The finer points of American and Continental dining…
I had the honor of participating in a dear friend’s wedding this weekend – Tina Foehlinger-Hansen, Miss Nebraska 2001. What an amazing day – and a new perspective for me. This was the first wedding I’ve been to since Nick and I were married in April. When you take those vows, you enter this special fraternity of people who really understand the gravity and beauty of the commitment. There’s this weird knowingness that comes along with marriage. It’s really cool – I highly recommend it. But I digress…
I’m writing this post because one of the bridesmaids I was sitting with at the rehearsal dinner asked me a question that sparked a whole conversation (an impromptu lesson) on the finer points of American vs. Continental dining style. Yes, believe it or not there are actual dining styles. Which one you choose really doesn’t matter – in fact you can even switch between the two within the same meal and no one will write you an etiquette citation. My husband would disagree…but that’s because he’s European. Here are the differences:
American dining style is probably the one you grew up with. You steady your food with the fork in your left hand and cut with your right hand. Then, you set your knife down and switch your fork into your right hand. You bring the food to your mouth tines up using your right hand.
European dining style is a bit different – mainly in that the fork tines are always down and you don’t switch hands after cutting the food. That’s right – you have to use your left hand to bring the food to your mouth, tines down. I have a really unfortunate story about this dining style that involves the first time I met Nick’s parents.
Nick and I got engaged before I had a chance to meet his parents, who live in England. He planned the engagement one week before we were leaving on a trip to tour England and Ireland with my parents. Naturally, I was nervous to meet my future in-laws for the first time. His mother prepared a wonderful meal for our first meeting – a yummy fruit and chicken curry dish. (I am totally in love with this dish – I have the recipe, which I hope to share with you sometime.) I knew that they would be dining Continental style – which is customary for their culture. I hadn’t really brushed up on my skills, but with trepidation, gave it a whirl. Unfortunately, the curry involved rice. For months, I’d been watching Nick defy gravity by piling his food neatly on the back of his fork and raising it to his mouth with his left hand. Now it was my chance to see if I could be as smooth. It didn’t work out so well. After multiple attempts at piling rice on the back of my fork, only to have it drop off right before I got it to my mouth, I realized I might as well have been eating with chopsticks! I abandoned European style, and went back to American, taking comfort in Emily Post’s assurance that either style is perfectly fine.
The lesson here can really apply to more than just dining situations and “meeting the parents.” The lesson is to be yourself. Yes, it is important to respect cultural differences – but at the end of the day you have to be comfortable in your own skin. If I would have focused all of my energy on what I thought was the “proper” dining style, I would have missed the opportunity to connect with my husband’s parents on our first meeting. I decided that it was more important (and respectful) to focus on getting to know them, rather than figuring out how to pile rice on the back of my fork. To focus on others, we first have to be comfortable with ourselves. I’m glad I made that choice because it has blossomed into a wonderful relationship and since then we have made some great memories!
Cheers to Pam and Graham in the U.K. Love to you both!