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Oct 7, 2006 08:55 PM

Do you eat American style or European style?

How many Chowhounds eat European style (the European or Continental style is where you keep the knife in the right hand (assuming you're right handed), and eat with your fork in the left.
I've noticed that style more and more.

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  1. European It is more efficient rather than constantly switching untensils between hands

    3 Replies
    1. re: Winemark

      Me too, it is much simpler but it sometimes depends on what I am eating.

    2. I don't think I have ever seen another style! What is 'American' Style? Cut with the left? Or cut and eat with the right (putting down the knife after cutting)? If the latter, then if no knife is needed does it matter whether the fork is the right or left?

      I don't think I've ever consciously thought about how I eat with utensils before.

      28 Replies
      1. re: Atahualpa

        American style is, assuming you are right handed, to hold the fork in the left and the knife in the right when cutting, then putting down the knife, switching the fork to the right hand, to eat the item.

        I eat the "European" way from my parents, although they are American we were raised in Europe/Canada, and I guess they switched somewhere along the way. If food does not require a knife, such as certain fish, I will use the fork in my right hand, "cutting" the fish with the outer edge of the knife first.

        1. re: Atahualpa

          The "Western," or "American" method is to hold the fork, tine-bend down in the left hand. Knife is in the right. Cut. Switch the knife to the edge of the plate and move fork to the right hand, tine bend still down. Spear the cut portion and move to mouth.

          In the "European" method, the fork is most often held in the left hand, tine bend up. The knife never leaves the right hand, and is often used to push the cut portion, or maybe a non-cut bite onto the backside of the fork. The left hand then raises the fork (tine bend still up) to the mouth. The knife is not placed on the plate's edge.

          The "European" method is quicker. The knife is never placed down. The fork is not switched to the right hand.

          To me, I like the little pause, when switching hands, as I get to "charm" my European guest's wife with a bit of small talk.

          I believe that dining is about much more than efficiency in getting the food into my mouth. If I want the ultimate in efficiency, I'll have the kitchen purée the food, place it into a squeeze bottle, an never use any of my utensiles - just grab the bottle, and squeeze some of the food into my mouth - saves time chewing also. However, the "presentation" is not something to photogarph for Chowhound...


          1. re: Bill Hunt

            Bill, in Europe the tines are down. Always.

              1. re: pikawicca

                I think Bill meant tines down when he said "tine bend up". The bend being on the back of the fork.

                1. re: Atahualpa

                  Yes, your description is much clearer. I was having brain-cramps, or was too deeply into my wine tasting.

                  Thanks for setting it straight,


                  1. re: Atahualpa

                    Thanks for clarifying that - I miseed it too, clearly!

                2. re: Bill Hunt

                  In the "American" you switch the fork to your right hand but the tines are curved up not down. My mother was such a proper Southern lady (read anal retentive!) that we didn't "spear" anything except the meat. For example, if I cut a green bean, I would slide the fork under the bean and bring it to my mouth. I would eat a piece of roasted potato just like a bit of mashed potato. I guess I still mostly do it that way. It's funny how these things stick, isn't it?

                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Are you telling me you don't have the self control to moderate the rate speed of your eating so you deliberately slow yourself down by switching hands?

                    1. re: KTinNYC

                      No, once my hands get moving, I cannot help but shovel all food near-by into my mouth!

                      Of course I can moderate all aspects of my dining, with the possible exception of an "out-of-this-world" foie gras, but that is another story.

                      What I AM telling you is that I do not need to find the most expedient method of eating. I care not, for what saves a few nanoseconds. To say that one method is more "efficient" means nothing to me. I can be "efficient," in that the food makes its way to my mouth in a timely fashion. I do not need to do it any more quickly.

                      If the meter on the cab on the street were running, I might think otherwise. Until then, speed is NOT my focus.

                      Now, if one is hung up on speed, why not emulsify the food, place it into a pressurized container with a hose to the mouth, and hit the valve?


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Correct me if I'm wrong, but no one has mentioned speed as a reason for eating in the 'European' style.

