01 April 2009

American or Continental?

Now that Barack and Michelle Obama are at the London G-20 with Philipe Calderón and his wife Margarita and Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen there is no doubt a lot of interest by the people of North America about what is going on over there. I am particularly interested in what style of etiquette the Obamas, Calderónes, and Harpers are going to use when eating. Will they use the “American Style” or the Continental Style”?

We have satellite TV at our house and one of my favorite channels is the BBC and there are several shows involving food, restaurants, and cooking that I like to watch. I genuinely like the British people and enjoy learning more about their customs and traditions but I must say the way that they eat is positively barbaric. They use a style called the “Continental” style but the way they apply it is astonishingly aggressive. I call it the “Two Fisted Henry the VIII” style. The Continental style of using a knife and fork is also common in the United States among the upper crusty denizens of Boston and New York as well as in other far flung remnants of the old British Empire. According to this method, the fork is held continuously in the left hand and used for eating. When food must be cut, the fork is used to pin it down with the left hand while the right hand wields the knife and once the bite has been separated from the whole, it is conveyed directly to the mouth with the tines of the fork curving downward. I suppose that is a very efficient method but when the utensils are held in a ham-fisted manner and the elbows are flying up and down it looks quite awful and as though the diner is either extremely hungry or in a big hurry or both. When they bend their head forward at the same time it also looks like they are trying to stab themselves in the throat.

With the “American” style, both utensils are intended for use primarily with the right hand, which is the more capable hand for most people. This leads to some complicated maneuvering when foods, such as meat, require the use of knife and fork to obtain a bite of manageable size. When this is the case, the fork is held in the left hand, turned so that the tines point downward, the better to hold the meat in place while the right hand operates the knife. After a bite-sized piece has been cut, the diner sets the knife down on the plate and transfers the fork to the right hand, so that it can be used to carry the newly cut morsel to the mouth with the tines curving upward. The British disparagingly call this the "zig-zag" style. I don't care what they call it but to me it seems a lot more leisurely and graceful. There is no need to rush the meal, especially if one is a diplomat or a head of state (or a first lady). It will be interesting to see (if we can) what style the various heads of state use. After all, it might be a clue to their character. I took a little survey of my friends and relatives here in Irapuato and they all use the American style so I am fairly sure that Presidente Calderón will do the same. Being a Chicago boy myself I am fairly sure that Barack and Michelle will use the American style also. Prime Minister Harper is the one that I have absolutely no idea about. He could go either way, eh? In any case I am glad that the Mexican people favor the American style or “zig-zag” style or whatever you want to call it and I thank God that I have come to a cultured and civilized country.


GlorV1 said...

That is so interesting. Where do you get all this info? My goodness. I'm left-handed so my fork is usually in my left hand, but when I go to cut a piece of meat, the knife goes in my left hand. I want to make sure I cut it right. Of course when I make beans and tortillas.....well we all know how those are eaten. Thanks for sharing. Have a great Thursday and use that fork sparingly.

Calypso said...

I could careless about how those over pampered and over paid politicians eat. Here in the real world most of my friends eat with tortillas folded in clever ways - even scoop soup, I would be interested to read if the Calderóns ate that way ;-)

norm said...

I came from a big poor family, the main rule at home was: he who eats the fastest gets the mostest. I still finish before everyone at the table.

Frankly Ronda said...

Calypso cracks me up! I vote for the Tortilla Method.

Unique topic - great post.

Tancho said...

Now that is a great topic Bob! I enjoy seeing people eat at restaurants, kind of a social science study telling you their roots or education. Now lately I see American teens and some young adults eat like they were released from the Big House! They lean forward and guard their food while keeping both utensils firmly in their hands, all that is missing is the tin cup!
The tortilla cleans the plate much better than the side tines of the fork in my world! I vote for the flexible corn or flour implement!

Steve Cotton said...

Well, I was going to jump in on the British side of this debate -- claiming it was the more civilized eating method. Until Calypso outed me. I am sitting here eating my tortilla soup by dipping stale baguette in it. Hmm. Let's find out how the Sarkozys react to that.

YayaOrchid said...

I vote for the tortilla method too! But what do you call it? The Mexican style? And you can use either hand too!

jennifer rose said...

All decent and well-bred people eat using the Continental style, which happens to be the method recommended by the etiquette mavens.

Time was, you'd go into a nice Mexican restaurant, and the majority of the civilized patrons would be deploying the Continental method. Sadly, the times are a-changing, they're picking up on the American style.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.