That's ENOUGH!

>> Friday, 14 October 2011

I am slightly exercised about something. No, dammit, I am extremely exercised. I'm living in Russia, for goodness' sake and yet every day I am confronted with the creeping Amercianisation of my children. Hang on - move to Moscow, and have my kids become American? Ummm - no offence to any Americans reading this blog, but that's not quite what I was hoping for.

No. It has to stop.

I realised that yesterday evening during dinner. I had spent the previous hour, following school pick-up, correcting their pronounciation yet again. I had gone from cheerful remonstrations of "No darling, it's not 'kindergarDen' it's 'kindergarTen' ", through "No sweetheart, it's not 'scooDer', it's scooTer' ", to an increasingly tight lipped "It's not 'caint', it's 'caahnt' " and others I won't bore you with.

So when Boy #1 picked up his fork, held it back to front in his right hand and started to spoon his rice and casserole into his mouth, followed by a cack-handed attempt to cut his sausage into smaller pieces before transferring his fork back into his right hand and repeating the process, I snapped.

I don't know why, but it seems to be peculiarly representative of the difference between America and Europe, that way of eating. In the past I've watched Americans eat that way on film and wondered to myself; is that for real? Do they really go to all the trouble of cutting up their meat etc (fork held straight up in the air, knife used like a saw), before discarding one of their utensils, bending low over the table and then shovelling food straight into their mouths with their forks?

Well, based on what I see at the school - and now at my own dinner table - some of them do.

This of course begs the question; should I even care? Am I being a ridiculous snob for bothering which way my sons eat? Well, the answer to that is mixed. Of course, I am a ridiculous snob in many matters - I'm happy to admit that - and this is most definitely one of them. But pretentions to grandeur aside, this bothers me on a practical level as well; at some point - and it may well be within the next 12 months - the Potski Familiski will be leaving Russia, and it's extremely unlikely that our next destination will be the US. We will most likely move back to the UK, where eating like that in the school lunch hall, for example, will get you singled out for unwanted attention which would hardly help what seasoned expats refer to mysteriously as 'the transition'.

I know, I'm probably worrying too much. But I care enough to - last night - make it clear to my boys that whilst eating at home or in company (they can of course do what they like in the school cafeteria), they will eat the way we do back in the UK.

Fork in left hand, knife in right, napkin on their laps, casserole all down their shirtfronts and rice liberally scattered all over the floor.

Call me nothing, if not realistic.

What do you think? Would you bother to teach your children how to eat the 'correct' way (whatever that may be)?


Eclipse 14 October 2011 at 12:09  

Dinner times with my Dad I remember well...
"Your fork is not a spoon"
"Don't talk with your mouth full"
"Don't point with your knife" etc etc...

My mum said that whenever we were taken to a restaurant that she was proud of us because she could take us out without us embarrassing her and often people would come up and tell her how well behaved we were as kids. So, I guess the nagging paid off. I think good table manners can only be a benefit. There is nothing worse than sitting opposite someone who talks with their mouth full of food (some of which usually manages to escape in such circumstances), chews noisily and waves their fork and knife around as if they were extensions of their hands.

Iota 14 October 2011 at 13:26  

Ha! I had this very conversation with 10-yo last night. It's got to the point where he is hardly able to use a knife at all, just pulling apart food with his fork, and then - yes - descending his mouth to the level of his plate and shovelling it in.

My broken record phrase of the moment is "if I don't teach you table manners, nobody else will".

I am hoist on my own "not wrong, just different" petard when it comes to table manners. I really want my kids to do things the English way (for the "returning home" reasons you give), but I have to admit that manners are almost entirely culture-based. There's nothing right or wrong about them, when it comes down to it.

Iota 14 October 2011 at 13:26  

PS So you're not going to be in Moscow forever then?

MrsB @ crankymonkeys in london 14 October 2011 at 13:34  

I am not teaching my 6-year old how to use a knife and fork yet. He eats politely with just the fork. The 2-year old showels, but he's forgiven.

nappy valley girl 14 October 2011 at 13:48  

I'm trying desperately to teach the boys to eat with a knife and fork, but having similar problems. One of the problems here is that they don't have to use a knife and fork at school. They either take a packed lunch, or it's something like pizza or quesadilla in the cafeteria, which can be eaten by hand I assume.

So much of American food is finger food - burgers, hot dogs, etc. Did you see that Jamie Oliver programme where we went to a school in West Virginia? They didn't even have cutlery in the cafeteria. And I'm sure that when my boys eventually wind up back in the UK they'll be eating sloppy school dinners that require a knife and fork, so they are going to have to learn.

heather 14 October 2011 at 15:24  

I'm an American fighting a so far losing battle with teaching table manners. My 8 year old step daughter can not manage utensils at all. We demonstrate over and over and over. She acts like we are asking her to operate power tools instead of simply neatly move food to her mouth.

London City Mum 14 October 2011 at 16:10  

Bad table manners, of any sort, are my pet hate.
Okay. One of them.
Fully supportive of your stance PM. And if they don't learn off you, then send them my way for a taste of military regime!


Expat mum 14 October 2011 at 16:40  

Oh god, welcome to my world. I have to disagree slightly with Iota - it's not just manners really. Many American people (kids and adults) can't cut properly. I have even seen someone trying to cut a large piece of lettuce with a fork for feck's sake. A lot of the time, you're not even served a knife.
You can imagine the scene in my kitchen. Everyone rolling their eyes while I attempt to teach 8 year old (given up on the teens) how to hold fork in left hand and stabalise a piece of meat so that it doesn't go shooting off the plate when he tries to cut it.
And when the kids have friends round for a meal, I often have to find an excuse to leave the room!

