We learn pretty early in our lives how to properly use utensils. We usually start off with a spoon, because it’s the easiest and safest. When we’re a bit older, and we can understand they can hurt us if we don’t use them properly, we can then move on to forks. And once we’re old enough to be given a sharp instrument, under the watchful eye of our parents we master the use of the knife. So, a kid in the United States, and a kid in Germany will possibly be learning the same things at the same time, but by the time they’re done, they won’t be doing the same thing. Why? Well, it’s not because of the utensils they use. You could, for example, use the same Aava flatware set to eat in the US and Europe, and it would work fine in both cases.
The difference is actually in the style of eating. In America – the US and Canada, they use a style that’s called either the American style of eating, or the zigzag method. In Europe, on the other hand, people eat using the Continental method.
In the zigzag method, just like in the Continental, people use spoons for soups and other meals that are eaten by spoons, they use their knives to cut up bigger chunks of food into smaller pieces, and they use the fork to hold down the bigger chunks while they’re being cut, and then to bring the smaller pieces to the mouth. In both methods, people hold the food that’s being cut with a fork that’s held in the left hand, while the knife is being used by the right hand. However, while a European would eat the smaller piece as soon as it’s cut with the fork that’s still in the left hand, an American would put the knife down, move the fork from the left hand into the right hand, and then eat the smaller piece. After that, the fork goes back into the left hand, the knife is picked up, and the whole dance begins again. Hence the name zigzag.
While this is the main difference between the Continental and the American eating styles, it’s not the only one. In both styles, it is considered to be rude to leave utensils on the table after they were used. This is a practical thing above all, as it wouldn’t be very nice of you to smear the tablecloth like that. So, if you want to take a break from the meal while you’re chewing and you plan to take a sip of a drink after, you need to put the utensils on the plate. In you imagine the plate to be a face of a clock, in the Continental style, the knife and the fork would indicate it is 4:40. The fork would be on the left side of the plate, with the tines pointing down, towards the plate. The knife would be on the right, with the blade pointed towards the fork. The fork and the knife can meet in the middle of the plate. In the American style, the knife is placed on the rim of the plate on the right side, with the blade pointing inwards while it’s not being used to cut food and the fork is in the right hand. That’s resting position for the knife. The fork’s resting position is the same a knife would have in the Continental style – 4 o’clock, with the tines pointing up, away from the plate.
Once you’re finished with the meal, both American and Continental styles require you to do the same thing – put the knife and fork next to each other at the 4 o’clock position. In both styles, the knife goes on the right, with the blade pointing towards the fork. The fork is placed with the tines pointing up in the American style, and the tines point down in Continental.