Sunday, June 19, 2011

Left versus Right

I've been meaning to post about this for a while, but after two seperate comments from friends when I was back in the US recently, I knew I had to get this up tout de suite!

We Americans eat differently than the Brits.  And, after living here for 3 years, I'm starting to come around to the way the Brits do it more & more often (hence the friends' comments).  What do I mean, you ask?  Simples.

Americans, when faced with needing to use a knife with their meal, will put the knife in their right hand and fork in the left.  We'll cut our food, and then switch hands and use the fork in the right hand to eat with.  Back and forth and back and forth.
Not the Brits.  Once the knife goes in the right hand, it stays there.  And, even more interestingly is that unlike Americans who will use the fork in a scooping motion, the Brits don't flip the fork over; rather, they use the knife to scoot food onto the back of the fork tines and then eat.

To wit:

Brit Eater

American Eater

What really brought this home for me was last night:  Simon & I took a dinner cruise on the Thames-and there appeared to be a fairly even split of Brits & Americans on the boat (based on the accents I heard).  Once we settled in to dinner & I was looking around, it was even more apparent as I observed the different styles of fork/knife usage.
After 3 years of being in London, I'm starting to notice that I'm adopting this style of eating too (hence the friends' comments when I was in the US).  Not all the time, but half the time at least.  It kinda makes sense:  the back & forth kife/fork switching really is unnecessary.

Though, I can't help but wonder how the 'American-style' came to pass..


  1. I've started eating with fork in left and knife on right as well. It just makes sense, like you said.

  2. It's not as much British as European. That's how I grew up, fork left, knife right, arms in tight so you can hold a book with your arms while eating, elbows below the table, knife never points up, etc. etc.

    The lore in my family about the American fork/knife pose was that it goes back to the old days of the West. You always needed your left hand free so you could shoot on a moments notice if needed :-) Hence the left hand is frequently below the table when not holding the fork...

  3. Took me a while to get used to this when I moved over as well.

  4. LOL, that seems hard. I'm right-handed so I can't imagine trying to use my left for anything, but I may give it a try at my next meal just to see if it's possible and how much food I'll end up wearing. :)

  5. I've been in the States 21 years and I still insist on serving a knife and fork with all meals. Half the time my kids insist it's all finger food and try not to use either! Shudder!
    My recollection of the not-using-knife-thing also related to Olde England, where people used their all purpose knife to cut food and then either scooped it up with hands (a la Henry 8 and co) or used the fork because the "knife" was really more of a scabard and probably covered in crap. Lierally.

  6. Sometime in our 5 years here, I started eating the British way. My kids do it too. I think they actually teach forks and knife use in their school.
    BTW, you got me. I thought you were going somewhere else with this title.

  7. @Jan, interesting comment about the 'American' action. I've not heard the lore, but distinctly remember my mother making me keep my left hand under the table when I was eating.
    @AHLondon...:) I've definitely posted a few times on the other 'left versus right', but didn't know what else to call this post!

  8. I'm an American and I always eat like the Europeans, it developed naturally. Never noticed it until others commented on it. Seems like it would take longer to eat.

    Though I also eat pizza with a knife and folk so maybe I'm more European than I think.

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  10. I can do it either way (I'm American with a Scottish mother), but there's something queasy-making about watching someone select bits of food, then push them onto the back of the fork, and then shovel the whole thing into their mouth. Regardless of how I eat, I'd prefer my dinner companion to eat the American way! Is it really polite in Europe to do the pushing of several different kinds of food onto the back of the fork?

  11. @Lynn, lol. I kinda agree with you. It took me a good long while to get to the point where I didn't think it looked weird.
    Of course, we could always just do as the Thai people do and eat with a spoon as our main utensil (forks are considered uncouth and aggressive!)... ;)

  12. I still live in America, but for years have used the Brit style some of the time.. not sure when I started that. Maybe I saw it once and thought "that just seems more efficient" LOL

  13. Just found your blog by doing a search for this exact topic. I have just spent a month in England/Belgium/France, though mainly in England. I've been wanting to live in London, or England in general for more than 10 years now and your blog is both fun and useful to read, so THANKS!!! And to get back on topic, when I was in England I felt like people were staring at me (for my apparent lack of table manners) when I ate in the American style. Embarrassed, I quickly switched over, though I still don't pile things on the back of my fork and cannot use this general method of eating with absolute consistency. I don't even get how to do pile things onto ones fork and get it in your mouth in turn the correct way. But now that I am back in the states, I thought it would behoove me to eat as the Brits do. It is hilarious to watch Americans as I do because it makes them feel all improper and they in turn pick up their knife and either use it more or eat in the British style as well. All without a single word being spoken! It cracks me up! xD But this method can be taken too far. I had a friend who it took over 10 minutes to finish eating her croissant with jam and butter with her knife and fork. American fingers can have that packed away in 1 minute flat!

  14. Kristina,

    Hello! I just came across your blog on Amazon out of all places - to find out about how Americans are living on the other side of the pond. I love your writing, very free-spirited, honest, and definitely American altho I see you're transitioning to the British dry wit! lol.

    Anyway, I have to say your observations about the British vs. Americans eating w/ forks and knives is hilarious.. and true!! My former b/f, native of Newcastle.. I couldn't get over the fact and would stare at him as he would eat with his fork on one hand, then scoop his steak and mashed potatoes w/ his knife on top of the BACK of the fork till it was a tiny mountain pile. Then he would put the pile in his mouth... it was so weird! LOL. But I suppose like you, it makes sense as I kept changing mine..?

    I'm looking forward to reading more of your adventures, as I've been deliberating about whether I should move my life abroad as well. Thanks for doing such a great service to possible Ex-Pats!

  15. I've made the reverse journey since moving to the US. I like just using a fork, and using it as a shovel instead of a pen. I have to make myself do it the British way, though, so that my children have a chance of growing up with British table manners (against the day when we move back, not because I think British table manners are inherently better, I hasten to add).

    Then there's the whole difference about what you can and can't eat with your fingers. Have you spotted English people eating burgers and pizza with silverware?

  16. @iota. I literally laughed outloud when reading about your burgers and pizza comment. it is too true! I still refuse to eat my burger with silverware, so I know I look like an uncouth chav when I eat a burger in public, but I can't bring myself to eat a burger any other way! :)
    @Irene...thanks for stopping by. Yep. Amazon. Funny that. ;)