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          Well. I just read further down and, yes, people *do* cite expediency as a reason for eating this way. My bad.

                          (Note to self: read all the way down when commenting on an old post).

                          1. re: carbocat

                            I have been guilty of just the same. With longer threads, it is easy to do.

                            This is not the first thread to cite such, and I was about to re-read it completely, to make sure that I had not mixed threads. Glad that you saved me some re-reading. [Grin]

                            Now, I spend a great deal of time dining in Europe and the UK. I do find that my fellow diners are quicker, than I am. However, I attribute some of that to my need to engage my guests, just as I will do in the US - I'm often the last one done with a course, but then dining is about the company too, and not just getting food into my mouth.


                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              The pressurised method sounds great Hunty. Coult it be used for Taylor's '77?

                              1. re: Robin Joy

                                Of course not, and you know it. Now, maybe with an '85... [Grin] Assume that you are talking about the "blender" comment.


                      2. re: Bill Hunt

                        bill - although i detest the phrases "eastern" and "western" as meaningless on a spherical planet, and a simple holdover when rome was considered by a few to be the center of the world (i fly west toi get to japan - is it western or eastern??)
                        i have to say "european" style anything is pretty much "western" in the way you seem to be using the word.

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          I'm confused. I cut with the fork in my left hand, tine down.The knife in the right for cutting. Switch the fork to the right hand to eat. I thought that was American?

                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            When I was a mere Northern UK stripling my Canadian aunt came over. I still remember watching this utensil ballet and wondering just what the hell she was doing. Maybe she had a problem with her left hand, or maybe she was just queer.

                            1. re: Paulustrious

                              Yes, things can look "wonky" from either side! It all depends on "where you're form." At least my UK friends allow me my transgressions.


                              1. re: Paulustrious

                                That's interesting. I'm Canadian and I've only met one Canadian who ever ate American style.

                                I never even knew about it until I was late in my teens and I injured my hand and my father commented that I eat like an American.

                                While in university, a friend told me the American style supposedly has origins from the old west where men had to keep at least one hand on their guns. Not sure if that's true but it's a good story.

                              2. re: Bill Hunt

                                I am American and was recently dining with a group of Europeans in South Carolina and one asked me why I switched hands when eating. I think he thought I was a "heathen." I felt self-conscious from that point on, and fearing that I had poor table manners, I set out to find the appropriate table etiquette. That string has helped a lot. Basically, Americans do it differenlty than the rest of the world! My only remaining question is about traveling. I am going to Germany next month. Do I eat American or Continental style?

                                1. re: llat

                                  eat however you are comfortable. don;t fear what others think of you

                                  1. re: llat

                                    just make sure you keep both hands on the table. germans frown on the 'one hand in your lap' kinda thingee. honi soit qui mal y pense '-)

                                    1. re: llat

                                      Germany uses Continental style.

                                      I taught myself to eat Continental style just because I got tired of it being a topic of conversation at every meal I had with European suppliers and/or customers. I also found that it messes up the "elbow flow" at the table to have someone who "eats right" sitting next to someone who "eats left" -- you're constantly bumping elbows if you're at a smallish table. Plus, it was just one less thing to stick out like a sore thumb, especially because I traveled alone. Kinda creepy, but I had a couple of guys try to chat me up in hotel restaurants when I "ate American-style" -- but never once after I changed...and I can only guess that my utensil handling drew attention and pointed out that I was an American woman traveling alone.

                                      I've read, but don't know the veracity, that this was taught to spies over the years, as a spy with a flawless accent would nonetheless give himself/herself away at the table.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        or by hand-counting the wrong way (QED in inglorius basterds).

                                        1. re: linguafood

                                          don't know if either of them are true, but they're not beyond the realm of belief.

                                        2. re: sunshine842

                                          I heard about the spy story too sunshine. Good point about a woman traveling alone. If I ever do I might hafta learn the euro way. You never know when something might be a matter of life and death.

