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Cutting Meat and Switching Hands to Eat: It's the American Way, Though Not in Films or TV

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On a recent trip to Germany, I was cutting my pizza with a knife and fork, and as I brought the food to my mouth, my friend, German TV star Andreas Stenschke, said, "What are you doing?"

He'd previously criticized me for wanting to slice the pizza in sections, admonishing me not to pick up the slice in my hands in a proper Italian restaurant. "This is not Pizza Hut!" he exclaimed. It seemed a little bossy, but he is quite Teutonic, though Andreas is normally amiable (take a look at him). Since I was doing what I was told I was starting to become neurotic.

Apparently what caught Andreas' attention was that I cut my pizza with my right hand, holding the fork in my left and then, having done so, put the knife down and placed the fork in my right hand as I speared the food on its way to be eaten.

When I realized what he was talking about, I was still confused until he demonstrated while eating his own meal that, after cutting his meat, he kept the fork in his left hand and simply grasped a piece, which he directed to his mouth.

I'd never noticed this behavior before after almost twenty trips to Europe and many more points elsewhere on other continents and somehow figured I'd been eating wrong my entire life. But how could this have happened? Aren't we all trained to follow certain customs, such as the proper way to hold a fork between your middle and forefinger?

He was so amazed at how I was eating, and I was so unnerved after the previous criticism that I asked him tentatively if what he'd just noticed was as bad as eating the pizza with my hands? "No," he said still a bit irritated, while shaking his head at my strange comportment.

The rest of the trip went okay, but it gnawed at me a lot until I got home, wondering if I were the only one in the world who ate that way. So, just to make sure, I did the only thing I could think of. I did a search on the Internet.

It's incredible what you can learn just by inserting some words or an odd question. In my case, "What is the proper way to cut and eat your meat?" Amazingly, even such a relatively long search request revealed a response. In a video, according to Phyllis Davis, President of Executive Mentoring and Coaching, Inc., she revealed that I was eating in the proper fashion. Other search results said the same, referring to the way I was eating as the "zig-zag" style and explaining that Europeans did it differently. The way Andreas was eating.

It also indicated that a relatively small percentage of Americans eat a la the Europeans. Yet almost all the movies and TV series I've lately been watching show American characters eating the "continental" way instead of the predominant American manner.

The question is why?

Okay, I've become a bit obsessed in my observations, but here are some examples from films and TV shows. In Revolutionary Road, Leonardo DiCaprio eats his steak the European way, as do the kids eating pancakes on ABC's Desperate Housewives. Meryl Streep gobbles her food that way in Julie and Julia and so do the characters on the CW's 90210 and Supernatural , Fox Network's Master Chef, as well as recent films such as The Kids Are All Right, Flipped, The Other Guys and The Switch. Even David Letterman, in a bit on CBS' The Late Show recently, ate a piece of steak as Andreas did.

Now, it's one thing if there are occasional examples of Americans eating as Europeans do, but in the media it appears unanimous. It's as if no one, not one single person that I've seen on a show or film eats as I do or the folks I dine with, and while some of you may eat in that manner, can you really say that just about everyone in the USA does, too?

Maybe there's some sort of high fallutin' thing going around in the creative community, that it's hip to eat like a Frenchman or savvy to chow down like a German or Brit? It's not like it's more genteel. I still can't get the image out of my mind of Queen Elizabeth shoveling food in her mouth that way. I will admit it's more efficient. And perhaps there are those who feel it's uncool and a waste of time to put down your knife and switch hands when you could be using the few seconds saved to text your friends.

Anyway, it's real odd, and I broached the subject on my trip to France last May, where I challenged my young cousin David to watch what I was doing. I cut my chicken and then asked him. "Tu as changé ta main," he said, realizing I'd switched the fork to my right hand. I shrugged and then, quite intrigued, noticed his father, after cutting his meat, was eating with his right hand. Could it be cousin Patrice was eating like an American? Turned out he was just left-handed.

Sacre bleu!

Michael Russnow's website is ramproductionsinternational.com