A European businessman once paid me that backhanded compliment at a dinner in London. If only I’d had the presence of mind to chomp a few dinner rolls into a doughy mess before turning to reply, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, “Pffffardon me? Fwwwahat did you say?” Instead, I asked what I’d done to deserve such “praise.”
Turns out I don’t zig-zag. Fffwhat’s that? Zig-zag is etiquette doyenne Emily Post’s term for it, but we could also call it the Star-Spangled Fork-Flip, the Freedom Fork-Over, or the Homeland Handoff. Or the cut-and-switch. See, when using both a fork and knife, Europeans (and everyone else, basically) will keep the fork in their left hand and the knife in the right as they cut and eat their food. But the traditionally well-mannered American? After he cuts a piece of amber-waves-of-grain-fed steak, he’ll lower his knife to his plate. And then he’ll switch the fork (USA! USA!) to his right hand to convey the food.