How to Hold a Fork—American vs. European Table Etiquette

Updated: Nov. 29, 2023

Need to know how to hold a fork the right way? Take your pick between American and European techniques.

The rules of table etiquette can be confusing. Yes, there’s a purpose for all the forks and spoons at your place setting, but what’s the right way to hold your utensils? Like there’s a correct way to hold a glass bottle, there’s also a rule for how to hold a fork.

But there’s a great fork debate between European and American etiquette experts. Ultimately, how you hold your fork is up to you, but we’ll let you decide which method you prefer.

How to Hold a Fork in America

Let’s start off by addressing the common American technique of “cut-and-switch” before we talk about the European method. In the United States, the traditional way to use a fork starts out with a knife in your right hand and a fork in your left. After using the knife to cut your food, you set it down and switch your fork to your right hand—hence “cut-and-switch.”

How to Hold a Fork in Europe

In Europe, eating with a fork and knife looks a little different. Though the process starts out the same, with a fork in the left hand and a knife in the right, there’s no switching after cutting. The fork stays in the left hand while you eat.

The controversy? Some table etiquette experts say that fork switching makes no sense, according to The Guardian. Yet for whatever reason, the “cut-and-switch” method has still gained popularity overseas. Still, both methods are considered “correct” in the United States, so pick up whatever of the two techniques feels right.

Why Do We Hold Forks Differently?

The Guardian shares that the cut-and-switch technique was a trend in 19th century France—until it wasn’t. The method fell out of fashion there, but remains popular in the States.

In his book In Small Things Forgotten, American anthropologist James Deetz theorized that Americans already used a spoon in their right hand, so switching the fork came naturally. Keep in mind, forks weren’t used to bring food to the mouth prior to the 1800s in America; they were simply there to assist the knife when meat needed cutting, according to the Chicago Tribune. Because of this, it’s also speculated that the “cut-and-switch” technique might have been one of the first etiquette methods involving a fork that Americans picked up, and apparently it’s stuck around.