continue eating the way I'd been raised to eat, I'd try eating the way the Danes around me were eating. I held my fork in my left hand and my knife in my right. I speared a new potato with my fork and brought it directly to my mouth, knife ever at the ready in my right hand.

It felt awkward and wrong, and eventually I shrugged and resumed eating the way I'd been raised to eat. Conversation then turned to this strange difference and how it had come about. We all had theories, but none of us had facts. Now I have them.

Or rather, I have it—the single reason for the difference: the fork.

More specifically, the lack of the fork. The settlement of the New World was well underway before the fork was in widespread use across Europe. England in particular, our mother country, from which so many of our early traditions were drawn, was one of the last European bastions of forklessness.

Our manners were therefore developed by men and women sitting at table with only a spoon and a knife before them. It was only at the start of the nineteenth century that forks came into widespread use in America, and even then they were often referred to as "split spoons."

So American table manners are European table manners—just very old ones. I suggest we take it up as a point of pride and begin looking down our noses at these hell-for-leather Europeans and their newfangled "manners." Have they no respect for tradition?

Forking bastards. . .


Lydia Kamekeha Liliuokalani was born on this date in 1838. Upon the death of her brother in 1891, she became sovereign Queen of Hawaii. This was considered posing by the American colonials of Hawaii, who reminded her that monarchy was unconstitutional in the United States.

She reminded them that Hawaii was not part of the United States.

This was more than unconstitutional: it was cheeky. She was immediately deposed, then wrote wrote "Aloha Oe" and retired.

On this date in 1666, Thomass Farrinor forgot to put out his oven at the end of his shift. Unfortunately, the resulting fire cost him his job as official baker to King Charles II of England. On the plus side, it burned out of control and destroyed four-fifths of London, thereby ending the Black Plague.

Verdun, France surrendered to the Prussian army on September 2, 1792. Exactly seventy-eight years later, Napoleon III surrendered to the Prussians at Sedan. Prussia got so excited she decided to become Germany. Surrendering to the Germans eventually became a French institution, like soft cheese and adultery. It was surely with a nostalgic eye, therefore, that Parisiens watched on September 5, 1944, as the first of Germany's V-2 missiles rained down upon them.

Today is Republic Day in Vietnam, and the birthday of Salma Hayek (1966), Keanu Reeves (1964), Jimmy Connors (1952), Christa McAuliffe (1948), and the aforementioned Lydia Kamekeha Liliuokalani (1838).

Happy Tuesday!

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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