Etiquette rules, like the downward fork tines rule, that deliberately hobble the person making the display have a signalling value: it's the peacock's tail. Folks who've been able to spend hundreds of hours practicing how to eat in a deliberately hobbled fashion are then able to demonstrate finesse in that form of eating. Everyone else at the table will recognize them as being from the leisured class, whose parents either had sufficient servants to spend time drilling that technique into the children, or who invested that time in lieu of other pursuits in early adulthood. Either way, you're demonstrating that you've had time and leisure to spare.It's nice to see an eloquent defence of my "tines up" alternative, and mocking of the tines-down types. Via @bkdrinkwater, here's Slate:
We’ve bastardized Euro-manners to make them still more convenient. Many Europeans stubbornly deploy their forks tines down—either as a spear, or, if the food isn’t stab-able, as a surface on which to awkwardly pile or smoosh food (awkward piling is particularly English—“How many peas can dance on the back of a fork?” asks Kate Fox, in Watching the English). But the pragmatic Americans who’ve abandoned the cut-and-switch almost always use the fork tines-up—i.e., as an efficient shovel—whenever it’s convenient to do so.The "cut-and-switch" is the practice of switching the fork into the dominant hand after cutting; it's generally considered gauche by the Europeans and high-class Europhile Americans. Proper etiquette has the fork remaining in the left hand after cutting. But the Slate piece notes that the cut-and-switch is less efficient than the European standard of keeping the fork in the left hand.
This hybrid style of eating is how Anna Post herself eats. But America’s lurch toward such modified Continental-style eating has been worryingly uneven. Nearly everyone I spoke with associated cutting-and-switching with older Americans and Midwesterners, and no-switching with younger and coastal diners.
Another culture war is just what we don’t need—especially one in which we’re all waving sharp implements, and both sides are open to plausible charges of unedifying Europhilia. Perhaps the best way to avoid open warfare is to formalize many Americans’ simplified take on Continental style (no fork-switching, but tines pointing any damn way you please) as itself an American creation—an efficient, relaxed blending of old and new worlds.
This may be a problem for my "table etiquette is the peacock's tail" theory - especially if America switches entirely to "tines up, no-switching" - almost the most efficient form of food delivery. But note the almost: try bringing a spork along with you to a fancy restaurant. Drinkwater might call you a savage!