Fork in left hand? European style eating

I notice Rick and all the foodies on TV now eat European style---with the fork in the left hand. Is it considered rude to eat "American style" in Europe.

Posted by Thomas
Snyder, Texas
503 posts

I am left handed, so when I eat European style, I hold the fork in my right hand. I find that method difficult with some foods, especially vegetables such as corn or peas, so I tend to go back and forth between methods.
I think the restaurateurs would only object should I not pay. I doubt they care how I move the food from my plate to my mouth so long as I do so with a degree of civilility.

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
683 posts

Only an utter weirdo would know what "American style" means. Thus, do not worry. Your answer is "no".

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9131 posts

"Is it considered rude to eat "American style" in Europe." No. It's just one more thing out of a thousand that identifies where you're from.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4764 posts

It isn't rude, but the servers will snicker in the kitchen where you can't hear them. (I know this cause I used to work in a restaurant here) People at other tables may stare at you if you are in Germany, but that is cause they just like to stare. Most of the expats I know, do this not because they are foodies, but because it is the logical way to eat. You don't have to keep switching hands, nor cut up all your meat at one time like one would do for a child. Once you start, you begin to wonder why anyone would eat any other way.

Posted by George
Canada
829 posts

"It's just one more thing out of a thousand that identifies where you're from." You mean they'll think I'm an American - but I'm Canadian. That's it, fork in the left hand ONLY, when I'm in Europe.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

No I don't think its rude,, eating with mouth open is rude, eating non finger foods with hands is rude.. eating strangely ( er,, the way you guys do.. lol ) is not rude at all, just different. First time I noticed was on honeymoon cruise is 1988.. hubby and I were at a table with three other couples.. they were all American. We met. all chatted over pre dinner drinks at table, when food arrived I was shocked to see the pretty seemingly classy lady grab her fork and knife and eat like a barbarian to me.. fist rounded around fork, sawing at meat while holding knife awkwardly.. etc. Then we noticed everyone at table was eating like that , passing back and forth their forks back and forth between hands ,, fists clenched,, it really seemed so foreign to us. Now of course I realize its perfectly normal and I think nothing of it when I see it abroad.. but we did teach our kids to eat with fork in left hand. Does everyone in American eat that way or do you think some people eat differently ?

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

Its my understanding the reason we eat in a different manner than people "over there" began during the years leading up to the American Revolution. Americans wanted to show defiance and objection to the British, and switching hands with the fork was just one ways of doing it. That's reason enough for me.

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
611 posts

Ahhhh, we should accept various cultures in Europe but not our own?
P.S. I converted years ago and should have purchased the brilliant fork knife set crafted to train children, for our children. Are the sets sold in North America?

Posted by Rosalyn
Berkeley
1007 posts

Maybe it's my age - - well over 70 - - but I could not care less what anyone thinks of my method of using a knife and fork. Granted that the Euopean way is more efficient, I'm not about to attempt to change the habit of a lifetime in order to avoid what? Looking like an American? I would think that any European in a hospitality business has long ago gotten over surprise at our quaint little ways.
And while I'm at it, I find it quite surprising how much heat (but not so much light) is generated by questions about how to dress so as to "blend in." I don't want to start that one again, so I'll just say that any European who cares, and even those who don't, will peg you pretty quickly. Other than giving offense, like entering a church dressed inappropriately, why should you care?

Posted by George
Canada
829 posts

Rosalyn - I think this is akin to lifting your wine glass by the stem, or by the bowl.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4764 posts

Don't get me started now, about eating peas from the back of a fork.

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
611 posts

@George Why use a wine glass....more efficient to drink from the bottle?

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2698 posts

"Is it considered rude eating 'American Style' in Europe?" No, of course not, but I don't do it.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7683 posts

I'm lefthanded, so I have always eaten as Europeans do.

Posted by camille
point pleasant beach, nj, usa
470 posts

Whew......I'm safe. I'm left-handed and always use my left hand when eating.

Posted by Anna
Seattle, WA, United States
684 posts

As to the topic at hand: growing up in Russia, I was taught to always keep the knife in the right hand and fork in left. When I came to live here, it seemed odd to see people put the knife down and hold the fork in their right hand - but I really don't think anyone will consider you rude for doing that! It's not like, say failing to slup when eating noodles in Japan, in which case it's a good idea to conform to the local eating customs :)

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7976 posts

Either way, you're going to use the knife in your right hand. Hold a fork in either hand. Note with the tines up you have to lift your fist to up about your nose. With the tines down, it only has to come up to somewhere below your chin. Less work, less calories burned, less food needed, less money spent. Might as well keep the fork in your left hand since the right one's full of knife. Move on. Next subject: Why do uncouth westerners hold their chops way down by the business end like common heathens?

