Manners: Hands above the table!

Every child in the Netherlands heard the phrase ‘hands above the table’ on a regular basis as part of their upbringing. In the Netherlands, when sitting at a table, your hands are supposed to be above the table leaf at all times – knife in your right hand and fork in your left (but elbows on the table are not allowed)!
To me ‘hands above the table’ is one of the most basic manners I can think of, together with keeping your mouth closed when eating or not making smacking sounds.

Imagine my surprise when I moved to the States about 7 years ago… My husband-to-be and I went to a cute looking Italian restaurant in our new, exciting neighbourhood (Cobble Hill in Brooklyn at that time) and sat down at the table to have our meal. It wasn’t long before we noticed that each and every person around us was not only eating with just a fork, but also had one hand sitting in his/her lap!!! My gosh, what neighbourhood did we end up in? What awfully rude, barbarian and unmannered people!!!

Of course, we quickly discovered that the people in our neighbourhood were actually really nice and well-mannered (and cool and hip as well), and that eating with one hand while the other one is on your lap is really the way to go in America. I must say I quickly adapted; although I still like to eat with both hands when using a fork and knife, when eating sushi nowadays, I always have one hand on my lap – or on my husband’s :-).

xxx Esther


Comments (6)

April 6, 2008

Oh Esther – This is an issue that causes me the greatest of trials and tribulations! As an American child growing up in the USA, my hands were slapped if I ate with both hands on the table or if I used my left hand! As an adult, though having lived a decade in Europe, I still struggle with this! It just is not natural to me to hold the fork in my left hand and I still fear my mother will “bop” me for bad manners!

Recently I had the opportunity to lunch with “one of the Ladies-in-Waiting to Queen Beatrix” and for a month beforehand I practiced my “Dutch table manners”. When explaining the perils of this situation, a well-bred Dutch friend informed me that as a result of my studies in dining etiquette I had “managed to develop poor table manners in both countries!” I’d like to be offended, but I fear she’s right! When eating in Holland, I inevitably slip into American manners and when eating in America, I slip into European style! Now I’ve combined the two styles in mind and eat – well, in a style, all my own!

I heard that during WW2, the majority of American spies were “found out” and punished because their table manners gave them away! Mine most certainly do!

Bon Appetit!
The Antiques Diva (TM)

April 6, 2008

It’s so true! My father, being a Dutch man born to Dutch parents, married my mom and drove her crazy with his hands above the table! We were constantly told to sit politely with our left hand on our lap! (And my mom felt like she had six kids instead of five because my dad was constantly getting it wrong)!

And like the Antiques Diva said, because I’ve lived in Europe for five years now, I get my table manners all mixed up!

April 6, 2008

this is my one peeve with my kids – horrible table manners! i have lived in the states for 12 years. when i was about to move over here at 21, my father once commented on my table manners, and how the americans would not be impressed if I put my elbows on the table….

let me say i was a nanny for 3 years and spent more time under the table cleaning up the mess from the families, than i did anything else!

oh, and my hubby never uses a knife and spears his food with a fork!!!! i think we could use some european manners over here in a big way 🙂

April 6, 2008

In Italy you should keep hands on the table and elbows glued to your body…. but I’m pretty sure it’s not only americans who keep a hand on their lap.

I think in italy the etiquette tells you to use the fork with the left when using a knife, but switching to right hand when using just the fork.
On top of it, but I might be wrong in this, I think it’s not polite to use a knife when you can do with a fork….

What drives me insane is people that hold their cutlery in weird ways…

January 17, 2011

Married to a Canadian Embassy family:
For those hard-headed European folks who are still eating with their knives, and elbows up while “spearing” their food with the fork…….we do have here in the states a piece of cutlery called a “baby food pusher” I told my husband that I would be happy to get one for him so he won’t need to use his knife as a baby food pushe.r” Baby food pushers can be purchased from http://WWW.REPLACEMENTS.COM LOL.

December 5, 2013

Uh oh! I was raised with “one hand in my lap” even though my father was first generation Swedish-American. My mother’s family has been in the US many generations, some back to the land bridge.

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