American Style of Eating
In the American Style of eating, often referred to as zigzag style, you hold the knife in your right hand and the fork in your left hand while to cutting your food. Once the bite of food is cut, the knife is placed, blade to the inside, along the top of the plate. The fork is switched to your right hand, so you can spear the bite of food and mastication ensues. The left hand is placed on the lap, out of sight, until needed for the next cut. A left hand, arm or dare I say elbow on the table marks one as improperly trained. The crossing over of the fork from the left to the right hand has the added benefit of slowing people down at meal time.
Why so Americans Eat That Way?
The American way or “zigzag way” of eating was the original method of eating in France and England before 1732. Before the invention of the fork, people ate with their hands, spoons and speared food with the tip of their knife. In fact, the knife was popular way to bring food to yourself for there you would pick up the food with your hands or bring it to your mouth with your knife in your right hand. With the invention of the fork there was the problem of how to eat with your right hand. Since cutting was done with the right hand, not knowing what else to do, the knife would be set down, fork transferred to right hand so eating could continue.
It wasn’t until the early 19th century that forks were a common item in American households. At the first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621, the Pilgrims were most likely eating their turkey on the points of their knives, aided by the occasional spoon.
The etiquette “revolution” began during the reign of King Louis the 14th of France. Etiquette separated the noblemen form the common people. In 1732 a nobleman in King Louis 15 m’s court decided that the noblemen should eat differently than the common people and he came up with the Continental style of eating. The Continental style of eating soon swept through Europe.
When America was settled in the 1700’s, the settlers wanted nothing to do with the King and they continued the practice the older zigzag style of eating, rejecting the new popular style.
Continental Style of Eating
In the Continental Style of eating, you keep your fork in your left hand and the knife in your right hand after cutting your food. When conveying food to your mouth with the fork still in your left hand, the last half of the tines of the fork are kept parallel with the table. The knife remains in your right hand and may be subtly be used to push items onto your fork.
Both utensils are kept in your hands with the tines pointed down throughout the entire eating process. If you take a drink, you do not just put your knife down, you put both utensils down into the resting position: cross the fork over the knife.