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6839 posts

...and here I was minding my own business not realizing that in the land of crocs there was a different way of eating. I've gone 45 years without knowing that, and now my world is shattered! What's next is someone gonna tell me Santa Claus or Chanukah Harry doesn't exist?????

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

Not intended for Ronnie...more of an observation of regulars: Agonizing about how one uses his eating utensils so as to be culturally or politically correct when in Europe is a pretty good example of how goofy some people can get with respect to this "fitting in" phenomenon. I understand people's concerns with not wanting to offend through an unintended faux pas, but dining in Europe is hardly an exotic affair. Do European tourists fret over how they shall use their utensils in San Diego? I seriously doubt it. If you want to worry about unique dining etiquette and fitting in, go to Ethiopia. Why not just eat like you normally do, whichever way that may be, and get on with life? Who gives a crap?

Posted by Southam
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
912 posts

That old yarn about defiant rebels asserting their independence by changing the hand in which they held their forks contains an unfortunate fundamental contradiction. The next time you sit down to dinner at the White House, notice how the silver is laid out -- forks to the left.
As to driving on the "wrong" side of the road....

Posted by Ronnie
Longwood, Florida, USA
12 posts

Thanks for all your numerous posts. BUT-----regarding how Americans eat-- I still say----why does Rick eat European style in all his episodes---and if you follow any shows on tv like "iron chef America" all the judges eat European style. Any show on TV with an American chef that shows them eating will show them eating European style. What about Anthony Borudain. Always eats European stye. Were they brought up to eat European style--I don't think so--they think it is more "avant guard" to eat European style. The only Americans I know eating European style grew up in a household with a European parent or grandparent or they want to look more "classy"---thus I think it is considered "not very classy" to eat American style--especially in Europe. I think it is about time we came to terms with this and admitted the truth about it. So--should we try to eat European style in Europe?

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2276 posts

Fascinating topic. I must admit that when eating in restaurants in
Europe, I try the fork left, knife right, method at the beginning of the meal. Trying to be cultured and sophisticated I suppose. But at some point, if its really good and I'm really hungry, I revert and just enjoy it. The only comment I have received is: yes, they notice it as a North American trait, and that it is obviously inefficient. Any industrial engineer with a stop watch could do a time-motion study and tell you that. It is obviously a cultural thing, in that our parents teach us how to eat, as their parents taught them. But mystery of mysteries, my grandparents grew up in Europe, so why didn't they pass it on to my mom? I will hypothesize that the obsession with propriety and proper table manners is a result of the rise of the middle class in the last 100 or so years. People copied their "betters" in an attempt to show they were just as good. Before that, if spent your life plowing fields with a team of horses, you probably weren't too worried about how you ate your food, just get the food. I never heard the theory that it was a purposeful attempt to do things different than the British. But that could be just as good a reason. The only place I ever really got any crap about how I ate was in South Africa years ago. The Anglophones (that's a Canadian term, eh?) were obsessed with the rituals of a proper English Dinner. They were determined to be more British than the British. Even a run down hotel restaurant had like four different sets of silverware at each setting. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Posted by Carroll
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
1349 posts

When I was growing up, my mother told me we do the knife/fork switching thing so we don't eat our food too fast. Who knows? My husband has always eaten the European way because he decided at a very early age that it made no sense to be constantly switching. And he's the most unpretentious, untrendy person I know. (As proof: he wears shorts in Europe any day the temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.) I can see why Europeans would laugh at us for eating this way. It does look rather silly if you aren't used to it. Having done it my whole life, it feels perfectly natural to me, so I'm not about to change.

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

Should we eat European style when in Europe? No. Should we wipe Turkish style when in Turkey?

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3313 posts

Err, maybe Rick eats that way, because it's how he grew up? Not every single American puts down their knife and then changes their fork to their right hand to eat their food. I grew up outside Chicago and was brought up to believe that grownups, who could cut up their own meat, used a knife in their right hand a fork in their left hand and no need to change hands. Children used the fork in their right hand, because someone else had cut up the meat or whatever. Now, you may have been brought up differently, but that's how I was brought up in the Chicago outer suburbs in the 50's and 60's. (Was barely cutting that meat myself in the 50's!) This is not to say that people who change hands are eating childishly. It looks awkward to me, but hey to each his or her own, right? So, it primarily depends on how you were brought up. Of course, some may change to the "European" way as it is more efficient. Geeze! Pam

Posted by Elaine
Columbia, SC
746 posts

I was born and raised in Canada and my family and everyone I knew ate what you refer to as "American" style, but we knew it as "Canadian" style. A lot of post-WW2 DPs immigrated to Ontario during the 50s and their "European" style was ridiculed and they were considered to have poor table manners. No one wanted to imitate them and their children, first-generation Canadians, usually ate "Canadian" style. Maybe a regional difference between BC and ON?

