A Crash Course (and Challenge) in Spoon Etiquette from Mister Manners

BY: Aimee Algas Alker |Apr 2, 2014

A Crash Course (and Challenge) in Spoon Etiquette from Mister Manners

A Dilemma in Table Etiquette I use a spoon to eat everything (rice, mac ‘n’ cheese, steamed veggies, mashed potatoes, baked beans, salad). And while I recognize that this habit is not perfect table etiquette, the rationale for why is not as clear. To find out, I consulted an expert: Thomas P. Farley of What Manners Most, also known as Mister Manners. “Your love of the spoon has nice historic roots,” Farley said. Of all the utensils on the table, the fork, in fact, is the most recent addition, making its way to the US sometime during the 19th century. So my love of the spoon, he says, “might actually be a primeval embrace of old manners.” A primeval embrace or perhaps just a cultural tradition. Both of my parents are from the Philippines, where like in most South Asian countries, using a spoon to eat rice is par for the course. A spoon—with rice in particular—is also neater. And isn’t neater better, especially when table etiquette is concerned? The general rule of thumb, Mister Manners cautioned, is that if a person sits down to dinner, and the utensils before her do not include a spoon, she should take that as a cue. Not to ask for a spoon or pull out the one she always keeps in her purse (kidding!), but instead, to use a fork. With the rules established, he then set forth a challenge: “Practice at home.” Which I did. For one week. Below are the results with some table etiquette commentary.

The Challenge Day 1: Jasmine rice Mister Manners’ take: “There was a lot of backlash against the fork in the middle ages. The Catholic Church said…the fork was evocative of a pitchfork, a symbol of the devil.” My take: My first challenge left me wanting to backlash against the fork as well. I took teeny tiny bites of rice and still had to cup my hand beneath the fork to catch stray grains. Next time: SPOON. Day 2: Coleslaw and baked beans from Rub’s Backcountry Smokehouse Mister Manners’ take: “A formal place setting should include a spoon, but not for the entree. You wouldn’t use a spoon with the main course, unless it’s liquid or gelatinous.” My take: I’d argue that both of these items were semi-liquid. Still, I barely spilled a drop. Next time: FORK. Day 3: Baked mostaccioli with meat sauce from La Villa Mister Manners’ take: “The exception [to the rule above] is a pasta spoon, which is used to guide noodles onto the fork. You don’t actually eat with it.” My take: Though I know its purpose, I have used the guide spoon to eat my pasta. This time, though, instead of scooping up every last bit of sauce with my spoon, I sopped it up with the garlic bread. Next time: FORK. Day 4: Fried rice (I do eat rice a lot) from House of Wah Sun Mister Manners’ take: “A fork is really not that difficult to use.” My take: I’d have to respectfully disagree, at least when it comes to rice. I just may have used my fingers to nudge food onto the fork. Next time: SPOON. Day 5: Steamed mixed veggies (corn, peas, carrots) Mister Manners’ take: “You really should be using a fork.” My take: WHY DO PEOPLE EAT THIS STUFF WITH A FORK? My dogs were very well pleased. They love corn. Next time: SPOON. Day 6: Salad with chicken and chickpeas Mister Manners’ take: “You eat solids with a fork and liquids with a spoon. You wouldn’t, for example, eat cereal with a fork.” My take: Piercing a crouton with tines resulted in itsy bitsy crouton explosions. And balancing a chickpea on a fork? For the birds. Next time: SPOON. Unless I’m around other people. Eating a salad with a spoon is a little ridiculous, even for me. Day 7: Jasmine rice and chicken afritada (made by my mom) Mister Manners’ take: “There’s two methods of eating with a fork and knife: Continental style, where the fork never leaves the left hand, and American style, where you switch back and forth. I would far rather see someone use the American method than be dropping their food all over the place.” My take: Though it still took me foooorrrreeeevver to eat, I was pretty successful: not a morsel of rice, chicken, or veggies fell to the floor. Sorry, puppies. Next time: BOTH: a spoon for the rice, a fork for the afritada.

In Conclusion “After much much practice, if you can’t master it, I’m sure there are worse things than not using a fork,” Thomas told me before I began the challenge, as if giving me an out. Turns out I didn’t need one—I took Day 7 as an ultimate victory. I’ve mastered the fork if I can eat my mom’s home-cooked goodness with a fork and not leave my place setting looking like someone scattered birdseed. So to all you spoon lovers, does this mean we should put away the spoon forever? First, another bit of advice from Mister Manners: “Err on the side of being neat. Use the spoon in as mannerly a way as you can. Make sure you’re not holding the spoon like it’s a weapon.” And, if you must use a spoon, your best option is not the soup spoon (my utensil of choice) nor a dessert spoon, but a teaspoon. So a teaspoon it is—if I’m not the neatest eater, at least I’m an original one. “You are the first person who’s ever asked me [about eating everything with a spoon],” Thomas told me during our first conversation, “so take that as a point of pride.” Photo by Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon