Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Do You Zig-Zag When You Eat?

If you're American, the answer is likely 'yes'. Zig-zag refers to the American style of dining - when you shift the fork to your left hand while cutting with the knife in the right hand. Of course, then you place the knife back on the plate and shift the fork back to the right hand. This is the correct way in the US. The other often-seen method is called Continental, as in the Continent (Europe). There are slight differences in Continental dining in various countries, but, these nuances aside, the basic way is to hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. And when I say 'hold', I mean through the whole meal - none of the American-style hands in the lap between bites.

I'm often asked which way is correct and the answer is either way. Today I want to talk just a bit about the American/Zig-Zag style, as that's how most of us eat. What do we need to know when using this style? Based on the dining questions I'm asked most often, here are some guidelines:
  • Don't butter a whole piece of bread and bite it. Break one bite at a time and butter it - put the butter knife down and eat it. Repeat. I think biscuits are the exception, especially when they're hot. However, you are not likely to encounter biscuits in a formal dining situation.

  • Put your knife down when not cutting - it's not a pointer or (gasp!) a fork. Place it across the top of your plate when not in use - if you never use it, leave it on the table.

  • Once a piece of flatware is used, do not put it on the table. (Remember this when dining at someone's home - the person who launders the tablecloth will thank you. If dining in a casual restaurant you may have to break this rule - don't you hate it when the wait person says, "keep your fork"?)

  • It's correct to drink from a soup bowl. However, if you're on an interview and you think the recruiter doesn't know this rule - stick to the spoon!

  • If you need to leave the table simply say "please excuse me" and put your napkin in your chair. In many nice restaurants, the wait staff will refold your napkin and place it on the back of your chair. (People often ask what they should do if there is a big blob of food in their napkin - in this case you have a bigger problem . . . watch for future posts about inedible items.)

  • Do not talk while eating (your Mother was right!). Try eating in front of a mirror and you'll see how unappealing this is. As a side note: 'talking with your mouth full' is often at the top of the list of reasons not to have a second date/turn-offs on first dates on dating surveys.

  • It's okay to put your elbows on the table between courses (your Mother was wrong!?) While actively eating, however, it's still not a good idea.

  • Cut one bite of meat at a time. Only toddlers whose mommies are cutting their food should have a plateful of bite-sized meat.

Stay tuned for more dining etiquette discussions.

To close, now that our kitchen garden is totally surrounded by plastic poultry mesh (formerly not plastic and known as chicken wire), the peppers are taking off, last night we had them on pizza and in salads - yum! They taste great, but are all slightly wonky - perhaps from the early summer deer trauma? Hope your garden is thriving . . .

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