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2276 posts

@ Ronnie 2nd post. Somebody correct me (you always do), but wasn't RS's father born and raised in Norway. Thus the civilized European table manners.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9131 posts

"What about Anthony Borudain. Always eats European stye." I can't comment on why Rick Steves eats that way or any of the other celebrity chefs, but the reason for Anthony Bourdain is probably more mundane (hey, that rhymes). If I remember correctly, his father's family were relatively recent immigrants from France and he visited the country every summer as a child. I, like many other ex-pats, adopted this way of eating not out of any conscious attempt to fit in, but more out of habit. It's like driving. Even though I learned to drive in the US, I instinctively now slow down at every unmarked intersection to yield to anyone coming from my right, and I don't turn on red unless there's an arrow. Is one system better than the other? Not necessarily. It's just one of those habits that you find yourself slipping into. But have some people in North America probably adopted this style of eating out of pure pretension? Hell, yeah!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Ronnie, Perhaps Rick uses that style of dining in Europe as that's the way he normally eats at home. When I'm dining in Europe, I use the same method as I do at home which is dictated by the fact that I'm mostly left-handed. I've never given any thought to whether that's "European style" or "American style", and I really don't care in the least. I'd suggest just dining in Europe in the same fashion you do normally, and don't give any thought to whether anyone "approves" of the way you're eating. I can't imagine anything more trivial to be concerned with during travels. Happy travels!

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
969 posts

Is this actually an issue? I have got say that of all the things I worry about before traveling to Europe this is definitely not one of them. Also, I can honestly say that I never knew there was a difference. When I ate out in France I never once noticed how the other diners around me were holding their forks. I'm going to assume that they were not noticing how I ate either - if they were, they need to get a life. I'm right handed and when I'm just eating something with a fork that doesn't need to be cut it's just natural for me to use my right hand. However, when I cut a piece of meat I hold the fork in my left hand then put the knife down but do not transfer the fork, I just bring it to my mouth with my left hand. Is that considered European style? So I use either hand, depending on what I'm eating. Guess I'm ambi-continental-dextrous when it comes to eating.

Posted by George
Canada
829 posts

Well, if they aren't sure if I'm an Auslander by the way I hold my fork, they will certainly be able to tell by how I eat my pizza - cause I get the restaurant to cut it in slices, just like I get it at home, and eat it using my hands. Way more efficient AND more enjoyable than hacking away at it, with a fork and knife.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2899 posts

Don't get me started now, about eating peas from the back of a fork. Jo, I've always been in awe of how Europeans can eat off the back of the fork without dribbling food down the front of them. I could probably handle keeping my fork in the left hand, but don't think I could manage the action of pushing food onto the back of the fork with a knife and raising the fork to my mouth without spilling it everywhere. I don't think Europeans consider the way that Americans hold their utensils to be rude as much as to be a curiosity. I remember having a conversation about the different eating styles with some friends when I was living in Sweden. One asked if I'd ever tried the "Swedish style" of holding utensils. The other stated, "Why would she ... I don't switch when I visit the U.S.". My response to the first was that I was afraid if I tried holding my fork in my left hand and eating off the back of it, I'd end up with most of the food on my clothes... so I stuck with what I was comfortable with. It can be a disadvantage when you are sitting at a small table with other Europeans and you bump elbows ... the same problem that lefties in this country encounter, but in reverse.

Posted by Denny
Columbus, OH, USA
733 posts

When I was a kid, Mom once commented at dinner that I ate " Continental style" and then explained what it meant. I had never noticed before; maybe with 2 voracious brothers it evolved as the fastest way to get more food down. I still do. Now we have become friends with a young Danish couple living here, and one of their frequent observations is the way we hold our silverware in this country. It continues to hold their fascination. I think they find it interesting, and a little amusing.
P.S. I do remember being amazed on our first trip when I was 21 to see Europeans eat an apple with a knife and fork.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1970 posts

