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How to Eat Like A Brit...

...or why I am lazy with my knife

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The most British sounding thing yet said to me since arriving in the United Kingdom was said over breakfast. It was this.

"You are lazy with the knife."

The comment was made back in November, just a couple weeks before I headed over to Arizona for my 2 month long project in Phoenix. I was invited out to breakfast by one of my flatmates, Pete. He had a girl visiting him from San Diego, California, and the three of us, along with another flatmate Chris, went out to eat.

I ordered the full English breakfast, which is oft known here as a "fry-up." The full English breakfast includes eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, toast and tomatoes. At least, the one that I ordered had those things. Technically, a full English breakfast should include blood sausage, however many places seem not to include the blood sausage any more. Apparently the thought of oatmeal and pig's blood isn't even appetising to the Brits anymore.

As an aside, or rather a second aside seeing as the whole blood-sausage-thing wasn't really pertinent to the story, Bacon here is different than in North America. Bacon, as we know it in North America, known here as "streaky bacon." Streaky bacon comes from the belly of a pig, comes in thin strips and is heavily veined with fat. British bacon, on the other hand, is back bacon, coming from the loin of the pig. It is claimed that this is the same as "Canadian bacon," though I've had both Canadian bacon and bacon here in the UK, and Canadian bacon always tastes more like ham to me. I think it is because Canadian bacon is usually trimmed into a circle with no fat, whereas British bacon is left as an oblong piece of meat and fat. The long and short of the bacon discussion is this - I miss streaky bacon.

Back to that breakfast in early November, I was eating my eggs, sausage and bacon when Chris said to Pete's visitor that she was, "quite lazy with the knife. Is that an American thing? I notice that Greg is quite lazy with the knife as well."

I looked up from a bite of sausage and said, "wha?", probably spewing bits of sausage from my mouth.

"You are lazy with your knife," Chris repeated.

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"You tend not to use your knife, smashing food into bits with your fork instead of cutting it with into proper pieces with your knife," Chris explained.

I looked down at my plate. He was right. Other than the sausage, I wasn't using my knife for anything. The eggs and bacon I was using the side of my fork to tear apart. Even the sausage, which required the knife, I had cut into little bits right at the start of the meal, and was now just picking up the pre-cut pieces.

It wasn't always like this for me. After all, I came from a good British background and so I learned as a child how to eat like a proper British person. Over the years, though, living as a bachelor and spending a lot of time in the USA, I've adopted American eating habits.

Since that breakfast and getting called to task for it, I have tried, when possible, to eat more like a Brit, and be less lazy with my knife.


So, how do you eat like a Brit?

First, you need to ensure that your elbows don't touch the table. After years of working in the United States, I tend now to eat with my elbows planted firmly on the table. My fork and knife stab downwards from there, kind of like Jason from Friday the 13th stabbing at young campers in the forest.

In Britain, you need to hold your elbows off the table, almost like you are about to break into the chicken dance. Elbows out, arms parallel to the table.

The knife goes into your right hand, the fork in the left. You cut your food by holding it down with your fork while slicing with the knife. Once you have sliced off a bite sized portion, you put the knife down, switch your fork over to your right hand before bringing the food to the mouth.

Once you finish chewing, you put down your fork to take a sip of your drink. Then you can pick up back the fork and the knife and move on to your next bite.

That is how you eat like a Brit.

...or, more correctly, that is how I was taught as a child to eat like a proper British person. Looking around, though, I am not sure that is how British folks really eat any more. In my examining how others eat, I have made some observations.

Brits do eat slower and more deliberately than North Americans. They aren't lazy with their knifes, they do properly cut their food, rather than tearing it apart with the fork. No more, though, is the restriction against elbows on the table hold. I'm fine with that, because it's always nice to lean against something. If the British are going to make me be less lazy with my knife, than at least I can be a little lazy with my elbows.

No more, either do folks switch their forks from their left to their right hands. As a kid, it always struck me as being as waste of energy. After all, my left hand is as good as my right to bring food up to my mouth. So the fact that the Brits have caught on to this, and now no longer switch forks between hands makes sense. It shows they are able to learn and make improvements. It is the same spirit of innovation that brought about the industrial revolution, the Spitfire, the flush toilet and curry as a late night snack food. Okay, that last one was more a transfer of an existing food to a drunken, late night snack, but still, it is impressive.

There is, though, one problem with not switching the fork over to my right hand. My right hand is more coordinated than my left, and thus there are times when my clumsy left hand winds up dropping food on my shirt. In those cases, using my stronger hand probably would have made more sense. Ah well, I am a North American, after all. Occasionally I need to eat like a slob, otherwise I'll shatter the finely-crafted feeling of superiority that the Brits have developed over us North Americans and our lazy knifes.

Posted by GregW 12:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged food

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You know, I guess I'm somewhere in between a Brit and an American with my eating habits. I do have the bad habit of cutting up all of my meat into bite size pieces at once, so I don't have to keep doing the "fork switch." I do my best with my elbows, but mainly I try to refrain from speaking with my mouth full. As long as I don't disgust my dining partners, the rest can come and go as it pleases.

by Bwaybaby10

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