AMERICAN TABLE ETIQUETTE
The protocol of eating properly in accordance with American etiquette is stringently defined. Unless the diner is left-handed, the fork is removed to the right hand after each cutting and the knife placed in a vertical position on the outer right side of the plate. Left-handed persons have most often been products of right-handed training, and a study of their table habits reveals a multitude of ways in which they have compensated for manners inflicted upon them by a right-handed society. Those who are able to eat with their right hands do not present a problem for others at the table. Proper etiquette for the “southpaw” requires eating without elbowing the right-handed person next to him. One solution is to seat the left-handed eater at the end of the table, thereby making her or him the guest of honor.
It has always been a puzzlement to me why Americans reversed European etiquette. The incongruity of this is comparable to the art of knitting. The European woman’s fingers move quickly and efficiently as she works her yarn with both needles by touch rather than sight. The American watches every stitch while laboriously bringing the yarn around the needle with her right hand before slipping each stitch separately from the left.
It would seem that common sense should dictate the point at which people pick up their forks to begin eating. Perhaps the American custom of waiting in front of a full plate for an entire table to be served came from our mistrustful ancestors. It is said the Nordic (Scandinavian) people, when visiting their enemies, waited for their host to take the first bite to make sure the food had not been poisoned. Who cared if the reindeer and bear meat were slightly tepid? The alternative was far colder. The tradition of locking arms and looking directly into each other’s eyes while declaring “skoal” was both a toast and a deterrent to being stabbed while letting down one’s guard. On the other hand, the tradition could have emerged from the warm hospitality our early settlers extended to adventurers passing through on their way west. When traveling strangers were invited to dine in affluent homes, they were confronted with unfamiliar formality. Not wanting to embarrass themselves, they waited for their host to begin eating so they would use the proper utensils. All eyes rested upon the generous host until he raised the proper fork to his lips, at which point everyone gratefully reached for the same.
Europeans are far more practical. Why should anyone allow hot food to become cold under the mistaken notion of good manners? Such conduct can only make the chef in the kitchen, who has spent his talent and time in preparation, weep with frustration. It is proper in any country to wait until three persons have been served to begin.