French Table Manners Matter...

Old Feb 10th, 2013, 07:31 PM
  #41  
 
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I only use my knife when I need it.

Never rest my elbows on the table

Would never think twice about using bread to pick up some extremely good sauce from a plate. It's so much better than picking up the plate and giving it a good licking.

I use a knife and fork to eat pizza because I hate getting my hands messy. I'd eat everything but fruit that way if I could.

nytraveler, you are a wise woman to have broken the leash from that P-MIL
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Old Feb 10th, 2013, 09:19 PM
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A lot of these things have changed over time, from what I vaguely remember about, say, mediaeval instructions on table manners (i.e., before the widespread use of the fork); and they have been class markers, of course, and differences between what you would do <i>en famille</i> and out at a formal event. I like StCirq's idea of using tablecloths as a marker for the boundary between the two.

Cutting everything up first seems, if anything, a bit childish to me, even if you're doing it for yourself. But cutting up large fruit, for example, just seems like a thoughtful thing to do for guests (and children) - especially if the original fruit is all different shapes and sizes.

I once read a description of Joyce Grenfell invited to dinner with a student club at Sydney in Australia after she'd given a talk there. She had been brought up with Edwardian high society manners (her mother was Nancy Astor's sister), and all the students watch transfixed as she ate a pear by holding the top with a fork and then expertly twirling it against the knife so that the skin came off in a single perfect ribbon, before she cut it to pieces to eat.
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Old Feb 10th, 2013, 09:25 PM
  #43  
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What an interesting thread! I had no idea how many ways I have apparently offended people over the years!

The first time I dined alone at a NICE restaurant was in Philadelphia. I was very uncomfortable about the idea of dining alone in an upscale establishment, but it seemed better than the alternatives that were available to me on that particular evening. The hostess and waiter made me feel very welcome. As I had requested, they seated me at a quiet table with lighting that was discreet, but bright enough to allow me to read.

I ordered a salad and duck with plum sauce, naively assuming that what I had ordered was a duck breast and that it would be sliced. So, while eating my salad, I was horrified to see someone being served a plate with a half-duck on it. OMG, how could I possibly manage to discretely and politely deal with that!?!

Even as I began to panic, I noticed that a couple seated in my line of vision was being given their entrées, and each was having the duck. This couple had caught my attention earlier because their dress and manners seemed so elegant. Such good fortune – I could discreetly watch what they did!

You might imagine my dismay when each of them picked up the half-duck with their bare hands and began gnawing away. Seriously! Within moments, their faces (from forehead to chin and cheek to cheek) and their arms (from hands to elbows+) were covered in sticky sauce.

What a freeing moment! I realized that NOTHING I could do would be THAT far out of the realm of (my idea of) acceptable behavior. I might not know the BEST way to approach my food, but I would at least be discreet and as polite as I knew how to be!

When I travel, I try to make sure I know if there are any strongly held norms that govern dining ettiquette (e.g., the placement of chopsticks in Asia or the use of right/left hands in predominantly Muslim countries); other than that, I count on (and have been treated with) gracious tolerance, and I proceed with blissful ignorance of my improprieties.
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Old Feb 10th, 2013, 10:03 PM
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"knife clutched in a fist"

Little children or poorly trained adults perhaps, I don't know anyone over 5 who does this.
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Old Feb 10th, 2013, 10:55 PM
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And you haven't even yet talked about properly eating (long) pasta with fork and spoon...
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Old Feb 10th, 2013, 11:11 PM
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>Recently whilst eating out in a restaurant my son said that in France it was considered to be rude to not use both your fork and your knife in combo when eating - to use just a fork, as many Americans do, was considered rude or crude - just not proper table manners.

The same applies to Germany, by the way.
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Old Feb 10th, 2013, 11:23 PM
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a spoon! (think "handbag" and Oscar Wilde) what do you do with a spoon and pasta?
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Old Feb 10th, 2013, 11:28 PM
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Unless you are in a fancy restaurant then using bread to mop up what's on your plate is perfectly acceptable in France. They even have a verb for it, called "saucer".
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Old Feb 11th, 2013, 12:54 AM
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Cathiejoetown, I am of course labelling people who eat like that as "poorly trained adults", and I have seen it more then that once.. its not as uncommon as it should be.