We may have a few things backwards. Does anyone know how the US fork in right hand-thing got started? Was it an affectation on the part of our upper classes to distinguish themselves from the lower-classes and ruffian immigrants? As for Bourdain and other foodies, I think they do it because it's more efficient. After spending their lives cooking and tasting, they don't want to waste time and effort. No one has mentioned the US custom of the unused hand out-of-sight in the lap. My mom said to keep my hand in my lap. French mothers tell their children to keep the hand in sight, wrist resting on the table, so there's no funny business going on down there at the dinner table.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2899 posts

does anyone know how the US fork in right hand-thing got started? Was it an affectation on the part of our upper classes to distinguish them from all the ruffians hitting our shores? If you believe wikipedia, this is how Europeans ate when the U.S. was a colony. From wikipedia ... 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. Eating utensils wiki

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7976 posts

When I attended Mom's European Etiquette Class as a kid in Spain, her explanation was that both hands in sight had to do with showing there wasn't a weapon concealed in your lap.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I live in Europe. I barely even notice the different way of eating and certainly wouldn't dream of changing the way I eat. I do use chopsticks when appropriate, but mostly because it's fun.

Posted by stan
Kansas City, Missouri
219 posts

Hmmm. Now I am uncertain. Chopsticks in left hand, right hand, or one in each?

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4764 posts

I think only the British eat off the back of the fork. Have never seen anyone else do it. Do Australians or other British settled area do this? Like India, Bermuda, New Zealand, etc? In Germany at least, you are supposed to keep both hands on top of the table, so you might as well give both of them something to do. Keeping one hand on your lap is considered impolite. Total opposite of what I was told growing up in Ohio, where resting your arm on the table was considered rude. One does use the knife to put a bit of sauce onto the fork, or add some potatoes, and it helps in all of those situations where many people would use their thumbs. That is frowned upon and considered fairly uncouth. Shoving food onto your fork with your thumb just isn't done. Licking your fingers is also considered to be a bit uncouth, which is why they use knife and fork to eat things like pizza & burgers. I kind of do both with the pizza, especially when it is really hot, eating for a while with knife and fork, then picking up the pieces when it is cooler. Burgers are hands only. That is half the fun.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8757 posts

The English use three chopsticks, two in the left hand and one to cut in the right. Often they put all three in the right hand after the meat is cut to make a kind of a shovel.

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
611 posts

Advice on the proper way to wear scarves and sweaters?

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7976 posts

Scarves go up over your nose so you look like an outlaw and keep the pickpockets skairt. Sweaters are draped over your shoulders so you can stay cold.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2608 posts

Last trip to LaJolla and met up with a few client/friends and noticed they had all switched to European style eating...after a trip or two to Europe...glancing around the extremely pretentious restaurant...most of the locals were eating the same way. Guess it's a way to saying "I've been to Europe" without saying it. Another friend who was with us and has known these people for about 20 years didn't know about this 'eating thing' and laughed when I explained to her what was going on. "I wondered why they all looked like they were attacking their food." It's almost comical.

Posted by Judy
Adelaide, SA, Australia
802 posts

Australians eat off the back of the fork, because just like you guys this was how we were first taught to use utensils by our parents and naturally we handed this method on to our kids and they in turn to theirs. Coping with peas on the back of the fork means you have to crush the little suckers first.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

Is there anywhere in North America where using your thumb to put food anywhere is polite,, I don't think I have ever seen that, and if I ever saw it at my table I am sure I reprimanded my 3 yr old for it.. Jo, you are were pulling legs weren't you ? Nothing surprises me anymore about what others do , so I am not sure. I find it funny that some people consider it pretentious to eat with the fork in the left hand,, if so , I guess all my kids were pretentious by kindergarten.. kids learn to eat as they are taught at home , and if you are taught to eat that way it has nothing to do with being pretentious.. I guess if people find it pretentious its because they seem to see it as a "better" way to eat and assume people are putting on airs eating that way because they themselves do not.. making them actually more judgemental then they would like to suppose of themselves. lol I maintain the rudest eating behaviour is eating with your mouth open, I do not care how you get food into your mouth, once its there, shut it and chew..

Posted by Will
Columbia, SC
315 posts

Pat, another example of "it's all relative"... during my time in Korea a local told me chewing with your mouth open is fine there, in fact I believe he said it signaled appreciation for the food. On the other hand, East Asians are very neat eaters; getting crumbs etc on the table- no big deal at casual restaurants in North America- they find disgusting.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
2276 posts

Similar experience in Taiwan. Shovel that food down with the chopsticks accompanied by lip smacking and chewing. But touch the food with your fingers? Ewwwww. And eat your food with your left hand? The one you use to you-know-what after going to the bathroom? Stop it! You're making me sick!
I've heard that in some cultures, its important to signal your satisfaction to the host with a loud belch. Otherwise they'll keep bringing more food.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9131 posts

Pat, pretension lies in the intent, not the habit itself...