                                  2. Both, depending. I grew up switching hands, which feels more natural to me, but I learned to eat in the European manner when we visited France, and as we were having lots of meals with family and friends I ate that way to fit in, and came to appreciate the simplicity and efficiency of it. Now I usually eat that way if I have a large steak on my plate (which happens entirely too seldom!) or some other item that needs lots of knife-work, but not if there's nothing that needs much cutting.

                                    1. I prefer the American style.Eating European style loks as if you're shoveling food into your mouth.

                                      21 Replies
                                      1. re: iqdiva52

                                        Why does it look like shoveling if the fork is in the left hand, tines down? Just curious, because I don't visualize it that way.

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          Not changing hands is a more efficient way of getting food into one's mouth. In other words, faster. My SO is half French and eats that way and it DOES sometimes look as though he's shoveling it in! Also, Americans tend to keep the left hand under the table except when they are using the knife and have switched the fork to the left hand. It sounds silly and unnecessary--I know my French inlaws think it is--but it looks better to me. The Frenchies have both hands above the table at all times, wielding fork and knife and...shoveling it in. The Frenchies also leave hunks of bread on the table and wipe their plates with it. But they have such sexy accents they can get away with it.

                                          1. re: Glencora

                                            I've had Europeans say that they think it is very strange that Americans keep one hand in their laps when eating. I've become self conscious of it as a result (silly, I know). IMHO, either method can look as if food is being shoveled (which I take as a negative) and either method can look "civilized" - it's all in the execution (as I guess I say below ...).

                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                              American Moms are always saying "keep your hands (and elbows) off the table", French Mamans say "keep your hands on the table".

                                              It is one of those cultural differences that remain. It is considered very rude indeed in France to keep your hands in your lap. The French don't know about the "American way", and to them it is a sign of being "mal elevee", of poor breeding, "sans education", not brought up correctly. This is one of the worst crimes to be guilty of in France.

                                              The historical and cultural roots of this custom come from a time when suspicion, poisoning, and other forms of mischief and treason were rampant. Keeping one's hands on the table was a verifiable sign that no harm was intended. In the late 18th century, and after the French Revolution, the custom continued.

                                              The guillotine is never far from the minds of the French. It explains why French women wear their furs on the inside of their coats, and wear very little real jewelry in public, in comparison with the Italians.

                                              1. re: Fleur

                                                Sounds similar to phrases used by my husband, which he would translate into English by saying "so and so is very well educated" - and I would think - no, so and so doesn't have an advanced degree - and he was actually referring to so and so's manners. Took me years to sort that out.

                                                In Spanish "maleducado" means having poor manners. Don't know how one says that someone is actually poorly educated in Spanish.

                                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                                    I am sorry but i have yet to comprehend that people equate advanced degrees with being more does not promise one greater intellignce...many people have very high IQ level but don't pursue advanced degree..just the same way that some advance degreed people are only verse in limited the post I am a Continental style

                                                    1. re: bulldogsnbostons

                                                      If you reread what MMRuth has said, you will find that you are comprehending her statement incorrectly. She doesn't make any assertion that people with advanced degrees are more intelligent. All she equated is "very well educated" with "advanced degree." And she was using that as an example to illustrate how differently she and her husband view the term "educated." Has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence.

                                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                                        Thanks Miss Needle - yes, this discussion has nothing to do with equating advanced degrees with intelligence - I don't think intelligence is even mentioned. I was just sharing the anecdote about the confusion I had over my husband's use of the word 'educated'/'well-educated' in English, when he was, in fact, incorrectly translating the Spanish expression for 'well mannered'/'well bred'. That's all.

                                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                                          Only ubermasonfan said "estupido" (tonto) (schemo in Italian). Nothing to do with education, especially if daddy bigbucks has pushed you through university via various endowments and string-pullings.

                                                1. re: MMRuth

                                                  I was reared this way. The left hand (if you're a righty) stays in the lap. The elbows, oh Lordy, don't get caught with an elbow on the table.