I read that the custom of keeping your hands above the table is related to medievel times when keeping your hands in sight meant you weren't holding a weapon at the ready out of sight.
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Old Feb 11th, 2013, 01:11 AM
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Justine I've seen that technique you described on several US tv shows. I've always been amazed by it.
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Old Feb 11th, 2013, 01:24 AM
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<i>what do you do with a spoon and pasta?</i>

This is not a real question, is it?
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Old Feb 11th, 2013, 01:28 AM
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Re: Pizza...

Where I grew up (Philadelphia, east coast, US, in the 1950s), you NEVER used a knife and fork on pizza -- that would identify you as a (gasp!) country bumpkin. East coast urban/suburban areas have large Italian-American populations, so, I learned by watching friends and neighbors in the local pizza joints.

(The exception being if it is way too hot and you don't want to wait to have a taste or two with utensils.)

Always pick it up. If the crust is very thin, fold it a little (U-shape) and that works without difficulty.

Another interesting item is spaghetti. I grew up twirling it with fork and spoon; now I twirl with just a fork. My wife (and her family, who came from small-town USA) eat spaghetti by cutting it with the side of the fork and shoveling. I have always (half in jest) given them a hard time about that.

Of course, I would never be so rude as to accuse house guests of being crude in their eating habits. And when I am in Europe, I use the knife-right-fork-left-at-the-same-time method.

SS
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Old Feb 11th, 2013, 02:11 AM
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In France at least, I don't think people use a spoon to twirl pasta. I know that in my family we only ever used just a fork.
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Old Feb 11th, 2013, 02:18 AM
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kerouac...

Ahh, yes...I recall now that on our trips to Paris, I did notice that they didn't twirl...and I pointed that out to my wife, which made her feel better about my past teasing.

SS
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Old Feb 11th, 2013, 02:22 AM
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...and my wife (who is in the room with me now) just corrected me -- she always twirls pasta now -- hasn't use the cut and shovel method on pasta in many years...I feel like such a bonehead!!!

SS
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Old Feb 11th, 2013, 02:39 AM
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"And you haven't even yet talked about properly eating (long) pasta with fork and spoon..."

All manners are regional. This is apparently a Southern Italian custom, not a universal Italian custom, though it may have spread over the years. I have certainly seen Romans looking askance at people doing this.

I would use bread to eat the last of a delicious sauce, but I would break the bread into bite-sized pieces, put them on the plate, and eat them with a fork or spoon if it were something like mussel broth.

However regional, manners are important. It is widely believed that one of the reasons Lawrence Summers got fired as President of Harvard was his reportedly abominable table manners. I always had a meal with candidates for professional jobs and have turned down highly qualified people because I did not want them to represent us in public becaause of the way they ate.

My wife and son eat as if they were British, though they don't pile mashed potatoes on top of their meat and then push in the peas. My daughter and I eat American style.

The aim of all these customs is to avoid offending others (and protect one's necktie!) by conveying food to one's mouth in a way that minimizes the possibility of dropping food in one's lap or spraying it around the table by talking with one's mouth open.

I find it funny that having sorted out that we can all wear giant white sneakers and yoga pants in Paris that we should be worried about looking like Americans when we eat. Of course we look like Americans.
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Old Feb 11th, 2013, 03:18 AM
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>>they don't pile mashed potatoes on top of their meat and then push in the peas. <<

But how does one get the peas on the knife, otherwise?
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Old Feb 11th, 2013, 03:37 AM
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Patrick...haha...good point.
SS
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Old Feb 11th, 2013, 03:49 AM
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So let me get this right, you stick the fork into the pasta and drive that into a spoon and swirl the fork around. Why not just use the plate, it's not as if the food is going to run away?

Still I (and ten other young men) watched a very attractive psychiatrist eat an un-peeled banana with knife and fork, but she was just messing with our heads.
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Old Feb 11th, 2013, 04:10 AM
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>> it's not as if the food is going to run away? <<

Well, spaghetti does tend to have a mind of its own.

But seriously, the only reason to worry about table manners is if the person you're eating with feels they're eating not with you, but with the way you eat. And for most people there's no reason to feel that unless you're treating them to the sight of your chewed-up food, the sound of your digestion, or unwanted sharing of what you're eating.
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