Knives, forks, spoons, chopsticks. I've never mastered the last mentioned, so that's all you'll hear of 'em in this post. Knives and forks I have used, and in tandem, for as long as I can remember. Loose natural habits of the young eater, for me were tamed, and in a somewhat fascistic way, through many years of eating school lunches in our school's canteen - school being some 14 miles from home, a trip for Mum's sausages and mash wasn't ever feasible.
American-style table etiquette isn't, it turns out, as random as I'd first thought. In an article at Slate by Mark Vanhoenacker , Put a Fork in It, he reveals, as follows, calling the American, mainly one-handed, eating method "cut-and-switch":
Well, well, well - who'da thunk it?....—the supposedly all-American cut-and-switch is in fact an old European pretension, of just the sort we decided to free ourselves from 237 years ago.
Yup. The cut-and-switch is originally European. According to Darra Goldstein, a professor at Williams College and the founding editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, when forks first came to the European dining table, diners took their cues from the kitchen, where the fork would be held in the left hand to steady a slab of meat, say, and the right hand wielded the knife. So far, so good. But around the early 18th century, particularly in France, it became fashionable for diners to put the knife down after cutting, and swap the fork to the right hand — i.e. to cut-and-switch.
What explains the rise of the cut-and-switch? One theory: Fancy manners often fetishize delicacy, and it’s just easier to delicately convey food to your mouth with your dominant hand. Anna Post, Emily’s great-great-granddaughter, passed along another possibility. Back when dinnertime violence was a not too distant cultural memory, lowering the knife—even a rounded one—was intuitively associated with high manners. Indeed Goldstein describes how American fork-floppers lay the knife on their plate—blade facing in—as a “medieval position of trust.”
The cut-and-switch could also reflect garden-variety prejudice against the left hand. Even today, in much of the Arab world, the right hand alone is used for eating (traditionally without utensils), while the left is relegated to a less exalted realm of daily responsibilities. Nor should we underestimate the possibility that the cut-and-switch became popular precisely because it was cumbersome. Harry Mount, the author of How England Made the English, reminded me how often, in the contrary world of manners, “greater inefficiency can infer greater elegance.”
Nineteenth-century Americans acquired the cut-and-switch from France—“the arbiter of elegance” for Americans....
These days, at home I always put a knife and fork out for myself, just a fork for Himself. Sometimes, after scanning what's on the plate, if it all looks manageable with fork only, I'll go all jeans and tee-shirt, otherwise I'll use both knife and fork and feel comfortably at home.