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Am I a Slob?

In yesterday's Ask Amy column, a reader writing about European vs. American styles of handling a knife and fork stated "Particularly nasty are European eaters who smear mixed food on the backs of their forks."

I lived in Europe as a boy and quickly took to the European style of holding cutlery. I have always been very mindful of etiquette and my manners at the table. However, I have always pushed my peas on top of my mashed potatoes on the back of my fork. It has never occurred to me that this would be considered gross. Is this really a faux pas?

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  1. Not at all! I haven't lived in Europe, but have travelled there and I too took to the European style of eating. And, if I didn't put my peas on my mashed potatoes on the back of the fork... how would I eat them? Without the potatoes, they would just roll right off.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mollygirl

      A ditty from my childhood, taught by my father from Brooklyn:


      BTW> Please keep in mind that the shape of the traditional European knife blade was wider than the American and the end often rounded. It was traditional to push food onto the wide surface of theknife and bring it to the mouth.

      This dates to a time when many could not afford flatware services, but all had knives (for hunting, protection, etc.) The food was pushed ont the knife with a hunk of bread.

    2. Try reading How My Parents Learned to Eat By Ina R. Friedman. That's where I learned how to make and eat "birds in a nest".


      3 Replies
        1. re: viperlush

          see, if we were civilized like those in asia we would realize that nothing should be served that is too big to put in your mouth unless it can delicately be broken apart with your chopsitcks, and chopsticks can easily pick up peas, corn nibblets, and certainly potatoes with gravy. Knives, forks, spoons, these are cooking utensils and have no place on a table (ok, maybe a spoon for soup.)

        2. I eat the American way and dab my forkfull of mashed potatoes into veggies like peas and corn. I do not think it is sloppy.


          I think if you are mashing and smashing food with your fork into the plate and scooping it - that would be poor table manners.

          I guess also if that fork full of smashed bits started growing so large that you had to open wide to accommodate it... That might be frowned on.

          Plus peas are rolly. They have to be tamed.

          1. Doesn't anybody eat peas without mashed potatoes besides me? It's not that difficult, really!

            4 Replies
            1. re: BiscuitBoy

              IMO peas just don't taste right unless you got them mixed in with your mashed potatoes and gravy! Add some nibbletts and I'm in comfort food heaven.

              1. re: mollygirl

                Peas and corn, yes! Not being a mashed potato fan, I guess I've learned to adapt. This thread reminds me of the Sienfeld candy bar knife and fork episode

                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                  I love just peas. I never mixed with my mashed and certainly not gravy, Yuck for me. But love baby peas just about anyway made fresh.

                2. Wouldn't it work better with the front side of the fork?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: CrazyOne

                    No front side of the fork if you eat the European style with a knife and fork. My father used to tell us kids a story of how everyone could always tell the Americans by their needs to switch hands (with the forks) or turn the fork to have the tines bent up (aka front side of the fork) before bringing the food to their mouths.

                  2. There was a very long thread debating the merits/grossness of various cultural differences in table etiquette a year or so ago, but I can't find it. You've probably reopened this can of worms, in which case the ultimate conclusion will probably be the same - that is, we tend to have a xenophobic reaction to different manners. Oddly enough, it seems to be a stronger aversion than to actual foods which seem too different.

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: c oliver

                        I eat my peas with honey, I've done it all my life. It makes them taste quite funny but it keeps them on the knife.
                        - anon.

                    1. About 10 years ago I would have said yes.
                      I'm in a much different place now in terms of lettin' it be- and I wouldn't spend any amount of time worrying about how you hold your fork in your neighborhood.
                      I don't love it when people eat with/lick/suck/slurp with their hands, but that's my problem and I handle it by screaming inside my head and looking away.
                      If you stick a steak knife in your mouth, I may yell at you... but again, unless you are a small child that came out of me or someone I know very well, I won't tell you how to eat.
                      (It's rare I eat peas (or loose corn) but can't you just fork 'em?!?!)

                      1. It would be extremely poor manners for someone to comment on your style of eating. Both European and American styles of handling a knife and fork are acceptable in my book.

                        I recently attended a class on business etiquette that included a session on dining. We were shown the European style (some in our group already used it) and encouraged to at least try it. I found it a much more efficient method of delivering food to my face.

                        Old habits, however, are hard to break. I went back to my Americanized style of dining which included resting one hand in my lap while my fork delivered the bites of my meal. In some cultures, that is considered rude.

                        I'm pretty tolerant. That said, soup slurping (by non-Asians eating non-Asian soups) grates on my nerves. Caveman grips on utensils? I find that unpleasant.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                          this thread can be summed up by saying, adhere to the customs of the land you are in(when in Rome.......). When I find myself dining in a situation where I am not sure what the custom or etiquette protocol is, I just behave like I am dancing with a fat lady......That is, hold on and follow her lead! :-)

                          1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                            I think I did not make my point clearly enough because I am not concerned about European vs. American styles of holding cutlery. I think the European method is vastly preferable. The issue is whether or not it is inappropriate to mix more than one item of food from your plate on the back of your fork at one time. As I stated, I've done this unthinkingly since forever. My question is whether that practice is generally considered to be a breach of good table manners.