                                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                                    "Mabel, Mabel, if you're able, get your elbows off the table."

                                                    Gah... shades of Aunt Gertrude at the dinner table!

                                                    1. re: chef chicklet

                                                      The lap thing is very American. Hands should be visible in European dining. Elbows not acceptable anywhere in the western world for fine dining.

                                                      1. re: lagatta

                                                        Having grown up with the idle hands in the lap idea, I had to fight it (still revert sometimes - oh well), when we began hosting dinners in Europe and the UK. I had a protocol advisor, who instructed me otherwise. Obviously, the elbows are not placed on the table, but as you mention, the hands are visible.

                                                        My wife was easily adaptable on the Euro-use of the utensils, but that has been more difficult for me. I could "pass my test," but revert to what is often referred to as the "American way," because I'd rather not have some dinner table incident, if I try to do it the Euro-way. So far, my guests have overlooked my colonial utensil use, at least openly. I think they know that if I were to try to mimic their use, I'd embarrass myself horribly. They are obviously gracious, and understanding, regarding some folk from the US, so long as I pick all of the right wines, and entertain them. To all my Euro-buds, I extend a great big "thank you!" I mean no disrespect, but just cannot master their methods with regard to the utensils. They might whisper amongst themselves, or when the dinner is discussed later on, but never make me feel the poor host.


                                                  2. re: MMRuth

                                                    I agree, I don't think it looks like shoveling at all; esp w/the tines down! You're able to shovel more food onto a fork, when the tines are up in the American style.

                                                    Though more efficient, it's not possible to scoop food (vegetables & rice come to mind) onto a fork when tines are down.

                                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                                      That is his opinion and he's entitled to it.
                                                      Remember you are also loading your fork with the knife.
                                                      I do enjoy the European method but some folks just look like they're shoveling it in.

                                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                                        I tend to agree with iqdiva52. It is probably my provençal view, and my Western nature, but it *seems* that one is so interested in getting the food into their mouths, that there is no time for anything else, until the plate is cleaned. A feeling predicated on a Western perception? Yes, but that IS my frame of reference.

                                                        I also find that many European guests seem totally engulfed in the process of eating, but that might be a reflection of my perception of their actions. Now, I love eating, but for me, dining is more than eating.

                                                        Color me American,


                                                        PS my wife makes up for my colonial nature, so much is forgiven, when in Europe.

                                                      2. re: iqdiva52

                                                        How is "Eating European style" shoveling when you are supposed to eat off the back of your fork?

                                                        1. re: cemott3rd

                                                          Don't expect a reply - that post is five years old and iqdiva hasn't posted anything here since 2007.

                                                      3. Modified American, I guess. I don't find using a fork with my left (non-dominant) hand at all comfortable or efficient - I use a fork actively, not to just hold food I push onto it with a knife - but have no trouble using a knife with left hand unless I"m actually carving something.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: MikeG

                                                          The European act of using the knife to first cut, then to push, is just not something that I am comfortable with. Going back to my youth, I was taught that only bread, or a stationary bit of food, could be used to "load" the knife. Somehow, I feel uncomfortable doing otherwise.

                                                          I also place the knife on the plate's edge, with the sharpened edge towards me, at approximately a 20-30º angle. Should any other utensil be placed on the plate/bowl, it will always be inside of the knife. When done, all used utensils will be placed at 45º and inside the plate/bowl to signal that I am finished - still, the knife will be away from me, if more utensils are used.

                                                          I do not use the European method of resting the utensil on the plate/bowl, with the handle resting on the table.

                                                          Even at "state dinners" in Europe, I keep to my habits. Heck, I'm just a "Yank," and what should be expected of me? Still, I manage to charm Lady X, to my right, and she's usually a fast friend, before the night is over.


                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                            Heck, what's not to love about our totally insular culture? Of course, our "Yank" habits are superior. Hunt, I love you, but you need to get up to speed.

                                                          2. re: MikeG

                                                            I'm the same. I'm a rightie & American. Fork stays in my right hand and knife stays in my left hand.