Forks and Knives and Etiquette


mitfrc

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So, part of my heritage is in some Russian military émigrés (White Guards) who fled to America when the communists took over. I was taught at table as a child in this circle of friends that was my father's usual dinner accompaniment on formal occasions, to never use a fork in my right hand, ever. Forks are for left hands, knives are for right. But this actually comes off as weird at American formal dinners, where the fork is switched between hands in between cutting food and eating it, left to right, respectively.

Thus, since I saw keeping the fork in the left hand as the "old country" way, I assumed it was enforced on the Titanic, but is this actually true, or is that just a Russian upper class affectation and the old Edwardian table etiquette was actually the same as the modern American one?
 

Stephen Carey

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America - a country that has gone from barbarism to decadence without an intervening period of civilisation...

Apart from that bon mot (it's googleable), the Americans decided to switch to forks in the right hand after cutting things up into baby size portions, and why not? At Dartmouth Royal Naval College we had a "KFS Course" which stand for "Knife, Fork and Spoon", but the navy is nothing if not traditionalist, and woe betide you if - unless you were USN - you switched hands during a naval dinner! In fact, probably the USN follows the RN anyway... I can't remember the course as it was so hilariously presented that the PO who held it was in great demand in the local Dartmouth area pubs.
As your Russian heritage stems from the German and French royal families of the era (mainly the German, which of course was your Empress's nationality) and that they spoke French most of the time and probably didn't even know how to speak Russian, which was for the plebs, it's not surprising that as the Czar was our King's cousin, that their table manners came from the same training. Edwardian manners were therefore the same, as the royal families were and still are of mainly German stock. I doubt table manners were "enforced" on the Titanic - who is going to tell Astor in which hand to hold his eating irons? They just knew what to do, which is basically to start at the outside of the bewildering array of ironmongery, and work your way in. Incidentally I am English and eat with a knife and fork, without transferring the fork to my right hand. Wouldn't be seen dead doing that...
 

mitfrc

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Thank you for the answer! I've come to appreciate being a bit more international than most of my peers--well, honestly, these days in the US, my peers simply have no idea about table manners whatsoever. It makes perfect sense to expect that for the most part, the rich Americans onboard would eat according to the European style--I understand most tried to ape European etiquette, though they were panned for their lack of skill at times.

And, I'll add that my family in fact, as you seem to have already half-guessed, actually has a German name... They were landowners before the revolution, though not otherwise important, that was quite enough by itself to put you on the list for being shot by the bolsheviki, so they fought and then fled.
 

Stephen Carey

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That was a wise move - otherwise you would probably not be here!
Incidentally, our (UK) Armed Forces are sticklers for all sorts of etiquette - one that is interesting is the "Guide to Service Letter Writing". When writing a report on something you'd done (right or wrong), or answering a Cocktail Party invitation (RSVP) or any other kind of missive, you had to get it right. I wrote one particular letter to my CO about three times before it was accepted. The first two did not receive a reply, so I knew it was because it had gone in the bin for some trifling but nevertheless important error. It was well enforced, as you have probably seen before the supposed telegram from the front line saying "Send reinforcements, we're going to advance" which arrives at the other end as "Send three and fourpence, we're going to a dance"...
 

Jim Currie

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I was born before WW2. I did not come from wealthy background, in fact my immediate ancestors were Highland and Island gaelic speaking Crofters and pistol-makers.
As for table cutllery? I cannot remember ever seeing my mother, grandmother, aunts or their friends, restaurants, tearooms or passenger ships which laid table 'silver', not laying the fork on the left and the knife on the right.
Every child I ever knew was strictly schooled in their place in the pecking order. They were very well versed in 4 Rs, Reading, WRiting, ARithmetic and Respect.
They were also taught table manners which encompassed the proper use of a knife and fork, how a formal table was laid and the order of use of the various bits of cutlery and most important of all, prsonal behaviour at table and how it effected the enjoyment of all other diners.
You can bet your bottom dollar that all formally laid tables on Titanic would have had forks on the left, knives on the right.

Here is a copy of a page from "The Home- Lovers Encyclopedia...For handyman & Housewife" which was in use at the time of
Table settings. 001.jpg
 

mitfrc

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Thank you. Yes, forks are laid on the left in the US--and everywhere that uses forks. However, it's "normal" in the US to reverse the fork from the left hand to the right when eating and after cutting food, but not in Europe, as the conversation covered. I had been wondering about that.
 

Jim Currie

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Thank you. Yes, forks are laid on the left in the US--and everywhere that uses forks. However, it's "normal" in the US to reverse the fork from the left hand to the right when eating and after cutting food, but not in Europe, as the conversation covered. I had been wondering about that.
I hear that On both sides of the Atlantic, an eating revolution is about to take place. Since table manners are rapidly disappearing and children, like apes and monkeys, mainly use their hands to eat while they gaze into electronic devices, they have developed an "APP" for smart phones which actually eats for you, delivers after dinners speeches and even applauses and laughs at the appropriate times.
 

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