                            1. re: Bob Brooks

                              "Mixing" different foods on the back of the fork? Sorry, but I WOULD say that's not good manners. Would you mix everything on your plate together before you began to eat? (I actually did that when I was a kid and first figured out that everything winds up together in the stomach - my parents were patient with what was a passing phase as long as I didn't do it in public.) Putting a piece of meat and a piece of vegetable on the fork simultaneously is okay, but not mushing foods together on it, whether you hold it convex size up or down.

                              1. re: greygarious

                                I do often mix everything together, then scoop with the fork (back/front/speared items) into whatever bread I can find (split it open with hands) then dip in any kind of hot sauce mixed with pepper, bbq or whatever else I could find. Never even considered that it might be gross or rude. Thinking back, reliving dinners with g-friends family, work lunches..... This thread blew my mind.
                                I just read this to check for spelling before posting and it sounds gross. Never even thought about it.
                                Thanks Bob.

                                1. re: Alan N

                                  Sounds like you've been making *sandwiches*!!!!

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    When you put it that way, I'm fine. That is what it is. Sandwiches. Thanks c oliver.

                                    1. re: Alan N

                                      Sorry, Alan, but I don't think you're off the hook and if you secretly bugged some of the conversations of your dining companions when you're not around, you might be mortified. For one thing, proper etiquette for eating the bread/rolls accompanying the meal is to break off a bite-sized piece, butter it if desired, and pop it into your mouth. It might be acceptable, in a more casual environment, to break a small roll in half and butter it before taking a bite or breaking off a piece, but this is if the half is small enough to only comprise 3-4 bites. Then you'd butter the other half and proceed as before. But mixing your food into a mash and scooping it into the bread while in the company of others? And then dipping this dubious creation into a bowl of sauce? Uh-oh.... Really, even if your companions are far from sticklers for table manners (we are nearly all pretty casual these days) this is beyond the pale. I don't mean to sound unkind, but I am 100% positive that you have appalled some people. So just don't do it anymore, and don't bring the subject up because it will embarrass everyone.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        Gotta agree with you, gg. I was being silly when I wrote that. No free pass from me :)

                            2. Not a faux pas according to this:

                              Why are we not allowed to use a spoon for those tricky little peas? One vote for dining like a 6 year old. A 6 year old with manners that is.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Googs

                                Thanks, Googs. That would seem to settle the issue. I am NOT a slob!

                                1. re: Bob Brooks

                                  This reminds me of two moments that are classic in my memory. First, there is a Sherlock Holmes movie in which James Mason plays Dr Watson...Watson is chasing down elusive peas on his lunch plate while Holmes is anxious to be afoot. Impatient, Holmes mashes Watson's pea...Mason's expression is perfect, as is his confused/plaintive comment.."You squashed my pea...."

                                  Then there is --you'll love this literate reference--the "Gilligan's Island" episode when Lovie Howell is trying to discern the background of The Jungle Boy who was discovered on the island (he is really an actor trying to prove he can play a part of an illiterate boy raised by animals) Thurston finds Lovie with Jungle Boy at the table with a Coconut Cream Pie (of course). "Lovie! What ARE you doing?" "I'm trying to find out about our friend. If he picks up his form with his right hand, he's American. If he picks it up with his left, he's European." At this point, Jungle Boy grunts a few times, grabs the pie with both hands, and mashes it into his face. Thurtson, shocked, jumps back and says "Good Heavens! A YALE man!"

                              2. You just don't know the cotton candy principle of mash and peas. Mix the two and then slowly twirl the fork picking up a big ball of peas and mash. You can actually get a ball about the size of your head - if you're careful and if your head is not too big. Then just raise up and eat like cotton candy!

                                1. I have always eaten my peas, and my mashed potatoes with a spoon. :)

                                  1. I've become accustomed to switching knife and fork, merely because it keeps me from eating too fast (a fault I've been cursed with).

                                    One of my pet peeves is people who point in the air (or worse, _at_ someone) with their utensils. I've been shocked to see even the most otherwise-mannered people doing this.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: shaogo

                                      good heavens.. i watched a woman eating ice cream the other night who kept using that same spoon to scratch her scalp. ok, we were at the ballpark, but yuk, yuk, yuk.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        Okay, that's one of the grossest things I've heard in a while..... ewwwww!

                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                          yikes. just yikes. Me thinks someone took a wrong turn on the evolutionary turnpike!?

                                      2. I find this totally acceptable, as it is the European fashion. Now, I eat in a relaxed "American" style, even when in Europe, but I have not problems with what you describe.

                                        Someone was having a bad dining day, and should have held their tongue on "Ask Amy." They just did not know better. Forgive them.


                                          1. It's better than the alternative. My DH won't eat peas because it's "too much work." If they're in a casserole, potpie, soup, etc., he'll eat 'em. In my opinion, the author of your column is probably a narrow-minded, provincial, "freedom fries" type and should be ignored.