Home Office Mum 14 October 2011 at 18:30  

I could be wrong (I need Americans to help me out here) but I've been told that the way Americans eat i.e. cutting up their food and then transferring their fork to the right hand is seen as good manners and the right way to eat. And that our way is wrong. Is this bollocks? Any enlighten me?

Personally my eldest child is impossible with his manners. He seems to go out of his way to eat like a pig. I've seen him eat at school and he's fine - but at home I might as well put his food in a trough and let him land face first in it.

Muddling Along 14 October 2011 at 20:21  

I'm afraid I'm one of those people who believe that speaking properly and eating nicely are essential - I saw a graduate in our work canteen with appalling table manners this week and my first thought was that he won't last long, you wouldn't take him to dinner with the CEO....

And I'm going to insist on the girls speaking nicely and eating well

In fact the whole thing led to T-gate over the summer when Mr flipped and told Bigger he would burn her dollies if she didn't stop dropping her t's

Knackered Mother 14 October 2011 at 20:59  

*Chokes & splutters*...Mr Muddling threatened to BURN DOLLIES?! Worked though, we assume. You could always threaten to melt lego, PM..

MsCaroline 15 October 2011 at 02:10  

Oooh, must chime in here, since (as an American) table manners are one of my biggest pet peeves. There actually *are* nice (eg, appropriate) American table manners, and, yes, Home Office Mum,you're right - they do include the (in my opinion, ridiculous) switching back and forth of tableware, also known as the 'zigzag' method. However, there should NEVER be any holding of the fork straight up and down whilst sawing with the knife. Appropriate US table manners (which, apparently, are not taught here in the US any more except to my children, who resent me for it) include very specific customs for both cutting and eating. If you are cutting your food, you should be holding the fork in your left hand, tines facing down, with the index finger on the back of the fork just below the tines, while the right hand - in the same position on the knife - cuts off the food. Instead of (sensibly) carrying the food then to your mouth, knife is then laid down on the edge of the plate, fork transferred to the right hand, and held - tines up - with the handle of the fork between index finger and thumb,resting on the third finger and then carries the food to the mouth. Repeat. (One does not cut food up into bite-sized pieces all at once, unless one is helping out a small child or invalid who cannot cut his/her own food.) There should be no bending over and 'shoveling.' Your utensil carries the food to your mouth. Napkins belong in the lap, elbows should not rest on on the table, and the left hand - when not used to hold a fork- should be held on the lap. One should never speak with one's mouth full, and one should swallow one's food before taking a drink.
I have no idea what is being taught by other people today in America, but these are what used to be considered appropriate table manners in the US, at least in the Northeast (eg, Boston.) It's obvious that things have changed, though. I was at lunch the other day with a very nice woman who identified herself as the wife of a high-ranking corporate executive, and herself as a former stockbroker in NYC. I was fascinated to watch her hold her fork in her fist, straight up and down, as she sawed away at her meat.
You may (or may not) be surprised to hear that a growing field in America is the teaching of etiquette to young people recently out of university, who have never been taught any manners (table or otherwise) to speak of. Having taught young (mostly) Americans for years, I certainly can see the need.

Bush Mummy 15 October 2011 at 14:44  

I am so with you on this one. Sorry America but I cannot STAND they way they hold their knife and fork.. they do it in Germany too btw.. my au pair was guilty. Defo stick to your UK guns.. they will stand out a mile if they eat like that back in Blighty..

BM x (a snob and proud)

Grit 16 October 2011 at 03:29  

some foods (and many non-meat foods too) are particularly poorly suited to k&f and frankly the english stick out a mile in trying. pasta with a k&f?! the s. italian family i lived with ate that only with a generous twirl of a fork and a spoon.

we teach the kids *all ways are fine*, judge the context and watch what your host does.

we manage k&f, fork alone, chopsticks. and i fully expect if we take the kids into india and are fortunate enough to be invited to a rural location where palm leaves and floor sitting is in order, then big deal, the kids follow their hosts and eat with their fingers. because that's polite, dammit.

Potty Mummy 16 October 2011 at 17:22  

Eclipse, well, quite...

Iota, that's true, it's all about the locality. It's just that this is not the local way of eating here in Russia either (and I don't want to wait until we get back to the UK for them to pick up the local way for there, either).

Mrs B - 2 year olds definitely deserve rules of their own (for so many reasons!)

NVG, sounds as if we may be going through this together, then!

Heather, my 8 y/o DOES know how to do it - he's just out of practice and unwilling to bother...

EPM, can't say I would look forward to that. At least with an 8 & 5 year old you can ask for a please & thankyou etc; for teens that's a different story.

LCM, now there's a threat...

HOM, yes, they definitely save the 'best' behaviour for home.

MAM - burning dollies does seem a little extreme (but I get your point).

KM, hmmm. No. Wouldn't work; there's just too damn much of the stuff...

MsC, thankyou for the context and it does all seem rather exhausting, the swapping backwards and forth. Still, as Iota would say; not wrong, just different.

BM, not sure why but I thought you might agree!

Grit, you're absolutely right, of course; it's all in the context, (and just so you know, we do eat spaghetti with spoon rather than a knife). My objection to this style of eating is that we don't live the US, the Russians certainly don't eat like this, and we're not planning on moving to America any time soon, so it really isn't even a useful skill for them acquire...

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