Sunday, February 17, 2008

Last night, as we ate dinner with A., the TV producer, C., the fashion photographer, the former punk star and the carpenter, I thought about how I had never noticed much, until I moved to Sweden, how people hold a knife and fork.

In America, we all seem to use the same awkward method of cutting with a knife in the right hand, and then switching places, putting the fork in the right hand, scooping up the piece or spearing it so it can be safely transferred into our greedy mouths. Back and forth and back forth we go with the knife and fork, regardless of class or upbringing as far as I've ever noticed.

Of course, I grew up also cutting softer things with the side of the fork, which I think is rather a no-no in polite society, and my mother never said a word about letting the spoon click noisily against my teeth when eating soup either. After all, I am the grandson of Iowa farmers. On both sides of the family, in fact. We eat quickly and efficiently in my family, as if it were in our genes to be worried about getting our fair share if we aren't fast enough.

Of course, when I moved to Sweden I saw that, as in every place outside the U.S., at least as far as I know, people eat with their fork in the left hand and knife in the right. The knife is held rather delicately like a pencil - which I'm not sure is a Scandinavian thing - and if necessary, is used to push and press food onto the back of the fork, if it is food that can't be speared. For the most part, unless eating a course that requires only a fork, the fork will stay in the left hand and the knife in the right, with people quite adept at using their left hand. When the course is finished, the knife and fork are returned, side-by-side, to the five o'clock position on the plate. Something that many are taught to do in the U.S., apparently, but not something I ever learned.

So, like a southerner deliberately dropping their accent upon moving north, or vice versa, I've learned to eat with my fork in my left hand, although I still switch hands mid-meal if the food really doesn't stay on the back of my fork long enough to make it into my poor mouth.

We finished the meal with a positively wicked chocolate bread pudding made with banana bread, which presented little problem for the vaguely utensil-challenged such as myself, since it is best eaten with a spoon. I did, however, make sure not to let the spoon click against my teeth.

The Swedish word for the day is artig. It means polite.

- by Francis S.

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