July 6, 2013

Les Couverts

Meeting the parents of a significant other is always stressful, but I was adding in cultural differences, language barriers, a weeklong stay, and being a vegetarian in a very meat-based culture.

Trying to make a good impression during one of the first dinners with the parents, monsieur pommettes brought up a culture factoid I had previously shared with him.

“In America, they hold their forks and knives differently, and use their knives a lot less!” my French boyfriend told his parents.

I immediately panicked.

While true that in America we switch the fork holding hand before eating and in France they tend not to, and the French certainly use their knives much more like a tool than in the good ol’ States, I was fearful of what sort of image that statement would evoke.

Would they think all Americans are knife-less barbarians that only eat with their hands?

His mother’s instant reply was, “Well, she certainly uses her knife better than you do.”

I secretly preened. Having spent 3 years observing and mimicking French table manors in a never-ending effort to be more French, I couldn’t be happier my efforts were paying off. Nevertheless, M.P. did have it right – table manors are not the same on our two continents.

Merci, but I learned how to do this while living in France,” I explained. I then told them about the differences between American and Continental dining etiquette I’ve observed over the years, all the way down to using bread to soak up sauces, or using a spoon to eat cake.

An illustration of American vs. Continental fork use.
Source: Châine des Rotisseurs

While for the most part I now use continental style (i.e. I don’t switch my fork hand after cutting), every now and then I notice that I’ve made the switch without meaning to. My American dining etiquette remains a part of me, especially since I still prefer to eat my dessert with a fork.


  1. Stories like this are a good antidote to all the scary French mother-in-law stories. Yours sounds really nice!

  2. I hope I get to meet M.P. parents; however maybe we should eat at a fast food restaurant or a pizza place so its an all hands on meal.

    1. Americans tend to eat with their hands more than the French - they use utensils for their pizza eating :)

  3. I switched over to Continental sometime in the last decade without even noticing. My hands are officially European :)

    1. Haha nice! I wonder when I'll be completely European...

  4. I've noticed that there's a difference, but I'm too busy eating (or maybe switching over with my knife and fork) to notice what exactly it is. All I know is one moment my knife is on my right hand and my family hasn't switched at any moment.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...