How Not To Eat Like An American

This post doesn’t have anything to do with America’s obesity epidemic. It concerns customary fork and knife handling (aka their utensil etiquette).

Years ago, someone told me that it was easy to tell I was American when I ate.  It wasn’t the massive amount of food I shoveled into my big mouth at an astounding rate. They told me that Americans are easy to spot because they tend to cut their food with the knife in their right hand and the fork in their left hand.  After cutting their food, they set the knife down and switch the fork to their right hand to eat.   They told me that a spy gave himself away as an American by doing this and lost his life.  Knowing that my life could rest on this small habit, I promptly changed to the European method and haven’t looked back (just don’t ask me to right-click with my left hand).

If you want to eat like the Swiss, here are some simple rules:

  • Always eat with knife in one hand and fork in the other (except for fondue).  I have seen people eat open-faced sandwiches with a knife and fork.   Although I found it difficult, I did it too.  When in Rome, right?  I didn’t want to be the bad American with horrible table manners.
  • Under no circumstance are you to switch the fork to your right hand from your left.
  • Note the palms concealing the handles of the utensils in the top photo.  Americans tend to hold their fork like a pen.  If you are a spy, don’t let this detail ruin an otherwise seller performance.
  • Do not put your one or both of your hands in your lap at the dinner table. This even borders on rude. Here, people put forearms and/or elbows on the table when they aren’t eating.  That’s also different for me because on the US elbows on the table is considered rude.
  • Take bread and wipe your plate until it is sparkling clean.  The bread here is very good, so this should not present any difficulties.

If this seems like a lot, you could just avoid the knife and fork altogether and live off fondue or switch to chopsticks.

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A Knife Fight In Aix

The south of France.  Aix-en-Provence.  Sounds pretty tony, right?   We thought so to, but were willing to give it a go anyway.  It is conveniently located near the intersection of two major highways and a central point for many of the things we wanted to see on our France trip.

Driving in, we were impressed by its majestic squares, shaded avenues, mossy fountains, and elegant mansions.  We checked into our hotel and went to dinner.  We went to Place des Cardeurs because it is a big piazza with lots of restaurants to choose from and outdoor seating.  It wasn’t anything fancy (he had a pizza and I had a big salad).

Right after our food arrived, we saw a scuffle on the sidewalk between the terrace where we were eating and the restaurant.  It was a Saturday night and a bit early for a bar fight, but hey, the local culture is different everywhere.  All of a sudden, one of the combatants pulled a knife out of his pants.

Film poster for Crocodile Dundee II - Copyrigh...

Film poster for Crocodile Dundee II – Copyright 1988, Paramount Pictures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you remember the scene in Crocodile Dundee where Paul Hogan says “that’s not a knife, THAT’s a knife.”  This guys knife made Paul Hogan’s look like a butter knife.  He had a machete.  What’s more, he was swinging it around.  The two guys (for the ease of explaining things, we’ll call them the Surly Drunks) jumping Mr. Machete both got slashed.  Waitstaff on the terrace borrowed cell phones and to cal the police.  By that point, we’d I’d stopped eating…for the rest of the night.

Our ringside seats. This all happened behind the vinaigre bottle. I didn’t want to attract the attention of the Surly Drunks and figured there were enough witnesses so I didn’t take any pictures.

Since it was two on one, Mr. Machete took refuge inside the restaurant.  We found out later that he was a local business owner; the area businesses clearly knew him.  The manager, servers and kitchen staff barred the door to separate (and protect) everyone until the police arrived.  The Surly Drunks outside were bleeding, possibly high, probably in shock and definitely not rational.  The Surly Drunks kept screaming for the him to come out and were talking a lot trash.  When he didn’t exit the restaurant, they tried, unsuccessfully, to force their way in.   The posse of servers, managers and cooks stopped them.  Angered by their failure, the Surly Drunks began breaking bottles and brandishing them.  They cut a cook before dropping the bottle in favor of hurling giant planters.   They threw some punches too.  He said they threw the punches like NBA players, not like hockey players.  Realizing they sucked at hand to hand combat, the Surly Drunks stopped throwing punches and started throwing chairs.

I’m not saying that police in the US always respond promptly (especially in certain neighborhoods), but we were astounded by how long it took the police to arrive in the center of town.  It took them at least 20 minutes to arrive.  Thank goodness the cooks had come out of nearby restaurants and followed the Surly Drunks so that the police could track them down.

The police arrived and went inside to interview Mr. Machete.  Paramedics came, tended to to the cook and took him away.  We’re pretty sure he had to go to the hospital for stitches because the slash on his neck was pretty ugly.

Cover of "Léon: The Professional (Theatri...

Cover via Amazon

Jean Reno plays and excellent French police officer in movies (Leon: The ProfessionalRoninThe Da Vinci Code,  French Kiss).  The police we saw didn’t appear to be as professional.   They seemed to be more like Louis de Funès in the Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez.  I saw them put evidence (multiple bloody shirts) in an old, balled up H&M  bag.  Obviously they do not watch CSI.

Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez

Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yep! That’s the evidence in the H&M bag. Très CSI.

Go figure.  I saw more violence in the south of France than during the years I lived in Detroit.  Have a great weekend and stay safe!