Fork & Knife Skills: Is It Time to Retire the American Cut-and-Switch?

published Jul 2, 2013
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

When you eat your dinner, do you keep the fork in your left hand and knife in your right, as diners in Europe do? Or do you employ the American “cut-and-switch,” putting the knife down after you cut your food and switching the fork to your right hand to eat? The latter method has been the polite way to eat since we picked up the habit from the French sometime during the nineteenth century. That’s right, the cut-and-switch is actually an old European habit, one that fell out of fashion around the mid-1800s. Is it time for Americans to give up this inefficient eating style too?

Mark Vanhoenacker at Slate thinks so. He points out that while there are many possible explanations for why we adopted the cut-and-switch — it is more delicate to bring food to your mouth with your dominant hand, people were prejudiced against the left hand in general, or perhaps the method’s very inconvenience is what made it seem more elegant — but now it’s time to admit the practice is cumbersome and at odds with the efficiency Americans usually look for in their eating rituals.

Today, the cut-and-switch is the equivalent of a mouthful of glittering white teeth, a calf-ful of glittering white sock, or a request for half-and-half—an absolute clincher that you stand in the company of a fellow lover of freedom. Jeanette Martin, the co-author of Global Business Etiquette, couldn’t think of another major country that fork-swaps. Even among Canadians, some zig-zag, but “Continental predominates.”

But there has been a shift toward the European style of eating, especially among younger diners and those living near the coasts. It’s a bastardized version of the Continental method, though, with the fork tines facing either up or down. Instead of only squishing food onto the back of a fork, we also use the fork as a sort of shovel, a practice that sounds a bit uncouth, but is actually more efficient — in short, very American.

Read more: Put a Fork in It at Slate

What do you think? Is it time to retire the cut-and-switch?

(Image: wrangler/Shutterstock)