Friday, September 23, 2005

Table Manners

We have a lot of curiosity here at Creative Wonders, and possibly I am on a bit of tangent. But this still does tie into the resilience of cultural tradition in the face of radical paradigm shift.

Margaret Visser, in her book The Rituals of Dinner, points out that etiquette and the ritual it imposes helps to control the violence inherent in the preparation and serving of meals.


The Americans reinvented the way utensils are handled. Here is the proper technique for using a fork and knife (taken from a manners guide). Assuming you are right-handed, hold the fork in your left hand and knife in your right. With the tines facing downward (curving towards you), hold down an end-piece of whatever you are cutting (let's assume it's meat). Do not hold the knife or fork like a dagger, but rather, place your index finger along the top of each utensil, holding each at the end. This gives you greater control without looking like you're hacking into the poor dead animal. Gently, using a sawing motion, cut the meat near the tines of the fork, so that you have one bite-sized piece. Then, lay the knife down (without allowing it to touch the table), and switch the fork (complete with pierced meat) to your right hand. Bring it up to your mouth, chew quietly, and swallow when the meat is sufficiently masticated. This is called the American (or Zig-Zag) method of cutting food. The Continental (or European) method consists of not switching hands, and using the left hand for all fork-related activities.

This is just from my own observations – but people of Catholic decent do the switch, while Europeans and Protestants do not switch at all.

Scandinavians are known to always have two hands showing (as to not conceal a weapon). The English introduced dull knives.

It is also a part of my own observations that table manners are passed on from mother to children, keeping the dining tradition a matriarchal subtlety.

The Toast

Scandinavians traditionally would cut off the heads of the conquered and fill the skulls with wine. They still toast by saying ‘skol’ or skull.

The English introduced the crashing of the heavy chalice to ensure that poison (if any) was mixed into both glasses.

In Poland they bring the glass around their head to ward off the devil before they drink.

In Sweden, if you don’t drink after a toast – it’s seven years with no sex.

Hmm, maybe I am deviating a little here, but fear not, next week we will be back to more obvious displays of advertising culture and social status.


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